2 Charlotte projects win Knight Cities Challenge grants. See their plans for improving the city


Every year, the Knight Cities Challenge asks one simple question: “What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?”

Thousands of ideas flow in from across the country and this year, Charlotte has two winning projects: Rail Trail Grove & Field and Your Move, Charlotte. Each won a grant of more than $100,000 to turn an idea into a reality in 18 months.

In all, 33 winners were chosen from 19 different cities, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced this morning.

Here’s a look at the winning Charlotte projects:

Rail Trail Grove & Field

Erin Gillespie and Maria Floren spend a lot of time on the Rail Trail as planning and development associates at Charlotte Center City Partners. And they’ve noticed some gaps in the trail, between Remount Road and Tremont Avenue.

Their plan is to address those gaps with $150,200 from the Knight Cities Challenge.

Gillespie, 32, and Floren, 29, plan to build temporary trails to connect existing parts of the trail near the Publix and Atherton Mill in South End. (See the map below for the exact location.)

Traditionally, the Rail Trail has been built piece-by-piece by developers building along the line. But these two areas, currently occupied by an Off Broadway and Auto Bell, were grandfathered in and likely won’t be redeveloped anytime soon. Floren and Gillespie said it’s important to connect these sections now, though, to allow people to safely move around the neighborhood.

“This is a functional, tactical trail,” Floren said. “It’s not going to be like the trail currently is. … It will be more like a trail through the woods. …

“This will hopefully inspire and encourage the city to see that we need to actually build out the actual trail, the permanent Rail Trail.”

The Grove section will feature a tree-lined trail with possible amenities like seating, a hammock pavilion (“BYO hammock,” Floren said), picnic tables, artwork and more. The field section will be more of a straight-ahead trail through the trees.

“The cool thing about these two sites is, like, even though it is really scrubby trees and stuff, it still has this grove that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the trail,” Gillespie said. “We’re really hoping to engage the community as a part of the process, make sure that South End neighbors are really connected and helping inform what actually goes on the site.”

Gillespie and Floren plan to have community meetings starting in the next couple of months, with building to start this fall or winter. They hope to open the Grove and Field next spring or summer.

You can learn more about the project and the Rail Trail at CharlotteRailTrail.org.

Your Move, Charlotte

Have you ever looked at something in Charlotte and wondered, “Why doesn’t the city do some thing about that?” Like, “Why don’t they just build a bridge over the light rail to Publix?”

With Your Move, Charlotte, and $138,875 from the Knight Cities Challenge, Varian Shrum and Garrett Tichy hope to give you some answers.

“We really wanted to … answer that question of, ‘Who is they who should be doing things?’ and connect people wondering that to the people who are pulling the levers,” Shrum said. “And then flipping it on its head to show people … it’s not some random entity that’s going to do it, it’s you giving input in this system.”

Shrum, 28, who currently works for ATCO Properties & Management at Camp North End and previously worked with Center City Partners, said she and Tichy, 33, the owner of Hygge Coworking, had noticed two groups in Charlotte that were having trouble connecting: the average person in the community, and the civic leaders and municipal workers that actually make things happen.

They hope to connect those groups using two methods:

A monthly podcast: Shrum and Garrett will interview “people that make the machine go,” Shrum said, and talk about the work he/she is doing and the impact it has on the community.

Followed by a monthly, in-person roundtable: A few weeks after the podcast, a small group of listeners will be invited to sit down with the guest, meet the expert and make real life connections.

They hope to launch the podcast in the fall and have it run for a full year.

“It’s sort of like we made these first two connections, and now it’s your move to go do your thing in your community and make change,” Shrum said.

Photos: James Willamor/Flickr; Courtesy of Charlotte Center City Partners


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