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kermit

A Decade of Urban Change in the Queen City

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As we approach the end of the decade I thought it may be a good time to take stock of Charlotte's urban evolution over the past ten years. Since we UPers often focus on missed opportunities, we occasionally overlook the long list of things to be proud of. I'll toss out a few events that I consider to be of great significance and hope that others will add their own and share their thoughts.

Most significant positive events in Charlotte's decade of urbanism (in no particular order)

1) The arrival of Johnson and Wales University: The addition of 2,000 college age folks (most with a creative bent) to the center city has begun to create a downtown that is welcoming to more than just bankers and club goers.

2) The transit tax repeal election results: An event which (rightly or wrongly) established Charlotte's nationwide progressive planning credibility. A much broader mandate for transit than any ridership figures. Transit advocates nationwide continue to cite Charlotte as a shining example of a city willing to invest in a transit oriented future. Who would have thought that Jay Morrison was giving transit advocates a gift?

Most significant negative events in Charlotte's decade of urbanism (in no particular order)

1) Wachovia: While the vast majority of employees remain I am deeply concerned about its future volume of employment growth and the location of that employment growth (will Wells prefer the burbs (or Fresno) as a home for new workers?)

2) The Park: The unavoidable post-apocalyptic image of the (hopefully temporary) failure of urban high-rise living

3) The near completion of I-485: What does the city gain from encouraging development further outward?

Events which have not yet achieved their full potential

1) Light Rail: The economic circumstances which accompanied its opening have put the breaks on its expansion and TOD beyond the South End. The resulting inability of planners to capitalize on the significant momentum generated by its strong ridership has been a disappointment. In my view, more lines are necessary before LRT has a chance to genuinely alter Charlotte's urban landscape.

2) UNC Charlotte's shift towards research university status: In my view the metro's largest university has become more inward looking and isolated in its suburban island over the past decade. Are there any examples of university activities impacting life in the city? (other than Tony Plath quotes in the Observer)

3) The arena: Its potential as a center city civic node has been stifled by Bob Johnson's disinterest in community engagement.

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I'd add Wachovia's cultural campus to the last category.

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What a great topic.

Positive:

1. Boom in housing over the past decade has doubled or almost even tripled the downtown residential population (including me). If it is was a national trend that stopped, it still provided a critical foundation of "rooftops" and people upon which the uptown neighborhoods can grow to be more urban and livable.

2. Retail services have seen a significant shift. Sure we don't have a full department store anymore or a Nike town or whatever niche retail some downtowns have by having saved their traditional retail through the lean years. But as an uptown dweller, I know that my urban life has changed significantly now that we have the basics covered. There is now a mainstream grocer in 4th Ward (HT) and a niche grocer in 1st Ward (Reids) and a niche grocer in 2nd Ward/Midtown (Trader Joes). We have three scale drug stores in 1st Ward (CVS Epicenter), 3rd Ward (Rite Aid Latta), 4th Ward (CVS Graham), 2nd Ward/Midtown (Target). I used to have to drive to Dilworth for those services, which would have prevented me from going carless, which I have now been for almost 3 years. Then just outside of downtown, we have add all major big box stores Target, Best Buy, Marshalls, and Staples in Midtown, Office Depot and Lowes in Dilworth and even Walmart on Wilkinson. All of these stores combine to provide a significant availability of merchandise to urbanites either a walk, bike, or short drive away. I used to rarify my trips, but would still inevitably drive up to University City a few times a month to get things I needed. Now, the only time I really need to leave a few mile radius for stuff is to go to a mall a few times a year.

3. Nightlife has seen a significant boost in the last decade. Previously there was roughly a block of nightlife downtown on College Street. While some of it is cheesy and doesn't suit all of our tastes, there are now a significant number of restaurants, bars, clubs, and music venues downtown, and other neighborhoods around downtown have continued to grow. We now have a movie theater (Epicenter), hookah bars (Crave, PJs), a dueling piano bar ([email protected]), a country bar (Whisky River), plenty of dance clubs for different tastes (Suite, Forum, Halo, Bar, Alley Cat), plenty of Irish Pubs (Connelly's, RiRa, Dandelion, Black Finn). There is also now a lot more places for the arts with the new arts campus, and the Fillmore and Ampitheater at Music Factory.

Negative

1. Obviously the credit crunch and housing market crash caused significant problems for people to move into the denser housing that was built, and caused a major slow down in the next phase of development.

2. Significant delays in the timelines for public projects. Bearden Park, Gateway Station, Beatties Ford/Central Streetcar line, Little Sugar Creek Greenway all had original completion dates that have now passed. The changes in time line have prevented each of those projects from creating an impact on the urban environment during this decade.

Potential

1. Bob Johnson's arrogance and the bad experience with the arena vote and the Hornet's prevented the new NBA team from full connecting with the city's sports fans. While it still has had some success which has brought people into town, it seems that no matter what they do (bring in Jordan, Larry Brown, and National Champ players from NC universities), they still can't fill the smaller arena that was built for them.

2. The redesign of Belk Freeway/South Blvd interchange was a major correction of an anti-urban road project. It allows for development of land that was otherwise reserved for a freeway buffer. Once those blocks get sold, Stonewall and 2nd Ward in general will be able to grow.

3. The rest of Music Factory. While Halo, Fillmore, the Ampitheater are now open and have been very (surprisingly) successful, there is still Crobar, Butter, Matties Diner (that may have just opened?), Black Bear Saloon, and Wet Willies that are yet to open. It is drawing crowds already and in the next phase it will draw even more people. While it is new to walk in that direction, it is walkable at only 1/2 mile from Gateway and 1/2 mile from Historic 4th Ward and 1 mile walk from Trade & Tryon.

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Bob Johnson's arrogance and the bad experience with the arena vote and the Hornet's prevented the new NBA team from full connecting with the city's sports fans. While it still has had some success which has brought people into town, it seems that no matter what they do (bring in Jordan, Larry Brown, and National Champ players from NC universities), they still can't fill the smaller arena that was built for them.

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Positive

Despite the downturn, still a very gung-ho enthusiasm for continuing urban improvement

The Blue line. Even if you froze the corridor at its current level of development and usage, the impact it has had is undeniable. I think it is largely responsible for the aforementioned enthusiasm.

IKEA. So sue me.

I moved here (zing!)

Negative

UNCC. They plead that they're an urban institution, but every change to their campus makes it more and more like a gated suburban community. And I fear CPCC may be venturing down the same path.

Highway bullies. The Garden Parkway shouldn't even be under consideration, and Independence Blvd is moving forward with a scheme that will divide neighborhoods even more.

Potential

Major expansion and improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists across the city, but there's still a resistance to "inconveniencing" cars too much in many locations.

The bus system continues to make leaps and bounds in efficiency and convenience. I think the black sheep of public transit will eventually get the appreciation it deserves.

Little Sugar Creek Greenway, TBD. Arts campus, TBD.

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