Thursday, September 17, 2009

But who oughtta be 'Worst Urbanist' ?


My colleague Jack Betts, who writes our This Old State blog, read the last post – Who tops 'Top Urbanist' list? – and suggested this, "Be fun sometime to do a list of the Ten Worst urban thinkers… There'd surely be some NC nominees." And he's surely right.

I saw that a commenter on my previous posting nominated Bissell Hayes to top the "sub-urbanism list." Right away, I started thinking about other Charlotteans (Bissell Hayes is a company, not a person, and now it's part of Cottingham-Chalk/Bissell-Hayes) who might be on that "worst urban thinkers" list.

Of course, A.G. Odell leaped to mind. He was a big proponent of uptown, to be sure, but his ideas for "improvement" were derivative of Robert Moses, or maybe Corbusier-esque. One reason downtown Charlotte has so many blocks and sectors that seem dead is that our civic leaders (Hugh McColl among them) kept following Odell's 1966 master plan for uptown development, when they shouldn't have. It tries to impose a single-use pattern, as in "here is your cultural district, there is your government district, here is your entertainment district" and so on. BAD idea.

At first I thought Henry Faison deserved a spot, for Eastland and other suburban shopping malls that wither, long after he's made his money and sold to others. But then, I thought, Faison isn't really an urban thinker, per se. He's just a developer doing what the city zoning and policies allow.

Here are Betts' suggestions:

• Whoever designed the Research Triangle Park – granted, it wasn't urban then but now it's an urban fortress, with concrete moat, in the midst of one the south's largest areas of urban academic sprawl.
• And how about whoever was mayor when the old Charlotte Coliseum was built way out yonder? [The first time that happened the mayor was Victor Shaw, but this being Charlotte he appointed a committee, headed by department store executive David Ovens, to work up a plan for a coliseum-auditorium project built in 1955 way out on Independence Boulevard. And the architect for both the old coliseum and Ovens auditorium? A.G. Odell. And while its location is horrible, and the big ugly parking lots are horrible, I do like the old Coliseum itself, with that great silver dome. And this being Charlotte, we did it again in the 1980s, when Harvey Gantt, an architect and planner was mayor. Built another coliseum way out on Tyvola Road./ mn]

• Or whoever was in charge of letting Raleigh's RBC Center get built in a place that makes visitors stand around in the parking lot after games or performances looking around in puzzlement: where are the bars, the pubs, the cafes, the restaurants, the museums? What were they thinking??????

• Or Tom White when he insisted the N.C. Museum of Art be built in an area where….(see RBC, above….) but at least there was a youth prison (Polk) handily right next door for the arts-and-petty theft crowd.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I second that.

Anonymous said...

anything built in raleigh is horribly planned out. The whole triangle is a joke and the worst part of the state.

Anonymous said...
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Mary Newsom said...

To the previous commenter: Your remarks made a good point but contained some potentially libelous statements, so I removed it. Gantt, as you noted, did fight for an uptown coliseum. But that proposal never won general approval.

I didn't want to get into the complicated politics in the posting, but you're right to remind us of Gantt's position.

Anonymous said...

Mary Newsome is the worst urbanist and she will censor you for saying that.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, Mary hates parking lots, since those involve people using cars to get to where they're going, and we can't have any of that. O'Dell and McCall did more to make this city a city than anyone else around here, yet they still get reamed by Mary. Go figure.

tozmervo said...

I think there is a place for specialty-use districts (you called them single-use) in cities. We have an arts district coming together on S Tryon, and I think NoDa would qualify as an entertainment district.

Most big cities have very notable specialty districts: NYC has Broadway (theater) and 5th Ave (shopping). They can even be very specialized specialty districts. Any electronic device you can think of can be found in Tokyo's Akihabara, and Jimbocho has more bookstores than you could see in a week.

Where uptown does have major problems is street frontage, but I don't know if Odell's plan was responsible for that. When you can walk that many blocks and see only parking garages or "grand" lobby entrances, you've got a recipe for a dead city street.

Anonymous said...

M.N.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Jimmy Carter

Jumper said...

This may be off topic, but what is the history behind the naming of "John Maynard Keynes Drive" in Charlotte?

I guess it's not so off topic. I sometimes walk at the Shoppes at University Place. The adjoining Village University Place is more standard asphalt wasteland. But I shop there too sometimes. Nothing to write home about, though.

And so who was J. W. Clay? "THE" Phi Sigma Kappa J. W. Clay?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Is Jumper a woman or a man? If a woman I have to meet you!

Jessica Eiden Smedley said...

Various neighborhood builders that failed to provide sidewalks; now Charlotte is scrambling to catch up.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Anon 12:49 I second that.

Anonymous said...

I think Charlotte's worst Urbanist is the Planning Director that recommmended that all of Mecklenburg County receive a minimim zoning of 3 units per acre 20-25 years ago. That decision alone has caused much farm land and open space to be converted into vinyl-sided starter homes well before it would have had the zoning remained agricultural on those parcels. Mary, I would love to see an article by you asking the City if they would like to reconsider that decision.

Rodger said...

J. W. Clay was a Geography professor at UNC Charlotte. He passed away several years ago (10 yrs. ago maybe). If my memory is correct (from what I have been told), he was involved with developing the original vision for University Place. It was to be the first mixed use development in the university area and was supposed to become something for the college students rather than a regional shopping center. The original vision did not include the big box row that is in the portion closest to I-85. The entire development was supposed to be similar to the first phase which is closest to Hwy. 29. The developer requested big box development instead and city council gave in.