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Ideas for Creating Culture, Temporary and Permanent, in Charlotte

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I think it has to do with PLACE.  Take Asheville as an example.  They had a park in the middle of town called Pritchard Park.  It had a big tree.  The tree was surrounded by bus shelters on all three sides.  It was essentially the central Asheville bus depot.  The city took an opportunity to re-envision the park and renovated it.  They engaged the community to find out what they wanted there and built a waterfall, a plaza, chess tables and imported a bunch of boulders.  After a year or two, the citizens took it over and launched a MASSIVE impromptu drum circle.   Today that drum circle is probably the most recognizable event/feature of Asheville.  You know you are IN ASHEVILLE when you encounter that.  Who would you credit for this? The transient hippies?  The city administrators?  Downtown boosters?  I think it is all of them... but it couldn't have happened without a PLACE.  When the DNC came to town they talked alot about the "places" that Charlotte had that were unique, that people should visit. During that time, for the first time since I moved here, I started to feel like Charlotte was beginning to grow into its skin and find its "culture".  I have thought long and hard about what made that so... and PLACE is what I keep coming back to.  Bearden is a great "place", but the "culture" has not inhabited it yet.  It takes time.  Charlotte is about 8x bigger than Asheville.  They need about 10x as many "places" to start to get that "culture".... they have a lot of catching up to do, and it starts with building better places.  Public and Private.

Edited by archiham04
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I agree. "Place" is important, and Charlotte lacks cool public places. Not that we don't have any - just not very many that are remarkable. We don't do plazas very well in this city for some reason, and until Romare Bearden Park we didn't have a great track record with urban parks.

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And speaking of murals, the RWNJ's in Raleigh have decided to make grafitti a felony:

http://www.tribtown.com/view/story/9d2e10b348874aeaaf9fa4fff1db3402/NC--Graffiti-Crimes

(I am not saying that graffiti is the answer to our culture problems, but legislation like this certainly is a barrier to the development of a vibrant arts community and an 'interesting' urban environment.)

Edited by kermit

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I agree. "Place" is important, and Charlotte lacks cool public places. Not that we don't have any - just not very many that are remarkable. We don't do plazas very well in this city for some reason, and until Romare Bearden Park we didn't have a great track record with urban parks.

SouthEnd has helped, NoDa & Plaza will help as they grow towards uptown and connected by rail.

I think by sheer size, uptown will develop its own culture. A hub for entertainment, center city shopping, the large events, etc. Hop on rail, go to Elizabeth, Plaza, NoDa or SouthEnd. Have all the artsy, local boutiques, etc.

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Along the line of places where cultrure can happen, I thnk you ned a lot of density, and good urban edges.  That's why Food Truck parking lot works so well.  It's dense(within walking distance of several neighborhoods), has transit access, has slow roads on its sides......its just an easy spot to gather, a people are "forced" to interact given the smallish size.

 

Bearden is nice, but probably 3 times too big to offer meaninful interactions.  You need people to be smushed together.....under the 277 bridge at Mint St after the Panthers game......people are funneled, and the friction of people causes people to stop, and watch the drummer using plastic buckets.  Hundreds ring around the guy....its so difficult to pass, many just decide to stop and watch, comment about it.....

 

I think when we say culture, we really just mean conversations between strangers about an observation they are both sharing. Opera or bucket drums; Monet or grafitti....the culture comes from the right "place" encouraging random people to discuss what they are seeing/saw, tasting/tasted, feeling/felt, hearing/heard....and just for fun, smelling/smelled.

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welcome to Urban Planet cmwilson24!  I read that article, so my comments were likely influenced.

Edited by archiham04

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I think there is too high of a percentage of new transplants now for any home-grown local culture to really take root. Now, once many of these "new southeners" begin their families here then those children will be the ones that will have a vested interest in how this city lives and breathes.

The city MUST do more to cultivate and nurture local businesses. It's the local business owners that have their finger on the pulse of the city better than any chain ever will. They are the ones that can better exploit gaps in our needs as city residents and if done right they can grow and expand all while helping and assisting each other. And I agree with atlrvr that there needs to be better urban planning that forces crowds to mingle more fluidly.

Also, in regards to public art/murals, I agree that they are not a one stop culture shop, but they are an important piece. They can help give a bland wall a sense of place and can potentially further the career of a local artist in turn opening up outsiders' eyes to the beginning of a new Charlotte art style. Whenever an artist has been asked about what inspired then to start painting, sculpting, etc I bet the answer neverr involved passing a beige, blank wall every day after school.

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^^I think that a city of transplants can build an identity for a city.  I do not think that it takes "naturalized natives" to achieve.

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What I think needs to happen is that Uptown needs to appeal to different economic classes other than just the wealthy. Panthers, Hornets, Rays Splash Planet, Mecklenburg Aquatic Center, Discovery Place, Knights baseball, YMCA, Epicenter, special events are all examples of pulling in the other classes other than the wealthy with their expensive Sushi bars and buying condos to rent out. The problem is that the wealthy class (not individuals) is contributing to the vanilla atmosphere.

Make a skate park in 2nd ward. Add a county Rec. building or something with small (even subsidized) retail spaces for things like a skate shop, small food places, a Music store (I know people who like Vinyl records for some odd reason: Like Lunchbox Records in Plaza), etc. Put those big tractor trailer things for pop up retail by a small skate park.

Put swinging benches around the city. Lease out spaces in buildings, carve it up to sublease out to local retailers. More interactive things around uptown. Allow more advertisements on buildings (do I recall the BB&T stadium had to cut out some advertising space because it was too tacky?)

There just needs to be stuff like County Rec. centers that appeals to a broader audience.

There is not even a tattoo shop uptown. I don't and will not get a tattoo, but come on... How many tattoo places in downtown Austin are there? I believe quite a few. My point to that is: appeal to other demographics.

Levines 1st ward park looks like a bland sterile park. Something like what they're doing in Greensboro would've been better. LeBauer Park

greensboro-lebauer-park-childrens-garden

LeBauer-Park-HeroShot.jpg

Edited by AirNostrumMAD
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I've often wondered what would happen if we relaxed the signage standards in certain areas.... kind of like at epicenter.  PM got rid of billboards and "ugly" signage to try and sanitize or "sterilize" the neighborhood back in the 70's and 80's...   Maybe its time to de-sanitize, or de-sterilize..

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You know, I've thought about this for a while, the whole "Charlotte culture" deal.  Can you really manufacture culture though?  Even the suggestion above, the murals, seems fabricated to me.  Don't get me wrong, it's really cool and looks great.  But honestly, what city in the US or Canada or really anywhere can you go to that doesn't have murals?  Is it really all that unique?  Or provide some sort of cultural impression on people where they say "oh yeah, look at that mural.  Wow, I really am in Asheville or Biloxi or Tacoma.  I can really feel the sense of community/culture here"

 

It's not a matter of using a technique that some other city has already used, but rather a matter of producing unique content.  As it stands, Charlotte has a serious image problem, because its image is that it is boring.  Downtown/Uptown/All Around does not help that situation because most of what could have made central Charlotte interesting was bulldozed and no one is particularly interested in saving even what small scraps remain.  I've lurked here for years and I've seen that in you all.  The thinking seems to be that because Charlotte was never a city of historic architectural jewels, it's no big loss that its history is gone now, nor is it a loss when yet another historic building -- gem-quality or not -- like that state office building is on the chopping block.

 

That's the larger part of why Charlotte feels placeless and soulless, at least in my opinion as an outsider looking in.  To me, in all the times I've been there, Charlotte has always reminded me of a unit in a suburban apartment complex: colorless so as not to clash with anything.  Uptown, which is supposed to be the soul of the city, does not help that impression because it's basically a gray and beige maze.  Murals would add color and at this point considering how much of the history of Charlotte has been erased, it's your best chance to actually show people that interesting people lived here, worked hard and did interesting things, and lived interesting lives.  There is no indication of that now.  There are, however, art-by-committee hokey spindles outside the arena that supposedly harken back to a textile industrial past, and there is a plethora of meaningless gewgaws disconnected to anything that might have to do with Charlotte cluttering up all those needless corporate plazas.  For an example of the latter, there's one bank plaza whose fountain has statues of children playing in the water.  What does that have to do with anything?  And especially, what does it have to do with anything when you'd bring down the wrath of God knows how many rent-a-cops if you tried splashing around in that fountain?  Art has to mean something, and it has to connect to something in order to make a viewer feel anything.  The closest you come now are the artworks that have something to do with Queen Charlotte, those statues at Trade and Tryon, and all those plaques in the sidewalk that depict whatever historic building used to stand where this parking deck is now.

 

Bottom line, you need help because people think you're boring.  They think you're boring because you have almost none of your history still standing and your modern architecture is nowhere near daring enough to adequately replace what was lost.  To the outside world you appear to be a city of sterile glass boxes.  You tore down your soul and it shows.

 

So.  You have a choice in attempting to foster a unique Charlotte culture.  You could redeem yourself of the sin of historic obliteration by becoming the world's new hotbed of avant-garde experimental architecture... or you can cover your beige and gray walls with color and you can strew your streets with sculptures that aren't as dopey as the arena spindles.  Either one will work, but I suspect the latter would be easier and would foster the culture that would help to remedy all the other ills of Uptown, chief among them the fact that the retail scene in Uptown is pathetic.

 

Granted, all of that is my opinion, so your mileage may vary.

Edited by hauntedheadnc
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And... here's another suggestion for fostering some Charlotte culture.  As places like Wing Haven and the McGill Rose Garden demonstrate, Charlotte is a good place to garden.  The city is known for its trees, but big whoop -- every city east of the Mississippi has trees.  If you're a good place to garden, do it and do it well until you're mentioned in the same breath as Charleston, Savannah, or anywhere else that people flock to look at the landscaping. 

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El Barto is fun, but copying common culture. Would be nice to see something both fun and locally connected. For example, a spray-painted Tammy Faye Baker, including her infamous running mascara eyes.

Edited by southslider
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Well there is something about center city Charlotte that draws a lot of people to live in it. It's drawing a lot of people relative to our (metro) size

Now I just think you're being overly critical. We should be using Dallas, Houston, Atlanta & Austin to draw comparisons from. Not small vacation towns. How eclectic is downtown ATL, Houston or Dallas?

Edited by AirNostrumMAD
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Uptown is definitely not the soul of Charlotte. Anyone that lives here could tell you that. Uptown is Charlotte's Epcot.

Our neighborhoods are our soul. And they are all unique and awesome.

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Well there is something about center city Charlotte that draws a lot of people to live in it. It's drawing a lot of people relative to our (metro) size

Now I just think you're being overly critical. We should be using Dallas, Houston, Atlanta & Austin to draw comparisons from. Not small vacation towns. How eclectic is downtown ATL, Houston or Dallas?

While very critical, most of it rings true. I do agree with you though that comparing ourselves to Asheville Charleston and Savannah is mostly fruitless, while we should compare to Atlanta, Dallas, even Austin. However yes, even downtown ATL is significantly more eclectic than ours, and midtown much more so (the reason downtown gets such a bad rap, it looks bad by comparison). Atlanta IMO not only has saved more historic structures than we have, even though they've bulldozed many more, but they exercise less of a tight grip on planning and public art than we do and you get some interesting, unexpected pockets as a result.

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