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.

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


  1. For the record, Atlanta has done a lot (good or bad) that Charlotte is ALREADY emulating whether or not Charlotteans will admit it. Atlanta blazed the trail for the “New South” metropolis’. You’re delusional if you think Charlotte has not borrowed from what Atlanta has done over the years.

    And by the way, I am big griper about the quality of architecture in Atlanta but Charlotte is the undisputed champion of beige boxes.

  2. You know what’s sad? Atlanta…not even once that I can find…has never diminished Charlotte. As a matter of fact, here in Atlanta, we don’t even think of Charlotte. Our eyes are on Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. But even as we look at what our future holds, you will not find people in Atlanta disparaging another city. Maybe that’s why Atlanta stands out.

    My advice to Charlotte is to stop focusing on Atlanta with your obvious jealousies and start looking inward. The barrage of articles coming out of Charlotte on “how they don’t want to be Atlanta” and “Finally, something Atlanta has done right” is pathetic. Charlotte is NOT Atlanta. Charlotte WILL NEVER BE Atlanta. Charlotte needs to focus on Charlotte and instead of putting other cities down, like some insecure, abusive middle school child whose shortcomings cause him to act out. Again…here in Atlanta, we don’t even think about you…at all.

    You can start by moving into the 21st Century and demanding a human rights ordinance that attracts the type of people who make a great city.

  3. Im pretty well engaged with good urbanism in Atlanta and I found the Atlanta City Studio and I can’t figure out what it is actually trying to do. I showed up at their studio in Ponce City Market in hopes of learning something and to provide some input. I couldn’t figure out what was there or why; the woman who was the only one present couldn’t answer any of my questions.