In Charlotte, the common warning about growth is “Don’t become Atlanta.” Atlanta’s the sprawling, traffic-choked big city down I-85 that none of us want to be like.
Atlanta’s urban development hasn’t been all that different than Charlotte, just on a larger scale — 45 current proposals in Midtown alone, for example — but that’s to be expected with Atlanta being so much larger than Charlotte. It has suffered the same beige boxes, same “auto-centric” reliance on parking decks and the same uninteresting pedestrian/street front design.
I feel like Atlanta has recently started to turn a corner, and has confronted these issues head-on. Slowly designs have been getting more unique, street levels more pedestrian scaled and site plans less auto-centric.
How? By engaging with the community. Last year, Atlanta opened a pop-up shop called Atlanta City Studio in Ponce City Market.
“The studio will serve as an incubator, workspace and meeting place for residents, visitors, design professionals and curious urbanists to connect and share ideas, as well as development plans,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a release back when the studio was announced.
The concept, set up by the Department of Planning and Community Development, seeks to move to new locations twice a year, continually engaging new groups of people. Using programs like “Design over Donuts,” “Design Your own Crosswalk,” book clubs, and some good old fashioned coloring, they keep things interesting and make people want to get involved. They interact often and effectively with social media, and bring some youth to the otherwise stodgy topic that is urban development.
— Atlanta City Studio (@ATLCityStudio) February 7, 2017
Charlotte has two great companies who’s visions should be combined. Charlotte Center City Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting economic development in Charlotte, provides a lot of info through workshops, publishes tons of masterplans and puts together development reports full of data. Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, a mixed use development company, created a somewhat similar concept called the SkylineCLT series in 2015. Its purpose is to help foster and build a cohesive identity in the arts, design, culinary and music industries, and help propel Charlotte into the national spotlight.
Both companies contributions to the community are worth commendation but their efforts, or at least ideas, should be combined.
With these two concepts combined, you get the creative energy a “Charlotte Design Studio” needs as well as the data that is so important to provide. By providing a semi-permanent space for residents to engage with and learn about development, you can help humanize the growth Charlotte is experiencing. I see it on social media and I hear it walking down the street — people are uncomfortable with the change around them, and I think giving them a space to collaborate is essential to the future of the city.
It’s time for Charlotte to take a cue from Atlanta, and embrace ideas that can help engage the city in a way that can involve everyone, from boomers to millennials. Charlotte needs to be a city with a unified voice on what we want Charlotte to be.
Photos: Courtesy of Atlanta City Studio; Josh Looney