Monday, November 24, 2008

Locust: The story behind the story

One reason planners need patience is that it takes years for what they do to come to fruition.

The Nov. 16 Citistates Report, in the article "Ring Around Charlotte," praised the town of Locust in Stanly County for its New Urban-style downtown plan of a few years back.

But Locust was, in fact, years ahead of many towns in the state in adopting a form-based town code. It adopted its town plan and code in 1996-97, under the guidance of David Walters of the UNC Charlotte College of Architecture. I remembered his role and asked him for more details:

I did the Locust town plan and form-based zoning code in 1996-97. The town employed UNCC on a “contract for services” basis to use my skills and time. This small grant, $20,000 if my memory serves, covered my expenses, wages plus expenses for a student assistant. This was the same arrangement by which I did the codes for Davidson (with Tim Keane) and Huntersville (with Ann Hammond), and guided Cornelius towards their new code, all between 1994 and 1996.

More recently we have used a similar formula to produce well-received master plans for Mineral Springs (2005) and Wesley Chapel (2007-08) in Union County, using a graduate class I used to teach.

In Locust, the town debated long and hard about whether to take up the NCDOT’s plan for a bypass that would effectively kill their town by taking all the traffic and commerce away, or accepting that they would lose the mini-downtown to the big highway and then plan for a new town center on some open land.

To their eternal credit, the town’s committee voted to pursue the latter course, so in my plan and code I showed a "city center” area backed with higher density “neighborhood residential.”

It took nearly ten years to come to some fruition, but that’s about the average time for something like that. ... The main credit goes to the Locust citizens who had the foresight to plan their town a decade into the future.


Anonymous said...

Apparently, no one cares about this obvious attempt to promote more of the same socialistic nonsense that David Walters is famous for. Why'd you have to go and dig up his decaying corpse again?

Chris said...

Form-based codes are the future. Current Zoning systems tend to be based on the use of the building, so there are commercial buildings, residential buildings, strips malls, etc. Form-based codes focus more on how the building could be used. Therefore, buildings built in a form-based code area tend to be able to be more reusable. If a business goes under, the same building can be used for a residential apartment complex. Form-based codes are also based on people, whereas use-based codes are focused on the car. In use-based codes to have to drive almost everywhere, whereas in the codes Walters suggests, one can walk almost everywhere because most buildings are higher density and mixed-use. In an age where the economy is plummeting it might not be a bad idea to save gas money and remodeling costs. Form-based Codes aren't Socialistic... they are just practical.

Anonymous said...

I wish they WOULD build a bypass around Locust, or even better, let the place burn to the ground. Their 35 mph speed limit on Highway 24/27 is absurd. It's a 5 lane highway! And let me tell you, they'll get you for doing 37 in a 35. I live in Plaza Midwood and my folks live out on Lake Tillery, and I cringe driving through that wretched little town every time. Sometimes I'll drive up to Harrisburg and down Highway 73 just to avoid Locust and their Nazi cops. Trust me, their speed limits and cops are making people avoid their town just as much as if they had a bypass! Even if I do pass through, I won't spend a dime there on gas or anything. For Locust to be so progressive in their planning, they sure are backwards on their other policies.

Anonymous said...

My question is can you even have an "urban planner" in a 1 stoplight town?

Anonymous said...

Locust is just trying to do what Harrisburg did with their 'town center': create what's not now, nor has ever, been there. I'm a big fan of mixed use development, but it works best for urban infill. Much like Harrisburg, Locust's 'town center' is staying half built, unfinished, and cookie cutter Stepford-ish... way out of place for being a little redneck town flanked by trailers in the middle of nowhere. They should have invested their money into 45-55 MPH speed limit signs instead...

david said...

I was surprised and flattered that Mary Newsom took time to give a little piece of history about Locust . . Thank you, Mary.

I do confess I spend very little time blogging as one has to waste time reading the kind of insulting remarks that cowardly "anonymous" posters subject the rest of us to. However, as I'm here . . .

I'm struck how the word "socialist" has become the new mantra of the mindless. Critics (if you can use that noun to describe people who just say nasty things about others and have no ideas of their own) throw "socialist" around as the "insult de jour," but I have met very few people who can actually define the term, let alone understand it.

I think most of these anonymous chaps and their friends mean that any action that intervenes in the activities of the so-called "free market" is "socialism." But, in the real world beyond their right-wing fantasies, any common-sense, pragmatic view shows that the marketplace and government policy working together are the necessary, twin engines of successful, property owning democracies -- so by Mr Anonymous' definition, all the great democracies of the western world are "socialist."

Well . . . who knew?

If there is any silver lining at all to our current mess, it's that Adam Smith's ideas have been shown to be the smoke and mirrors, or emperor's new clothes that they always were. (His memory and theories were only really kept on life support in the USA) . . . John Maynard Keynes is a much more relevant source of economic theory in today's world.

America's biggest weakness, as the country moves into a new century much changed from the last, is the stultifying grip of the dead hand of ideology, where a considerable section of the population sees everything is black or white, good or evil with no intellectual room for creative thought. Most competitor European countries are free of this self-induced impediment, so that may give them some advantage in developing more flexible and effective policies (eg. Gordon Brown's series of moves in the UK).

The kind of intellectually limited thinking that can hold America back is well illustrated by Mr Anonymous' postings. (As I said, I rarely blog, so is he always like this, or is it just me, or Locust, that gets him fired up?) Perhaps he's the same chap who sends me hateful emails regularly . . . .

Anyway, new problems need new and changing solutions . . . the country needs to think on its feet, not recite dogma and silly insults. Thankfully, there are so many bright, intelligent Americans around who understand the nature of the challenges we face, that we can be cautiously optimistic.... Let's just put Mr Anonymous out to pasture where he belongs . . . he's so last century!

David Walters

Anonymous said...

Good lord, if you're going to use that many straw man arguments in one self-serving post, you're going to cause hay fever! Let me recommend that if you have emotional reactions to people not agreeing with your perspective, David, that you remain in an environment in which those with whom you interact are awed by you.

All of that thin skinned sillyness aside, Locust is indeed an example of a town trying to create a downtown where one never existed. It certainly may APPEAR walkable, and if any significant portion of the community lived or ever intended to live in the town center it would be. But that's not Locust: most folks live well away from the central intersection and have no more hope of walking to the new "downtown" than they do of flying.

There's certainly nothing wrong with it if you take it for what it is, but it most certainly is NOT now likely ever will be an example of an urban area.

david said...

Mr Anonymous says dismissively that "Locust is indeed an example of a town trying to create a downtown where one never existed. " Well now, perhaps he might care to think about American history . . you know, all that heroic stuff about bold pioneers founding towns in the middle of nowhere? Making, in fact," downtowns where none ever existed." That's how America became urbanized -- by people who said (to use a phrase of the moment) "Yes we can!" instead of whining "No we can't."

Seems like a pretty good and honourable policy to me, right in line with American traditions and the strength of will that propelled early settlement across the continent. (Mind you, Native Americans would have a different take on that . . .)

I think that the good folks in Locust had a vision that matches the needs of the times . . . new, clear thinking untrammeled by the failed dogma of the past.

(Oh, and Mr. Anonymous, I think most reasonable people would find your "decaying corpse" reference to me offensive. I quite normally put my name to my opinions and my professional work . . You by contrast, skulk around, apparently afraid to identify yourself. I'll leave people to draw their own conclusions about thinness of skin . . .)

BTW, I'm not interested in deflecting any more personal comments, so I'm not responding again to that kind of juvenile silliness. It's much more interesting to talk about form-based codes, regional planning, sustainable urbanism etc. Now, if we really want to talk about any of that, let's hear it . . .

David Walters

DanoPlan said...

David - thank you for your thoughtful responses and purposeful approach to making Charlotte a better place. Your ideas are on target and gaining momentum. Communities across the Charlotte region (and the nation for that matter) better understand today the type of development that will stand the test of time...versus the disconnected and isolated "pods" that has been built for much of the last 3 decades. The times they are a changing...and for the better. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Get your hormones in check there Davey: you're dealing with more than one "anon". It is I who pointed out that locust is the creation of a downtown that never really existed. Indeed I did take not of your very evident thin skin and intolerance of a diversity of views, but I never made reference to you as a decaying corpse. One more bit of housekeeping: you see anon because I frankly can't be bothered with more passwords and accounts merely to post a thought here. If that bothers you, I recommend ignoring anonymous posts rather than whining about it.)

In any case, you're defending what never was attacked. I merley took note of the obvious disconnect in Mary's article in referring to Locust as though it had reclaimed a lost a "downtown". In your defense of what was not attacked (and you wonder why I think you're thin skinned?) you stretch reality a bit though to hold out urban planning as the noble beginnings of most American towns and cities. As you well know, most cities began without much planning at all beyond that of commercial interests acting in their own self interests. And as you know equally well, the enlightened and educated planners of a generation or more ago created most of the mess that today's planner insist they can solve.

You'll pardon my general skepticism that the visionaries of today are particularly more likely to get ti right than were the people who gave us endless freeways and waves of suburbs.

(And by the way, since everyone who doesn't fall to their knees in praise of you is clearly beneath you, feel free to ignore this. I know I am not worthy.)

Bob Remsburg said...

My Goodness, This is an interesting commentary. Having been on the citizens committee that help adopt the Locust plan, I must say that I am glad to see the town coming into fruition. One stoplight is now two and will soon be five. The optimum word here is plan or as a Scout would say "Be Prepared". It is obvious that the little one-stoplight towns that surround the Charlotte region must be prepared if they want to maintain an identity and create a community since they are faced with a continuing onslaught of growth. Most were simply a school, a few shops, and a volunteer fire department. Locust's fast growth is really due to the progressive thinking of its leaders and town fathers (and mothers). The town center is coming together in a careful manner by key investors. Old trailer parks are being replaced by patio homes with golf cart and walking paths to the town center. Sidewalks have been added and a golf cart ordinance for the town has been adopted. The plan is working.

As for the speeding tickets... the town policy is not to give tickets unless folks are more than 10 miles over the posted speed. (Remember that speed limits are set at the recommendation of NCDOT, not the city and that funds generated by traffic tickets in NC go to the school systems, not the towns.)

I've lived in Locust for 24 years and am proud to call this home. It is a wonderful place with many wonderful people and a plan for its future. Thanks to David, the folks at DPZ, the current city administration and many others that helped put Locust on the right road.

Jumper said...

David, I was under the impression that some recent economics research put both Adam Smith and Keynes in some doubt, notably work of Nash and also Mandelbrot et al.

Otherwise, if hubris can be removed from planning, it far beats the awful alternatives we see in various places.

Anonymous said...

Jumper, the "awful alternatives" that we see in many places ARE the result of planning. In Charlotte the most obvious and glaring example of that was the utter destruction of close in residential neighborhoods such as Brooklyn, to be replaced by "planned communities" such as the now defunct Earle Village.

That nonsense was urban planning just as much as the "new urbanism" version. I know some folks are fond of claiming that planning has evolved, but things don't evolve TOWARD something and evolution does not presuppose an improvement. It is only a change in response to changing conditions. Since future needs, wants, and tastes can't possibly be predicted, planning done today can't possibly accommodate the needs, wants, and tastes of tomorrow. There's no real reason to believe that a generation from now the planners and "visionaries" who hold sway to day won't be vilified for what they've wrought.

That not a problem, except to the degree that some become something akin to Hofer's "true believer" with regard to the current schools of thought, and seek to eliminate or marginalize any alternative views. The result is an utter lack of diversity of thought in the institutions that train folks to that end, so that alternatives are never explored. (There's an analogy to be had to the theories of human caused global warming.)

Rick said...

I am the mayor of Mineral Springs, and I would like to comment on David Walters' role in our town's planning process. The project undertaken by Prof. Walters' students at UNCC (working with geography professor Ken Chilton's planning students) has been a resounding success in our community. I admire Prof. Walters for even bothering to respond to the various "Anonymi" (is that a word?) who post their uninformed and really quite useless drivel on The Naked City; generally, the very first misuse of the term "Socialist' is a valid signal to ignore the rest of the commenter's output.

Planning of liveable, walkable town centers, particularly in our small towns, is a critical component of long-term sustainability for our region. Throughout the Charlotte region - in fact, throughout just about any rapid-growth region where development is conducted in a "gold rush" fashion - planning has generally been absent. Developers have served as de facto planners, and the results have been predictable: quick-fix development that delivers maximum profit to the developer, but usually minimum quality to the community.

With developers serving as planners, there is no incentive to design and build the sort of sustainable and usable communities that might cost a bit more up front and provide a marginally smaller profit initially, but deliver better long-term benefit to everybody - including the developer. Unfortunately, with the "short-term" mentality of the American marketplace, the only way to ensure such "good" outcomes is to require - through regulation and strict planning and zoning codes - such development types.

In fact, Mineral Springs officials took note of the Locust plan ten years ago, as Mineral Springs was incorporating as a municipality. It had been our intention to follow some of the guidelines established during the Locust planning process.

Ironically, Mineral Springs has a superb plan for downtown redevelopment, following the "walkable" and "sustainable" mixed use pattern. We have strong approval from the public. We have a landowner/developer who owns the key 30 acres critical to the project and who is 100% on board with the plan. All we lack is sewer availability from Union County. The reason for that lack? Well...Union County officials over the last 15 yrars foolishly gave away all available sewer capacity to sprawling, disconnected cul-de-sac auto-dependent "storage facilities for people" that just happened to be being proposed by developers who just happened to be big campaign donors (and, in some cases, business partners) of county officials.

So there you have it: well-thought-out development is yet another casualty of the "developer-as-planner" system that has dominated Union County for two decades.

Anonymous said...

Sure, Rick, that anonymous just before you is uninformed and useless drivel.

I do believe you've illustrated the point about true believers attempting to marginalize alternative views. . .

Anonymous said...

It all boils down to choices. Locust chose to become a place with an identity rather than defaulting to the strip shopping center and fast food joint model of every other crossroads in Stanly County, Union County, Cabarrus County, Meck, etct.

Rodger Lentz said...

I say good work David and the town of Locust.

Since Harrisburg was brought up, I was the planner in Harrisburg when the town center idea was developed with the town's citizens. Soon after a developer came into town to begin its development. Unfortunately, like many political processes, original visions are changed to bend to the developer's desires and perception of the market place. For example, buildings were originally envisioned to be two or more useable stories, we ended up with one story that ended up looking like two for the most part. There was also a decision by town boards not to regulate the architectural design of residential buildings, a mistake in hind sight as the development has cookie cutter residential design. The original vision also called for alley loaded garages. The developer convinced council to back off that requirement.

I can't positively say that these concessions are the reason the town center isn't more successful, but other similar developments in the region have been a success. Their attention to design and architectural detail is apparent.

Even with the concessions, I will contend that the resulting town center in Harrisburg, when built out, will beat any big box/cookie cutter center that could have been placed on that 100 acres. But, most importantly, the implementation of the town center concept furthered the goals and vision that the citizens of Harrisburg desired at that time. I call that democracy.

Anonymous said...

As a former elected official for the city of Locust I want to thank David Waters for his help in putting together a plan that has proven to work for us. Once a upon time we did have a (Downtown) or at least we called it that. I was on the county highway planning board and we looked at a bypass around Locust which I thought would be good for the town. However state officials pointed out the cost and time frame for such a venture to our board I changed my mind. Mr. Waters gave us a vision and guide lines to make it work. I stayed on the city council for over a decade and moved over to the Planning and Zoning Board for Locust and while on the Board we used this Master Plan for development. I have left the P&Z Board and now Chair the Locust ABC Board. Thank you David Waters

Joe Bishop