Monday, July 06, 2009

Recreating Rome in uptown Charlotte

This month's Civic By Design discussion will be an exercise in imagining how to enliven a dead zone. Last summer, the zone was the intersection of Kings Drive and Morehead Street. This month is the "seas of asphalt of our Center City around West Trade Street, Fourth Street, and Graham Street." Click here for a Google maps/street view – and you'll see why it's an appropriate spot to re-imagine.

I want to throw this topic open for discussion early, because I want to throw out an idea into the mix of ideas people inevitably will have. Last summer, as groups of people sat around tables with big maps of the Kings-Morehead area and little photos of buildings that we were supposed to arrange, it became obvious this was an exercise less of imagination than of fantasy. Further, it was a demonstration of how what people say they want sometimes is exactly what they shouldn't want.
Everyone always suggests that what is needed is a park and open space. Well, OK. But parks and open space aren't what make the Pantheon piazza so wonderful. If you think they will enliven uptown Charlotte here in 2009, you aren't paying attention to what's really on the ground in uptown.
What makes the Pantheon section of Rome wonderful are, of course, the magnificent Pantheon itself, and the art in the churches nearby, but more than that, it's the buildings and activities that surround the piazza and its fountain (with drinkable water – that might be a start!). A big stone piazza holding a fountain but with nothing around it would be about as lively as a parking lot with a fountain in the center.
Uptown Charlotte is dying from too much open space – in the form of parking lots and large corporate plazas and small corporate plazas and fountains out the wazoo. What do we need? Stores. On the street. Good old-fashioned window-shopping-inducing retail. And many of the retail spaces in most of the uptown buildings built since 1960 – what's the technical term? – suck.
Retail likes to be around other retail. (Note shopping malls. Note downtown Asheville, and Boston's Newbury Street and Madison Avenue and Strøget in Copenhagen.) Uptown is full of large projects (courthouses, government center, Federal Reserve, arena, stadium, convention center, transportation center, performing arts center, multiple churches, and office towers all in a relatively small area). Because they are large and typically dead along the sidewalks, they kill their area for retail. The retail space that remains is fragmented, and the bulk of it is invisible from the street.
It will be hard to spark retail synergy. So that's the major challenge for uptown Charlotte, and for enlivening any area, including the incredible dead zone we'll be looking at next Tuesday night.
While the Pantheon is probably my favorite building in all the world, I don't think we ought to put one uptown. At least, not in today's uptown. What we ought to import, instead, is the Caffe Tazza d'Oro, the Giolitti and Della Palma gelaterias, the caffe Sant'Eustachio, the arts supply shops, antique furniture shops, grocery stores, shoe stores, purse stores, jewelry stores and fashion boutiques that make up the Pantheon neighborhood.

Have your say:
Civic by Design: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday July 14, at the Levine Museum of the New South. If you RSVP by Friday to brenda@dpz.com you can have gelato – alas, not from Rome.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

GET THE BASEBALL STADIUM BUILT!!! Then surround it with retail, condos, apartments, restaurants, bars, etc. I agree retail is the key, but retail will fail if there are no people. Also, speaking of Rome, Charlotte could use more fountains off of Tryon St. Fountains are beautiful, and Uptown has no character. Fountains would add some.

Anonymous said...

How bout you go to rome if that is what you like.

Charlotte is a nice city.....retail stores would exist if they were economically viable....but in most cases they aren't, especially this economy.

Anonymous said...

GET THE BASEBALL STADIUM BUILT!!!

hahaha, yeah, that'll save downtown just like boobcat arena......silly.

why do so many people think sports complexes make downtowns great?

catholicranger said...

We've already adopted the culture of self-indulgent pleasure and privilege of ancient Rome. Hence, why not the architecture also?

Anonymous said...

Try to do something in Charlotte like that and the IDIOTS will just tear it down in 10 years. CHARLOTTE HAS NO CHARACTHER!

Anonymous said...

Dear CHARLOTTE HAS NO CHARACTHER!,

I 77 and I 85 run both ways.....

Anonymous said...

Mary, I can't offer up any fixes....this is a bullet wound, not a scraped knee.

Funny how people are quick to point out that Charlotte has no character....yet that's exactly what Charlotte is desperately seeking. Rome, New York, Chicago...they all have HISTORY - and DIVERSITY. Culture just happens in those cities as a by-product of their history. (and the historical preservation of such)

Charlotte tares down its architecture, gentrifies its population, and ultimately crushes the very stepping stones it takes to organically create environmental culture....usually on the basis of personal, or in Charlotte's case, corporte interest. A fountain won't fix that....nor will a pre-destined 'development plan' of Abercrombie and Fitch along side Williams Sonoma....
This is an organic process that is being forced to mechanize. Good luck with the peg-in-the-hole analogy. More than likely, it needs to come from a change in mentality....now how do we do that?
The ballot booth is good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that the same area where they wanna build a baseball stadium? Why not just build that... your right about the park, not really benifits uptown.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I will get in trouble for saying this, but Charlotte does not need another large sports arena uptown!

We do need more quality retail shops, small music venues that feature local musicians, and an area that welcomes local artists to create and display their work in a public arena.

No new contruction building itself is going to add character to Charlotte. Instead we need to create a space that attracts imaginative and interesting people of all types to come together and enjoy eachother's gifts.

Anonymous said...

once the NASCAR HOF is done, all problems will be solved...we'll have character then.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Charlotte and Rome...one in the same. I don't get it

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Mary... we need a mix of retail stores and less chain places... but without any old buildings or storefronts how is this possible? Nothing anybody does will make anyone happy in this city. If they built stores from scratch people would complain they have no character anyways. I have come to conclude that this city is full of idiots from all over the world.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day somebody thought it would be a good idea to tear down every single "old" building in downtown Charlotte and replace them with giant parking lots. That person is a fool and should be tortured for life.

Anonymous said...

West Trade Street, Fourth Street, and Graham Street

Not sure a pantheon structure can help this area....lots of scary people around that greyhound bus station...i kinda like that the area is open so i can see what is lurking about(not that I frequent that area often).

Anonymous said...

I think the first step is to rename "Uptown" back to Downtown or Center City. Uptown is the dumbest name I've ever heard. You can't have an Uptown without a Downtown and a Midtown first!

Anonymous said...

I think you should write an article about the area around UNCC. That area is pathetic. No curbs and sidewalks, bikelanes, streetlights, etc. Our city planners can't possibly drive around this area and feel good about themselves...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great article, Helen! I loved Rome, Florence and Venice when visited over 5 years ago. One of the greatest places to visit and live. That is also how many feel about Charlotte, Atlanta, etc. - wherever they live. We do not have that mentality (sadly enough) nor the history to achieve (even like our brethren in Charleston and Savannah). Charlotte has its own identity, albeit nominal when compared with great American cities and international cities.

It is our burden, however to make Charlotte interesting and unique. The support of Walmarts, Southpark and all of the other "national" brand type retail does nothing for that change. Go support the local restaurants, clothiers, arts, etc. This is a start and will eventually become a change agent for the future....baby steps.

Anonymous said...

speaking of rome, we had a colisuem and tore it down....

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

hahahaha

i loved the coliseum, it had character

Anonymous said...

rome wuzn't built in a day

Anonymous said...

arts supply shops ???

The people i see in this area of town ain't looking to buy art supplies.

Anonymous said...

This is the area where the State and City of Charlotte is building the new Amtrak\Transit station set to begin next year. It will include office and retail and will take it about 3 city blocks. Pick another dead zone. Mitch

Anonymous said...

Why can't we build a King St. in Charleston in center city...around the baseball stadium we hope gets built? With more residential being built with it all, the center city population continues to grow. When the recession ends, it will grow faster.

Fountains would be nice as some have said, but they could simply accent the core, which is a lively shopping and night life.

For those of you who are negataive, what makes these great cities so loved other than their history? Charleston - shopping and restaurants. Savannah - parks, fountains and restaurants. Both have historical buildings and great scenery. Charlotte can't create those historical buildings and great scenery, but we can create the shopping, parks, fountains and restaurants.

I do also support the baseball park in the area...think Wrigleyville around Wrigley field in Chicago...

Anonymous said...

How about tearing down the Scaffolding on the buiding on the corner of graham and trade? It has literally been up since i moved to Charlotte in 2003

Anonymous said...

If Mary wants to make Charlotte more like Rome, perhap we should build an open air coliseum instead of Knights Stadium and have real gladiators fighting to their death in the middle. Either that or build a new Vatican on the block to annoy the Baptists.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Having moved from Charleston for a job, I pine for King St type retail. But I just never see it happening Uptown. It's too dominated by corporate conservative interests. The tiny retail parts of PlazaMidwood, NoDa, and Southend are the best we will ever have. Not good enough but better than none at all.

Anonymous said...

Center City Partners needs to get remotivated as a more grassroots mediator. Strike a deal along the lines of what should/would happen with the baseball stadium (city owned, leased cheaply as a catalyst site) - except this time, do it with urban retail. Major retailers NOR start-up shops would be able to afford the land/building costs and turn a profit. It's exorbitant. So, Center City Partners could step in a put together a deal. Don't expect the City to do it...why would they. CCP, it's up to you.

Anonymous said...

When the NASCAR HOF is done our character will be even more redneck than it already is! In a world with so much Global Warming and an Energy Crisis, has anyone ever considered the ramifications of promoting a sport where idiots drive around in circles in cars that guzzle fuel and produce pollution at a phenomenal rate?

Anonymous said...

One other problem about getting stores downtown is cost. Uptown has gotten really expensive and the mom and pop stores can't afford it. NoDa would have been perfect but the yuppies moved in, claimed that and are forcing out mom and pop also. Maybe Central Ave? But that's been changing too.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'd like to propose a throwback to the textile and cotton history of CLT area and create a center city market called the "Cotton Platform". It would be something like the market in CHarleston, but better. Year-round, have local produce, art, etc and other goods that uptown residents need - and also include other souvenirs of CLT to cater to tourist population that WILL be coming with the opening of NASCAR HOF. It should be an open air but covered platform with an open plaza around it that could be used for events. Lets do it! Come on center city partners! lets build an identity around Cotton history and textiles

bebobbaby said...

Oh pul_leazze! Charleston is FAKE. Courtesy of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who glorify the days when darkies knew they're place. And while you're digging it ... check out that hot Saks Fake Avenue on King. Take about a soulless open air shopping mall.

I'll take the QC anyday.

The Spoofer said...

The solution is rather simple:

Get city council to declare that area a 24/7 flea market and yard sale mecca. Citizens should be told that the space around those streets would be available for free on a first come, first served basis. Residents would be allowed to bring their own card tables any time they wish, and sell all that junk that Charlotteans spend most Saturdays driving from neighborhood to neighborhood to buy.

Voila! Instant retail in center city without spending millions of taxpayer monies to alter infrastructure or to subsidize businesses. It could turn into another Anderson Jockey Lot, only bigger. And talk about activity! There’s nothing more active than a gigantic city yard sale district. Tourists would flock there for bargains.

Those pocketing cash at the end of the day from their efforts would no doubt spend part of it on uptown attractions or dining, further boosting center cityism. The only drawback would be the futility of trying to impose a system of sales or use tax on the vendors so that government could grow bigger from the proceeds. Gee, maybe that’s not a drawback after all.

Uncle Dennis said...

You can see changes in foot traffic patterns taking place all over downtown. Imaginon is creating huge foot traffic on weekends as does Discovery Place. The NASCAR Hall will be a major traffic generator, it is really going to be a quality destination. Brevard Street is being encouraged to become more retail centric.
The baseball stadium in the third ward would also create foot traffic, as the stadium would have many uses for over 1/3 of the year. New buildings are creating ground level activity, see the Catalyst and the associated parking garage, spaces that can be carved for independant businesses or chains. The VUE will have ground level retail.
It is not that we don't have it, it is just coming slower than many of us would like.