Kaid Benfield Archive


The greening of Charlotte – Charlotte?

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 9, 2008 at 9:08PM

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When I was a kid growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, I had a sort of envy/hate thing going on when it came to the state's biggest city, Charlotte.  People in Charlotte had more money, it seemed, and their city definitely had more going on in those days, at least compared to Asheville.  uptown Charlotte (by: jacreative/John, creative commons license)But Charlotte really didn't have much in the way of character.  We had it over them on that one.

My feelings about "the Queen City" (apparently HRH Victoria once passed through) were certainly colored by the fact that my high school was in the same sports league as the Charlotte high schools, which usually had good teams.  I was on the tennis team and we generally had a tough assignment against, say Myers Park High in Charlotte.  But we did beat them a time or two, and we won the state basketball championship one year, not a small thing in hoops-crazy North Carolina.

Lately, when I think of Charlotte, I just think of the godawful long corridors in Douglas Airport and sprawl, sprawl, sprawl.  The sprawling airport is kind of a metaphor, now that I think about it.

Which is a long way of introducing a Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson article in the Charlotte Observer arguing that the city and its region should go smart and green, and even applauding a few steps already taken in that direction.  light rail in Charlotte, 7th St station (by: deritastudio/James)The two cite an uptown (they don't call it "downtown" in Charlotte) revival, a drastically improved bus system used by the middle class, the city's first light rail line, and some walkable town centers in the suburbs. 

The authors also acknowledge that there is a long way to go.  They plan a four-part series in the Observer between now and December outlining how Charlotte can be "green, great, and global."  Having introduced the subject well in the lead article, they already have another up on how Charlotte can be a leader in energy, stressing efficiency and solar.  Their position is supported by the paper editorially, particularly since one of the region's current main economic engines, banking, is in serious turmoil.

I certainly agree that the region needs help.  Greater Charlotte's population more than doubled in the last 25 years, and is projected to grow by another 330,000 people in the next 25.  Its development footprint has grown even more, since the average population density of developed areas has declined by 50 percent since the mid-20th century.  Since 1980, according to the region's planning department, Mecklenburg County has been losing five acres of open space per day.  Traffic has skyrocketed.

transit-oriented development in Charlotte (by: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department)The good news, though, is that the planning department gets it about smart growth.  In an outstanding presentation of the department's vision for how the region should grow, planning director Debra Campbell lays out an ambitious, integrated transit and land use strategy for sustainable development.  Supported by rezoning proposals for transit-oriented development, the plan directs growth - including affordable housing - into corridors and town/village centers instead of sprawling out over the remaining countryside.  If realized, the strategy will provide for the region's economic development and a high quality of life for decades to come.  I recommend the presentation to anyone interested in the subject, for Charlotte or elsewhere.

I'm rooting for them . . . if not for their sports teams.  ;)

For more on the Peirce-Johnson series, start here.