Next year’s news cycle is already looking pretty crowded, between big-ticket events like the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, the summer Olympics in Tokyo and, of course, the 2020 presidential, gubernatorial and congressional elections. But if there weren’t so much else going on, 2020 might be known as something else in Charlotte: The Year of the Plan.
Since City Council approved TOD Article 15 - the new Transit-Oriented Development ordinance - last April, land use consultants, architects, real estate attorneys and other insiders have had ample opportunity to sort out these new rules. As for laypersons, gleaning what they need to know from TOD’s eighty-one page assemblage of definitions, rules, standards, charts and graphics can be a real challenge, despite efforts by staff planners to make the document as jargon-free and user-friendly as possible.
After visiting a city with a waterfront, maybe stopping for a drink and a bite to eat along whichever river or ocean it’s built along, I’m usually left with one overriding thought: “Wow, Charlotte could really use some of this.” Water plays a prominent role in the design and history of most cities, whether it be a river, bay or ocean. And Charlotte’s skyline and downtown sit tantalizingly close-but-yet-so-far from a major river and lake system. So, the question looms: Why isn’t Charlotte built on the water? It’s a straightforward question I realized I had never actually asked, despite a decade living in Charlotte. So I called up an expert.
Charlotte’s suburbs are starting to look more like urban areas, and a new study is pointing to the value to be gained from promoting walkable, transit-connected, urban-style growth. Real estate experts have said they’re responding to market pressure: Businesses, workers and residents want to get from home to work to dinner without spending big chunks of their day in a car, and suburban-style developments that cater exclusively to drivers no longer cut it.
The year was 1955, but the city’s problems would look pretty familiar to its modern residents. Charlotte was confronted with growing traffic, inadequate transportation options, a lack of park space and the fear that growth was running away without a real, comprehensive plan.
It’s happening across Charlotte: Apartments, office buildings and restaurants are popping up in parking lots, as dense, mixed-use developments, connected by bicycle paths and walking trails, invade suburbia. What’s driving the shift at some of the city’s most iconic suburban centers?
Three counties outside Mecklenburg have now expressed formal - though nonbinding - support for bringing a regional rail system of some kind across the border. That would be a first for Charlotte, where rail-based mass transit has so far been confined to within the city limits.
As Charlotte grows denser and more urban, parts of the city built decades ago on an auto-centric, suburban framework are struggling to both absorb more traffic and adapt to new beliefs about how people should get around. A one-mile stretch of congested road in fast-growing University City illustrates the tensions between balancing the needs of cars and pedestrians, as well as local residents and commuters, in an area where the distinction between urban and suburban is starting to blur.
The Charlotte region is taking concrete steps towards building a regional transit system, and, in a local first, the proposed Silver Line could run through three counties. But plenty of big questions remain. Chief among them: Who will pay?
It’s a familiar story: A new transit line opens, spurring gentrification in nearby neighborhoods and pushing out long-time residents. But is that always what happens? New research from UNC Charlotte suggests the story is more complicated.
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