Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ersatz English: Disney-on-Rea

The new development, its builders will say, will look like an English countryside village. It will be called Mayfair – a countryside village bearing the name of very pricey but decidedly urban London neighborhood.

Except, it’s nowhere near the countryside. It will be on Rea Road, deep in the heart of south Charlotte’s suburbia.

In England, of course, country villages are in the countryside – and the countryside is protected from development by powerful planning laws that set growth boundaries around each village. Unlike North Carolina, in England developers can’t fling subdivisions into the countryside. That’s why Americans think the English countryside is so beautiful they’re willing to buy into ersatz England in south Charlotte. They just don’t want to let our government try anything to protect our countryside. We want picturesque England without any of the hard political work required to create and maintain it.

And it’s not a village. It’s a cluster of 59 townhomes on 11 acres. It’s about a mile down Rea Road from a shopping center, which is decidedly not the same thing as the traditional English cluster of small shops. An English village has houses, stores, churches, pubs, schools – all within a close walk of one another. An English village is not a clump of townhouses, no matter how cutely designed with faux half-timbering, marketed to the relatively narrow slice of society, who can afford $300,000 to $500,000 dwellings.

Oh, and just in case you wanted that neighborly feel – you know, the kind of warm welcome you usually find if you visit an English village pub or tea shop, a sense of being invited to be part of their community, if only for a few hours? The “English countryside village” will be gated. You are not welcome there. Prince Charles and Camilla are not welcome there.

In England, a countryside village does not have a locked gate around it.

The motto of the state of North Carolina is Esse quam videre – to be rather than to seem. And in Charlotte, people wonder why the rest of the state thinks Charlotte isn't really part of North Carolina.


Anonymous said...

No offense, but I find nothing pretty about the countryside surrounding Charlotte. It's way too redneck looking - let them pave over it.

Anonymous said...

Mayfair? Aw come on. It's just the usual townhouse development with an English name slapped on. A Mansard roof doesn't make a French chateaux, and a row of houses isn't automatically British.

I think a great model for builders can be found in Edgartown, Mass., a dense little village with houses right on the street, white picket fences, beautiful flowers, shops mixed in.

Build that in Charlotte? No way.

It's too dense! There's a seafood restaurant too close to my house! Tourists are walking all around here! Where do I park! My SUV is too big for the narrow lanes! Where's my Wal-Mart!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mary for bringing this new and exciting development to our attention.

I also read the Rea Road between Colony and 51 is scheduled to be re-worked under the impending Charlotte property tax increase.

That should really help those folks out.

Personally I think Rea Road between 51 and 485 is one of the prettiest and most well kept stretches in Charlotte.

The new Blakeney area of Rea Road is also just amazing with it's huge sidewalks and tons of landscaping.

Rea Road has really become one of the nicest places in Charlotte, and this new development will just add to it.

Rebecca said...

3:08 anonymous have you ever actually been in the countryside surrounding Charlotte? (Southpark Mall doesn't count.) And 3:17 anonymous must work for the developer in question.

Anonymous said...

Yes rebecca, I have, and there is nothing special about it.

Jane said...

Another gimmick to lure people to South Charlotte - didn't see that one coming.

cant_not said...

Rea Road is just turning into surburban sprawl really. Sure, there are a few nice developments here and there, but overall all it's a mess with traffic jams and way too many HT and Target stores within stones throw of eachother.

Anonymous said...


Lifting this straight from one of your recent blog entries: "BUT – you knew a 'but' was coming, right?"

Yes, there is always a BUT in your writing (I'll avoid the cheap-shot pun - wouldn't want to sink to your level).

I have to admit, you are amazing in your consistency - life just sucks in your world, whether the topic is "Disney on Rea" or ImaginOn.

Just what is it that drives you to such spite that you would take a new shrine to children - one of the caliber that parents in most cities our size can only dream of - and your goal is to inspire a spitting match over the architecture? Not my kind of architecture either, but guess what? It's still a treasure to the kids, whose opinion is a lot more valid in this case than yours.

Hell, even your incredibly rare "positive" columns ("can this really be CDOT," "a bouquet to Charlotte") are such backhanded slaps that one can almost envision the strained grimace on your face as you ... force ... out ... kind ... words!

No doubt, these issues are topics that you've devoted considerable time to studying. But as intellectual as the subject matter may be, in the end your print columns and blog entries are nothing better than radio sports-blab - an excuse for cheap shots and negativity guised behind the shroud of "sparking debate."

Somehow you seem to have missed out on the golden rule in life, whether of the spiritual vein ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone") or the secular ("If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it").

Granted, it must be frustrating to deal with governmental red tape, developers who value financial returns over taking risks, publishers who love negative headlines because negativity sells. (And to risk getting off topic for a second, why do you expect developers to do the enlightened thing instead of pandering to the masses, but the media in this town - TV, WBT, Observer - all do just that, pander to the masses?)

Just for the heck of it, why don't you try redirecting that passion and intellect into something positive for a change?

I don't mean writing 10 paragraphs of negativity with one paragraph devoted to your ideal blue-sky solution. Or even columns like your Jane Jacobs piece, which couldn't stop at positive terminology such as "mischief-maker and contrarian" but had to sink into name-calling like "windbags" and "blowhards." What I'm suggesting is, why don't you describe a negative solution in a single paragraph or two, then devote 10 paragraphs to enlightened positive discourse (preferably of the variety that would actually float with everyday consumers) without the insults or backhanded compliments?

Is it that you don't know how? That your world is indeed so dark that a raincloud follows you around, as in a Charlie Brown cartoon? Or is it just that "negativity sells" thing?

After a decade of diatribe, don't you tire of having no impact? Can an old dog try new tricks?

Or is the negativity so ingrained in who you are that you wouldn't know where to begin?

Anonymous said...

WOW! Great comment previous poster.

Let's be honest, if you want to see the English countryside, go to England. If you want to pay good money for a townhouse in South Charlotte, go for it. If you want to avoid Charlotte and Mecklenburg's taxes and zoning policies, jump over the county border.

Surely there is anough room in this city, state, and world for all of us to get along, and live in our own little enclaves while at it.

Now can somebody find me a place that looks like a little Smurf cottage a little bit within town?

Anonymous said...

What's wronmg with a gated community?

Rick said...

that anonymous from 4:49pm today DESERVES a NAME!!!

Anonymous said...

Where exactly is this gated community going? I can't think of any area that is not already built on (unless you count the ditches)....are they tearing down homes that are already there to make way for all of this?
I live off Rea Rd (have for 21yrs)- the stretch of Rea that is only 2 lanes- & I find it a pain in the butt to live on Rea. I can never get out of my neighborhood- have to cut through to another neighborhood to get out. I remember a time when horses used to come through our neighborhood (Mr. Rea used to own a stable to house horses) & it was a pretty quiet area to live. There are way to many cars driving on Rea- but that is just my opinion from living & having to deal with the traffic.

Ernest T. Bass said...

If you build it, they will buy...as long as there are people in this town that are willing to fork out half a mill for a gated townhome, of course they'll be built. Hell, at least this one seems to have some kind of "theme." Face it, there's more money here than most places in this country, and Mr. and Mizz Bank-Twit are going to continue buying SUV's and gated pseudo-Euro townhomes. Deal with it if you haven't figured it out yet. I've lived here for 30 years...the Charlotte I knew is long gone and never to return, but government restrictions on land ownership, housing and what kind of cars we can own is the opposite of what America is about. Of course you'd never convince most of the Observer staff and their ilk of that. They'd rather we all live in something the size of my first apartment, crammed into "new urbanism" crapholes, with a $40K hybrid fart-wagon parked in the gorgeous concrete parking deck. If you want a yard to play in or to grow vegetables (eh? what's that?), tough nookies. Bitching about a few dozen Mary Poppins townhomes being built in a well-to-do part of town ranks pretty dang low on my list of things to worry about in life...but then some of these media types wouldn't have much of a life otherwise. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

For Charlotte to be such a horrible place, there sure do seem to be a lot of freaking people still moving here. Maybe we should start dropping copies of the Observer around the country so people will just stop coming.

Anonymous said...

well anonymous 308..there's nothing special about geographical idiots like you either. How about moving back to beautiful new jersey wehere you belong and taking your ill-informed opinions with you? Or perhaps we could let some "renecks" (funny, you're a bigot, too!) show you the door?

You won't be missed.

To sum it up nicely,developers in nc are rapists.

And to the "blow hard" that dumped the word bath on us....all to personally criticize Mary, to use a nice English phrase (in keeping with your love of faux-old-country sense of place) how about you bugger-off?

Neither of you deserve a thoughtful lengthy response, so that's it.

Nice job, Mary. Let 'em have it.

Anonymous said...

Rea Road south (colony to Providence) is ab asbolutely stellar example of what a well-built, four lane, wide new road can do to create a new community.

If you have not taken a trek from Colony to Providence on Rea, I would suggest you do so to have an informed opinion.

It is absolutely amazing what the private sector can do, that government boneheads can never figure out. That is 'responding' to demand rather than trying to force people to do something.

Bad news Newsom and crew: People WANT to live in South Charlotte.

It is not a plot by evil developers.

Some people WANT gated communities (so do I). It's THEIR neighborhood. Why do YOU care if they have a gate on THEIR neighborhood????

Instead of a 1/2 billion dollar light rail mistake, Charlotte should build another oter ring freeway, lets call it I-685, and THEN they would really become a big city.

BTW, all this flip flopping really confuses my simple mind sometimes.

Newsom loves growth, Newsom hates growth. Newsome loves condos, Newsom hates townhomes, Newsom loves new retail, Newsom hates new retail, Newsom loves congestion and density, Newsom hates congestion and density.

All you have to do is throw her a Zip code and you will get your answer on where she stands.

I love in a NEW 500 home neighborhood in far South Charlotte with lots of cul de sacs and a community pool.

I have NEVER lived in a better neighborhood with more kids playing, more nieghbors getting to know each other, and more greenspace.

What, pray tell, is wrong with that????

Anonymous said...

A quote from a previous comment by Mary Newsome:
"I'm neither a planner, architect nor developer"...

So then what makes you the authority to criticize all aspects of planning, architecture and development? It's like someone who can't play a lick of music being a music critic. Where's the credibility? As a person with a master's degree in planning i read your blog and wonder if there is anything you like at all other than new urbanism, which we know is neither "new" nor "urban", and mass transit. Yes, themed developments such as this one seem a bit silly, but you know what, people will buy it, love it and this will make the market create more like it and there isn't much we're gonna do to change it. This isn't China and we can't all live in high rise buildings in urban cores, which seems to be what you would like(although i'm sure you'll find something worng with that). People want space and have the money to pay for it, so to each his own. Celebration, Florida, a new urbanist community, is more Disney than this small development of townhomes you are criticizing. Why even concern yourself over such a minute development that will be nothing but a blip on the radar in the long run. We're not talking about a 500 home subdivision being built on the last remaining bit of some historic piece of farmland in the country side. We're talking about townhomes in an already developed area. It's almost a type of infill if you consider this thing could have been built away from everything else further south. But you probalby didn't think of that with your mind being so clouded with negativity and concern over a themed, gated town home community.

I guess all i'm trying to say is where does your knowledge of planning, architecture and development come from? I'm really curious of that. I know you've covered this type of stuff for years now, but i've watched sports for my whole life and it doesn't make me a credible analyst, just someone with opinions and a bias towards my favorite teams and players. It's obvious you're biased towards your development philosophies and styles, but as a reporter aren't you supposed to be objective? Weigh all sides of the topic? You seem to be nothing more than an angry mother who sees something wrong with everything going on in Charlotte and then cram those ideas in our face. Do you drive around and look for new development or architeture to criticize or does it just happen naturally with everything you see? As a planner by trade i see a lot of things that I don't like in terms of development, but unfortunately it will take a long time for things to change for several reasons including market forces, politics, policies, ordinances, building codes, zoning, etc. I'll admit, it is frustrating as developers build to the minimum standards and nothing more, but there is some quality development out there and some good developers and architects in the area working to make things better by going above and beyond the ordinances and codes(which you never seem to find time to talk about here. Strange indeed). But it will be a very slow process. If you don't like the way a development looks, don't live there, don't look at it and don't criticize it. Otherwise, it will consume your life, but it seems to be too late for you in that repect. I can assure you of one thing, it's not gonna change anytime soon. So if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all. I think it's time for the "Naked City"(or should we say "Negative City") to put some clothes on and go home......the bus is waiting for you, but i know you'll complain it's not as nice a bus as it was in Boston, or it isn't the light rail. Oh well, look at it this way, you'll help those ridership numbers.

rebecca said...

What is wrong with you people and the personal attacks? What a bunch of creeps.

Anonymous said...

As a "Blakeney" resident, an employee of a civil engineering and architecture firm and a bona fide British citizen, I think most of these statements are a load of bollocks.

The English countryside/moores/hedgerow IS indeed protected, you can't build laterally, so we build vertically, it makes for a fantastic view of the next building, which is attached to your house, which is attached to another house, which is attached to a pub, and so on.

The reality is that homes in the UK are becoming more and more Americanised every day. My brother lives in lovely new brick three story home about as wide as my closet for which he paid very dearly, has no air conditioning (and it does get hot there) and no room for a tumble drier. You know why there are so many English people in the States? It's because we didn't want to live in England anymore! It's not that great, believe me, I grew up there. And from an English person's perspective, I think the countryside in Charlotte is lovely.

Furthermore, I moved to the Ballantyne area because it was still very rural. Now that it has more developement, my once quiet neighborhood has become a Stepford neighborhood with 12000 cars a day zooming past my community driving well over the posted 35mph speed limit. The only good development is the pub opening across the street from my neighborhood so we can walk home drunk. Albeit, we'll probably get hit by some muppet on their cell phone driving 50 in their Hummer or Excursion, whatever guzzles the most gas, has the worst emissions, and attracts the least observant drivers, so they can get to Chili's for some baby back ribs.

My point is, Americans who have either not been to England, or who have just visited on holiday, don't really get what it's like to live there. Things are built a certain way in the UK out of necessity, not by choice. Most of us relocated British would much rather have a big open, airy house with a big lot and air conditioning and all the other trappings of the American way of life. We want to see vast tracts of land, not buildings on top of buildings on top of roads, which is the direction Charlotte is taking, unfortunately. I think I'll move to South Carolina, next.

Anonymous said...

>>Rea Road is just turning into surburban sprawl really. Sure, there are a few nice developments here and there, but overall all it's a mess with traffic jams and way too many HT and Target stores within stones throw of eachother>>

Keep 'em comin, baby.

I could use a Harris Teeter next to me too.

If I had it my way, they would build a Harris Teeter INSIDE my development and then make it a gated community so just we could use it.

BTW, how many millions of dollars of tax subsidy went into Blakeney??

How about none.

City and county govt pinheads need to stop pretending they are in the real estate development business and get back to catching crooks and filling potholes in the road.

It is pretty obvious the private sector is doing fine in spite of them.

Anonymous said...

59 town homes on 11 acres gated in Meck County..... what is so wrong with that? It sure as hell beats 59 of the same sized houses using up 60 acres + of land in a real rural area.

Builders and developers create what people want to purchase, otherwise they'd be out of business.

Mary, what is your idea of the right kind of development for a growing metropolitan area?

Anonymous said...

"rebecca said... What is wrong with you people and the personal attacks? What a bunch of creeps."

We'll cut it out when Mary does, Rebecca. (I'm not holding my breath!)

Anonymous said...

To the guy who slammed Newsom for being a biased reporter, you got that wrong. She is an editorial page writer/columnist, and so opinion and analysis is her duty.

That said, this is a great collection of posts -- both those for Mary and against her. Remarkable when you read through them because there is a ton of passion and an equal amount of intelligence.

tarhoosier said...

A gated community is a prison for rich people.

Anonymous said...

Atleast there will be some character to these townhomes and they are high density. Yes its all about marketing now and the people who want that type of house with that type of character probably couldn't afford it the typical "English Countryside Estate" that you so harp back too. What you really need to focus on is the plain jane track houses that are being built all over Charlotte that after 5 years look like they need a major remodel because they were just thrown up in a week.

rebecca said...

Tarhoosier - If a gated community is a prison for rich people, can we put the lock in the outside and lock them in?

Anonymous said...

Mary has an amusing charm about her. She has always felt it is her job to tell folks how they should live thier lives.

The funniest thing Mary has ever suggested was that Charlotte executives should pressure their employees to pull their kids out of private schools and put them in the cesspool we call CMS.

"That's right son, your'e coming home from Woodbury Forest and you will be attending North Meck"

Gated communities are a result of the police department's failure to protect the people. Are people wrong to take measures to protect their property and families.

Anonymous said...

I am all for gated communities.

It helps reduce the burden on police, and it is purely up to that neighborhood to decide if they want a gated neighborhood.

But in the true spirit of socialism, Newsom feels that all people should have unfettered access to other people's private property.

As you see crime skyrocket in Charlotte, you will see more gated communities.

What an embarassment to the city that they waste all this money on the Arts and Science Council, but can't afford cops on the street.

This is why the ultr-rich support tax subsidies for arts, musuems, etc.

They are not really affected by city government shortfalls. If crime goes up, they just build a gated community.

If taxes go up, so what, they are still rich.

Anonymous said...

Assinine comment Rebecca.

Anonymous said...

Gee, they're going to use the word "village" in the name and it's not really a village! How incredibly pretentious! Next thing you know someone is going to put "park" in a neighborhood's name, even though it's, well, a neighborhood not a park! Can you imagine how artificial such a thing would sound, if say a landowner's name simply had "park" appended to it to give it cache? Something like, oh, I don't know. . .Meyers Park, perhaps? Betcha our Mary would just recoil in horror!

And emboldened by such an audacious misidentification, others will probably name a road or two after an English parish or a New England town. Good thing Mary will be around to point out the raw phoniness and pretension of naming a North Carolina street or neighborhood in such fashion. We might otherwise have to endure names lie "Cotswold" or "Wendover" or "Eastover" right here in Charlotte!

Anonymous said...

That was a hoot!

Let's not forget the new 'Brooklyn Village' or park or whatever being proposed uptown.

Newsom is tired and predictable.

Uptown good. Suburbs bad.

If this place were being built next to trade and tryon, she's be writing how wonderful it was.

PS, I notice how silent the uptowners are on the fact that poor parking, high costs, and crime have driven a great year tradition from uptown Charlotte (fireworks).

I went to that one year with my kids and that was my last.

Watch all the rest follow.

Anonymous said...

[Quote]BTW, how many millions of dollars of tax subsidy went into Blakeney??

How about none.

Really? Rea Road wasn't widened? Water and sewer weren't expanded? I guess police were already patrolling the non-existent roads there and there were extra garabage trucks idling that can now be put to use.

As someone who is hired to consult on public policy/fiscal analysis, a single family home on 1/4 acre in a new community is COSTING the city and county if it is appraised for less than $300k.

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