ricky_davis_fan_21

Ideas for Creating Culture, Temporary and Permanent, in Charlotte

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I think the original point was not to make broad comparisons between Asheville/Charleston/Savannah and Charlotte but just to make a simple point that those cities showcase their landscape design as part of their overall appeal and it's something Charlotte should do as well because it already has good landscaping.  I happen to agree that it's an area in which Charlotte has a relative strength compared to "grittier" cities and one we should which we should highlight.  To that end, I think another idea for giving Charlotte an infusion of culture would be to go all-in on some variation of the city of creeks idea that has been touted by Mary Newsome.  I think a combination of a large trail/greenway/blueway system combined with a largely rehabilitated creek and  peppered with elaborate public gardens throughout would really go a long way toward promoting the idea that Charlotte's culture is one of environmental conscientiousness and deep concern for natural resources.

 

Otherwise, the scathing review by hauntedheadnc was, in my opinion, a fairly accurate assessment of Charlotte as it currently stands. 

 

It is true that Charlotte has rendered history an endangered species through various combinations of complacency, willful negligence, capitulation to the desires of developers, etc.  It is to the point where there is so little left that some have stated there is no point in saving what little we do have.  But that is precisely why we should save what little we do have.  We have rarefied history so much in this city that any small piece of yesteryear, whether or not it has actual historical significance, should be treated as treasure.  Instead, we let developers tear down those structures and replace them with the latest trend in cheap design that will, in twenty or thirty years, most likely look like hell and possibly need to be torn down itself.  If we had a stronger historical preservation culture in this city, buildings such as Polk State would be renovated and would look just as grand now at 90 years old as it did when it was first constructed and perhaps even better.  Furthermore it would be something from which all residents would benefit-a little piece of our past saved from the demolition crew.

 

It is true that art in the downtown seems like it is either A) forced and out of place, B) corporate plaza art, or C) some combination of the two.  Hell, perhaps the best example of an iconic Charlotte sculpture in the entire city-the queen Charlotte statue-is at the airport.

 

It is true that cheap, vanilla development abounds to the point where it is now a cliche, and any attempts by city planners to conjure up some modicum of placemaking and thoughtful neighborhood design are futile at best.  It seems as if most plans and zoning ordinances which, if followed, would actually produce a decent product are often relaxed simply because a prospective developer says that market conditions will not support the desired type of development.  The reply should be "well then I guess this is the wrong market for you."  Instead, zoning is quickly amended and Charlotte gets another 5-6 story beige monolith built with cheap materials, poor construction quality, and zero retail or street presence. 

 

We do have an image problem because, as a city, we believe in development as being somehow inherently virtuous.  As such, the city will support any developer who wants to put any shiny new thing no matter how cheap it may be, on any piece of property within the confines of the city limits.  Our city has gotten to the point where it supports development for the sake of development as if having hard hats walking around is an ends unto itself.  It is a dangerous notion whose potential conclusion is much social ill and economic peril.  Charlotte is a great city from a bird's eye view .  Indeed, we have a great skyline, a wonderful airport and some real gem-quality neighborhoods such as PM and Noda.  But when viewed at the pixel level-the cheapness of much of the new construction, the destruction of the history-the picture is not nearly as pretty.

How do I like this twice. This is why I created this thread. To start a discussion. There has to be something that can be done.

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What makes historical buildings so great?

Probably because their cheaper And draw in the creative class, can offer lower priced stuff attracting diverse crowds.

I still say its a demographic problem.

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How do I like this twice. This is why I created this thread. To start a discussion. There has to be something that can be done.

 

There is a long history of developers being able to do whatever they want in Charlotte. Partly this is because for many years, the city was grateful for any development and saw any growth as good, nevermind the unintended consequences.

 

But there is something that can be done.

 

Vote for those candidates who are not in thrall to REBIC.

 

Stop approving garbage development, demand better quality development and codify the standards.

 

It's not a great mystery. It just takes political will.

Edited by Silicon Dogwoods
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It would seem to me that buildings 50+ years old catered to a more pedestrian client as opposed to an auto centric client.  In much new development, you drive into the garage and enter the building directly with no real street access.  Older buildings needed to attract people as they walk by, thus they had personality.

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I like uptown :( especially with all that's coming to engage a walking citizen.

Edited by Jayvee

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I like uptown :( especially with all that's coming to engage a walking citizen.

 

I do too.  What's done is done, some good some bad.  Charlotte will never be mentioned in the historical context of Atlanta, Charleston, Richmond, etc.  Keep growing and creating green spaces for people to mix and mingle (with diversity in mind).  I think that is more important than having a stock of older or turn of the century buildings...see Seattle.  I get a kick out of the Charlotte's Got a Lot current campaign.  It's all wrong.  They should've developed a campaign brand based on the perceived sterility, boring and blandness.  Accept it and play on that...that would've been more catchy.

Edited by Durhamite

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It would seem to me that buildings 50+ years old catered to a more pedestrian client as opposed to an auto centric client.  In much new development, you drive into the garage and enter the building directly with no real street access.  Older buildings needed to attract people as they walk by, thus they had personality.

I think there may be some truth to this statement.  I also think the older buildings in many cases had more opulent designs because the people who designed them looked at the buildings as a reflection of themselves.  Nowadays, much development is just about maximizing revenue and minimizing costs in the least amount of time possible which leads the developers to cheapen projects.

 

Although it ostensibly makes good business sense to cheapen development to maximize profit, in many cases it actually imposes a social cost not accounted for on the balance sheets.  In economics, this is called a negative externality.  In the case of cheap development, the development itself is artificially low cost because part of the economic costs are externalized to third parties-the ones who are neither consumers or producers of the good.  This is why there must be either some sort of regulatory or economic framework to thwart the overproduction of cheap development.  The economic solution would be to place a burdensome tax on development that did not fit into design guidelines thereby forcing the market to internalize the externality.  In other words, it would take unaccounted social costs and place a dollar amount on them in the form of taxes so that said costs do appear on the balance sheet.  As a result, the supply and demand fundamentals shift such that quantity supplied is reduced.  A regulatory solution would just be to not allow any development that does not fit certain design guidelines. 

 

Either solution would likely reduce the glut of monolithic stick built apartment buildings in Charlotte, but I digress.

I like uptown :( especially with all that's coming to engage a walking citizen.

I like uptown too.  There are many buildings in downtown that will be just as beautiful 100 years from now as they are today.  There is also much new development to be excited about in downtown.  Crescent's projects on Stonewall, 300 South Tryon, the Mint Museum tower, Ascent, and the Skyhouse block are all great projects; they are exciting to me because they either engage the street with retail or have interesting architectural features or some combination of both.  What is less exciting are developments such as the Mint, Woodfield at Graham, virtually everything in Southend, etc that are neither architecturally interesting/street engaging designs nor high quality builds.  While I am sure this won't be the case for all, it is those  types of developments that I think will deteriorate quickly.  My worst fear is that in twenty years or so, many of these cheap projects, become blighted eyesores that end up destroying their respective neighborhoods.

 

Don't get me wrong, I love density.  I believe it's one way to combat the environmental ills of mass suburbanization.  However, if the buildings currently springing up all over the city become undesirable and blighted over time because they are under-designed, that's when I think the true social costs of allowing development for development's sake will become apparent.  Unfortunately by then it will be too late.  That is why I believe the city somehow needs to rein in all the cheap apartment projects and enforce quality standards now-to stave off economic and social peril in the future.  Developers have a profit motive, and that's understandable.  It is the city's responsibility to ensure that its citizens are not left holding the tab for the implicit and social costs of cheap development.  We need high quality developments that maintain their desirability over the long term, and if certain developers can not deliver that, then it's best that they go elsewhere.

 

Sorry for the somewhat tangential rant, but I do think the type of designs the city allows speaks to the culture of the city as a whole.  In the case of Charlotte, I think our "development regardless of quality is inherently virtuous" attitude has helped foster a culture of complacency and reinforces our image as a boring city.

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^ Kudos Mr. Kermit.  Best post I've read on this site in a damn long time.  The crosstown trail has tremendous possibilities in connecting neighborhoods upstream and downstream. Wayfinding signage noting the distance to nearby cultural and natural sites ( like the Mcgill rose garden and Winghaven ) as well as employment & commercial districts would lay to rest the notion that these points of interest are too difficult to enjoy via a bicycle.  It might also help dispel some parental and CMS fears of encouraging students to again walk & cycle to school.  

 

It's all about connectivity and the ( aghast ) possibility that we can say 'good morning' to others as we pass by on our way to work, to shop, to learn something, or simply enjoy the day and our community.  

 

On my Sunday morning ride today I was stopped at a light at 6th & Church and a somewhat elderly Afro American lady walked in front of me in her Sunday best, highlighted with a stunning red straw hat.  I commented to her that it was indeed a lovely hat and that she wore it well.  It was a serendipitous encounter that left us both feeling better because of it, and would certainly not have happened had I been encased in an automobile.

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^ Kudos Mr. Kermit. Best post I've read on this site in a damn long time. The crosstown trail has tremendous possibilities in connecting neighborhoods upstream and downstream. Wayfinding signage noting the distance to nearby cultural and natural sites ( like the Mcgill rose garden and Winghaven ) as well as employment & commercial districts would lay to rest the notion that these points of interest are too difficult to enjoy via a bicycle. It might also help dispel some parental and CMS fears of encouraging students to again walk & cycle to school.

It's all about connectivity and the ( aghast ) possibility that we can say 'good morning' to others as we pass by on our way to work, to shop, to learn something, or simply enjoy the day and our community.

On my Sunday morning ride today I was stopped at a light at 6th & Church and a somewhat elderly Afro American lady walked in front of me in her Sunday best, highlighted with a stunning red straw hat. I commented to her that it was indeed a lovely hat and that she wore it well. It was a serendipitous encounter that left us both feeling better because of it, and would certainly not have happened had I been encased in an automobile.

Maybe I'm just clammy, but I never talk to strangers unless at a club or to help someone with directions or beside someone on a plane. Other than that, um, I wouldn't have much to say.

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I do too.  What's done is done, some good some bad.  Charlotte will never be mentioned in the historical context of Atlanta, Charleston, Richmond, etc.  Keep growing and creating green spaces for people to mix and mingle (with diversity in mind).  I think that is more important than having a stock of older or turn of the century buildings...see Seattle.  I get a kick out of the Charlotte's Got a Lot current campaign.  It's all wrong.  They should've developed a campaign brand based on the perceived sterility, boring and blandness.  Accept it and play on that...that would've been more catchy.

 

Problem is, Seattle is a poor example.  Seattle has a very large stock of historic buildings, and also has a long-established history of incorporating the facades of historic buildings into new development.  The example that most readily comes to mind is the facade of the 1920's Seattle Natatorium, preserved and seamlessly incorporated into a highrise condo building.

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Maybe I'm just clammy, but I never talk to strangers unless at a club or to help someone with directions or beside someone on a plane. Other than that, um, I wouldn't have much to say.

 

I never talk to stange folks either, that is just not part of my personality. However, interactions which create culture don't have to be verbal. The mere presence of people creates culture. Things like window shopping, buying stuff, going to the park, wearing weird (and normal) clothes, etc are all part of creating a neighborhood culture. Anything that is visible to others counts.

 

As soon as you get in a car you are only relevant to yourself.

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Although most minds probably go straight to the arts when they think of the word "culture", another culture-promoting idea is to go all-in on higher education.  Throughout history, it seems as if great cultures (i.e. Greece) and cultural movements (i.e. the Renaissance) have centered around advancements in knowledge.  Furthermore, the cities that are considered the pinnacles of culture in America-Boston, New York, DC, San Fransicsco-are often those that have extremely well-regarded institutions of higher education.  Therefore, it is not too far fetched to think that the more we promote higher education in the city, the more cultured we will become.  More specifically, Charlotte should actively seek for ways to become a bastion of post baccalaureate and STEM education. 

 

One idea I had was for the city to help fund a large expansion of engineering, science, and business programs at UNCC to include programs for energy engineering, environmental engineering, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, nuclear physics, theoretical physics, biochemistry, economics, EMBA, and the like.  While I do not know the legalities of the city providing funding to a state supported institution, I can not imagine that it could be illegal given that the city can provide millions in direct subsidies to sports teams and amateur sports complexes.  I would much rather the city hand over 30+ million dollars to UNCC to double the size of their STEM and business departments than I would to see that same money going to help Good Sports build a field house.

 

Another idea is a comprehensive health sciences university (a la Western University of Health Sciences) supported by a combination of the city and all regional colleges/universities (except UNCC since the administration so obviously wants no part of anything that is not the brain child of Chapel Hill).  A comprehensive health sciences university could house the big programs such as medical, dental, pharmacy, physicians assistant, and nursing/nurse practitioner schools as well as the less common schools such as vet med, podiatry, optometry, and other various science/research programs.  Once again, I would much rather see public funding going to fund a major higher education initiative than some other dubious "economic" development project.

 

Finally, while I do not know if these are worthy of direct subsidies like the programs above, I still think the city/county should work with local non-profits and universities to build a reputable law school(s) under the auspices of Davidson, Queens, and/or UNCC.  Also, we should strive to have a school of journalism (most likely at Queens considering its current school of communication and ties to the Knight Foundation) and a large school of art, film, and design.

 

Expansions of culture and expansions of knowledge often go hand-in-hand.  Charlotte does a good job of attracting educated people, but much of that human capital is imported to Charlotte and not produced in Charlotte.  We need to support higher education and the institutions that provide it.  The more we get behind major educational initiatives, I think the more cultured our city will necessarily become.

Edited by cltbwimob

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Cltwimob, I get your point about education and believe there is some merit behind it. But I'd rather see the focus of city funding be at the k-12 level, where its desperately needed.

People are fiercely loyal to their college alma matters. I'd be damned if I'd let my money go to UNCC as opposed to opting to send it back up the mountain. I know that's selfish and wrong. I'm sorry, haha. It's how I would feel! But I'd bet I wouldn't be alone.

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Problem is, Seattle is a poor example.  Seattle has a very large stock of historic buildings, and also has a long-established history of incorporating the facades of historic buildings into new development.  The example that most readily comes to mind is the facade of the 1920's Seattle Natatorium, preserved and seamlessly incorporated into a highrise condo building.

 

I don't know about a large stock from my experiences perusing the city, but I guess to a degree downtown.  But in the surrounding neighborhoods seems all new urban style,eetc..nothing akin to the neighborhoods of older cities back East (rowhouses, etc).

 

I think Charlotte should just be Charlotte, keep the current momentum (LRT, etc) and ignore critics. Seems they've invested a ton in consultants and planners so the big picture is in place, just let it all evolve naturally and organically and make tweaks as needed.  It's kind of actually happening at the moment.

Edited by Durhamite

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I really do like the idea of going "all in" on something.  I get the feeling we are trying to do a little of everything as a city (which I mean, I understand that, you have to) but sometimes it results in having mediocre versions of transit or parks and rec or schools, ect ect.

 

It'd be interesting to see the city go all in or one of those and just say "you know what, we want to become THE city of mass transit in the US in the 21st century".  Or THE city of parks.  Take your pick.  That would certainly help to establish an identity, if we were actually known for something.

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I think a good test of our "culture" is thinking about what you would do if you had friends or family visiting Charlotte for the first time.  That's where we are behind most other cities - honestly what would you do that would be exciting and memorable?  Most cities have an obvious answer to that question (with some exceptions like Houston) but Charlotte really doesn't.  I've been encouraged by things like the baseball stadium, brewery scene, and Seventh Street market in recent years which are all now decent options.  I'm hoping Latta Arcade will develop into something more exciting over time since it's now in an amazing location and is one of the most interesting public spaces we have uptown.  There is no reason it couldn't be a small version of the Ferry Building in San Francisco which was renovated in the early 2000's and is now one of the most popular destinations in San Francisco with small food shops, boutiques, a farmer's market on the weekend, etc.     

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I think a good test of our "culture" is thinking about what you would do if you had friends or family visiting Charlotte for the first time.  That's where we are behind most other cities - honestly what would you do that would be exciting and memorable?

My answer to that question is always the White Water Center, but thats not an urban destination. It may be the 1 thing that is truly unique for us vs. any other city in the country though. I would love to see Charlotte focus even more on outdoor activities and become an east coast destination for biking, skating, and water sports. We have a great trail network already but could certainly use an urban mountain bike park (this was proposed at one point under the 277 overpass near the Music Factory, with some real interest, but was scrapped). Build a skatepark uptown (WAY overdue). Inner Peaks is opening a Southend location already but how cool would it be to have an outdoor climbing wall uptown? 

 

The other answer to that question is a brewery tour, if my guests are into that. That's one thing that we are doing better than most cities IMO.  

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I really do like the idea of going "all in" on something.  I get the feeling we are trying to do a little of everything as a city (which I mean, I understand that, you have to) but sometimes it results in having mediocre versions of transit or parks and rec or schools, ect ect.

 

It'd be interesting to see the city go all in or one of those and just say "you know what, we want to become THE city of mass transit in the US in the 21st century".  Or THE city of parks.  Take your pick.  That would certainly help to establish an identity, if we were actually known for something.

 

 

Charlotte is already somewhere in the top 3 destination cities* in the U.S. for disc golf (frisbee golf).  Wouldn't take much of a push to make it undisputed.  Hmmmm, perhaps not what you had in mind -- although there's definitely a "culture", ha ha.

 

 

*There are a few non-city destinations (e.g. Selah Ranch, Highbridge Hills, IDGC) that are top *spots*; but among cities/metros, Charlotte/Meck is way up there.

 

 

Edit:  And the same day I post this, NoDa Brewing puts out a video for their "Par 4 Session IPA" -- "The perfect beer for Disc Golf".

 

Edited by grodney
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There is a long history of developers being able to do whatever they want in Charlotte. Partly this is because for many years, the city was grateful for any development and saw any growth as good, nevermind the unintended consequences.

 

But there is something that can be done.

 

Vote for those candidates who are not in thrall to REBIC.

 

Stop approving garbage development, demand better quality development and codify the standards.

 

It's not a great mystery. It just takes political will.

 

 

I like uptown :( especially with all that's coming to engage a walking citizen.

 

Uptown is getting better, and doing so at a rapid pace. As much as I may rag on its imperfections, it's becoming something much cooler than the 9-5 business part it was 15 years ago.

 

I think there may be some truth to this statement.  I also think the older buildings in many cases had more opulent designs because the people who designed them looked at the buildings as a reflection of themselves.  Nowadays, much development is just about maximizing revenue and minimizing costs in the least amount of time possible which leads the developers to cheapen projects.

 

Although it ostensibly makes good business sense to cheapen development to maximize profit, in many cases it actually imposes a social cost not accounted for on the balance sheets.  In economics, this is called a negative externality.  In the case of cheap development, the development itself is artificially low cost because part of the economic costs are externalized to third parties-the ones who are neither consumers or producers of the good.  This is why there must be either some sort of regulatory or economic framework to thwart the overproduction of cheap development.  The economic solution would be to place a burdensome tax on development that did not fit into design guidelines thereby forcing the market to internalize the externality.  In other words, it would take unaccounted social costs and place a dollar amount on them in the form of taxes so that said costs do appear on the balance sheet.  As a result, the supply and demand fundamentals shift such that quantity supplied is reduced.  A regulatory solution would just be to not allow any development that does not fit certain design guidelines. 

 

Either solution would likely reduce the glut of monolithic stick built apartment buildings in Charlotte, but I digress.

I like uptown too.  There are many buildings in downtown that will be just as beautiful 100 years from now as they are today.  There is also much new development to be excited about in downtown.  Crescent's projects on Stonewall, 300 South Tryon, the Mint Museum tower, Ascent, and the Skyhouse block are all great projects; they are exciting to me because they either engage the street with retail or have interesting architectural features or some combination of both.  What is less exciting are developments such as the Mint, Woodfield at Graham, virtually everything in Southend, etc that are neither architecturally interesting/street engaging designs nor high quality builds.  While I am sure this won't be the case for all, it is those  types of developments that I think will deteriorate quickly.  My worst fear is that in twenty years or so, many of these cheap projects, become blighted eyesores that end up destroying their respective neighborhoods.

 

Don't get me wrong, I love density.  I believe it's one way to combat the environmental ills of mass suburbanization.  However, if the buildings currently springing up all over the city become undesirable and blighted over time because they are under-designed, that's when I think the true social costs of allowing development for development's sake will become apparent.  Unfortunately by then it will be too late.  That is why I believe the city somehow needs to rein in all the cheap apartment projects and enforce quality standards now-to stave off economic and social peril in the future.  Developers have a profit motive, and that's understandable.  It is the city's responsibility to ensure that its citizens are not left holding the tab for the implicit and social costs of cheap development.  We need high quality developments that maintain their desirability over the long term, and if certain developers can not deliver that, then it's best that they go elsewhere.

 

Sorry for the somewhat tangential rant, but I do think the type of designs the city allows speaks to the culture of the city as a whole.  In the case of Charlotte, I think our "development regardless of quality is inherently virtuous" attitude has helped foster a culture of complacency and reinforces our image as a boring city.

 

1- Incentivizing good development is definitely the way to go, but it should only be done if we really trust our design guidelines. I personally think that it won't work without a form-based code for the more urban parts of the city (which is something we need big time.

 

2- Single-use buildings at high density aren't much better than a subdivision in the middle of nowhere. We need the active street frontages to create an environment where pedestrians want to be, and thus drive demand for street-level retail.

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I really think that this is all going to come to a head when the Camden, Park, S. Tryon block gets developed.  That project has old buildings and culture in spades....

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