Tuesday, February 09, 2010

1977 Charlotte plan - Back to the future?

From the files of things I found looking up other things:

I was leafing through the dusty old reports my former colleague Tom Bradbury bequeathed, in hopes of finding when Park Road was four-laned, before writing our editorial opinion in the trees vs. sidewalk flap. (I shall note that from what I can tell, most readers prefer the trees.)

The stack of old reports even includes the 1960 Wilbur Smith and Associates "Charlotte Metropolitan Area: A Master Highway Transportation Plan." Cool. Someday I'll read it more thoroughly.

But it was in the 1977 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Thoroughfare Plan, prepared by H.J. "Herman" Hoose, transportation planning coordinator, and W.E. McIntyre, director of the Planning Commission, that I found some interesting recommendations.

They're taken from the 1995 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1975. You be the judge of how well Charlotte-Mecklenburg followed those 1975 recommendations (bold-face emphasis mine, in case you are missing the sarcasm):

• To meet the needs of a diverse population, plan for different types and densities of housing in all areas of the community through carefully controlled implementation procedures.
• Plan for all types of services, commercial, governmental and other needs, through carefully controlled implementation procedures to minimize the impact on the land. These to be provided in convenient proximity to residential communities.
• Plan for a more efficient transportation system; for a more equal balance between auto travel and mass transit opportunities.
• Plan for more parks and open spaces to enhance the visual and physical environment of the community.
• Plan for high visual quality of suburban growth with higher density uses located and designed to support mass transit.

Hmmm. About those parks: I heard once that the City of Charlotte went for something like 75 years without buying land for a single park. Not until city and county park departments were combined in the 1990s were any new parks created inside the city. A shout-out to those decades of City Council members throughout the 20th century whose legacies include a sadly park-poor city.

A quick bit of research in the Observer's archives found this from a 1985 article by then-Observer reporter Mae Israel (who's moved back to Charlotte after years at the Washington Post, for those of you who remember her). The piece is about 1985 city candidates' support (or lack of it) for a 2005 plan.

"One policy in the 1995 Plan encouraged city council members to clip the spread of restaurants, car washes and convenience stores along busy streets by denying rezoning requests.
For the most part, they didn't do it. Albemarle Road in east Charlotte, for instance, now is lined with commercial development and choked by traffic. ... (Remember, this was written in 1985.)
"The plan's centerpiece policy called for encouraging metropolitan service centers, or urban villages, to slow suburban sprawl. Concentrating public services, homes and businesses was expected to ease traffic congestion and strain on utilities.
"Politicians never directed city staffers to develop strategies for starting such centers, and the sprawl continued, mostly in southeast Charlotte. "

Of course, I can't be too negative. After all, in 1994 (a short 19 years after the 1975 plan) Charlotte City Council adopted a "Centers and Corridors" concept - not an adopted plan, certainly nothing as specific as actual zoning standards. Since 2008, an effort to update that concept and create more specific policies has been ongoing on in the Planning Department. It hasn't been adopted yet.

I think it takes a heap of patience to be a city planner here.


consultant said...

H.J. Hoose was a "smart growth" advocate before we developed this "new" term to describe the way we use to build communities.

The point is, even good governance and planning is no match when it goes up against free market capitalism that has access to cheap, available capital.

I'm not against that. What I'm looking for is balance (maybe a fool's errand). But the post WWII cheap oil bonanza provided us the opportunity to do pretty much anything we wanted to do, which included busting out of our dense, pedestrian friendly neighborhoods.

Now we have 2 generations who have grown up knowing nothing else, feeling that kind of lifestyle is a "right" and will forever be available.

Look around folks, the times they are changing.

Anonymous said...

"(I shall note that from what I can tell, most readers prefer the trees. Whatever.)"

"Whatever" is used to dismiss another's arguments or concerns as unfounded at best and doltishly stupid at worst.

I know you don't write to make friends, but using "whatever" completely shuts down communication between you and the vast majority of your readers.

Are you 12? Or do you just seem that way?

Now to the merits:

Of course sidewalks should be incorporated in new construction. Here, my anecdotal evidence is that no one is ever seen walking along that stretch of Park Road and I drive it at least a couple of times a week. Why the mad rush to pave? Has anyone done a pedestrian count on the existing sidewalk on the other side of the street?

The disdain for Charlotte's trees suggests to me that you still don't understand the place where you live. The trees are all we have that make this city in any way lovely. Not to mention their ability to filter and cleanse our filthy summer air and provide shade. Or their ability to prevent or at least mitigate runoff, which should be of concern in a city where low-level flooding is always an issue after a heavy rainfall.

Really, Mary, your disdain is quite troubling. Your comments are usually at least reasonable and grounded in data. What happened?

Mary Newsom said...

I'll take out the "whatever." You're right, it could imply disdain, which I didn't intend. My aim was to note that the editorial clearly wasn't in step with most of the readers who wrote The Forum.

I don't think the lack of pedestrians on a stretch of four-lane street without sidewalks is a good indicator of whether a sidewalk would be used. I heard that argument from a city traffic engineer about why there were no sidewalks along Providence Road between Wendover and Sharon Amity. But - surprise! - when sidewalks were built, here came the pedestrians.

And the "are you 12 or do you just seem that way?" could be taken as rather insulting, too, a bit ironic coming from someone chiding me for lack of sensitivity. But I am choosing to take it as a compliment on my youthful appearance and vigor.

consultant said...

Some of the people who post here are just mean. Insulting. Rude. Over the top. Off base. Covering their ***. Defending the indefensible.

I think a lot of developers are posting here.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll take back "12" and thanks for your response.

Being a Charlotte native, I hold our trees in particular high regard. I have 2 heirloom willow oaks in my yard, one of which takes a bow every evening in 4 spotlights. :) I think of our trees, especially the willow oaks, as Charlotte's signature.

You'll usually find me on the side of rail transit, connectivity, even greater density but not on the side of tree destruction. I would point out that our close-in neighborhoods have gained dramatically in value and desirability and it's not just because of proximity to the center city. They're beautiful and serene and it's largely because of the trees.

Anonymous said...

"Some of the people who post here are just mean. Insulting. Rude. Over the top. Off base. Covering their ***. Defending the indefensible."

You should talk Miss consultant.

Anonymous said...

I think you have a typo. A 1995 Comprehensive Plan, cannot be adopted in 1975.

consultant said...

5:53pm (Mr. Frozen Head)

Mary Newsom said...

They did adopt the 1995 plan in 1975. It was supposed to be looking ahead 20 years.

consultant said...

Brain freeze. Frozen head. It's all the same thing.

Why do some people hate sidewalks? Or trees along sidewalks? Why do folks hate govt. guiding (rules) the development of a community, but have no problem with ONE PERSON (i.e. developer) having the power to shape a community?

If govt. does something wrong, Lord Jezussssss!!!!! the world is going to hell in a hand basket. But if a corporation does something wrong, aw shucks, that's just bidness.

Wrong for the govt. to screw you, but okay for the corporation.

Hey frozen heads out there. How about it's wrong for govt. and corporations to hurt people.

Do you think in 2010, a time when we should have been blasting off from Mars, we can start to get some of the fundamentals of civilization straight, and reach some agreement on basics?

I know, I know. I'll have to wait until Spring for the heads to thaw out. But I'm patient.

Anonymous said...

When do we get to see the other report? I'd love to see the scanned pages of that 1960 plan...

Bob T. said...

A report on the website of the Char-Meck Historic Landmarks Commission is titled "Final Report: Postwar Survey". It deals with population, transportation, suburbia,architrecture and commerce in the postwar 1940s-1970s. The Wilbur Smith report's centerpiece was a "North-South Expressway' that more or less became I-77 from I-85 to the state line. Mary, the original Park Road widening according to this document was in 1956, from Tremont to the then city limits. You likely have read this survey but it is comprehensive and fascinating in the sense that even in the 1940s folks saw the train coming but couldn't bring themselves to apply the brakes.

Anonymous said...

The dearth of parks in Charlotte support the idea to make some of the land at Eastland a park. The creek there and low land would be good for a pond and park a la Freedom Park.

CMS and the City should buy the land once the value has dropped to a reasonable level and build a school/park/govt use center with minimal retail.

One of the problems with redeveloping existing retail are the small tracts and poor car/road access. One way to overcome this is to get people out of their cars. Commercial hubs linked via mass to work centers and residential areas is what we need to be building.

Anonymous said...

For those who argue "You never see people walking up Park Rd." There is a reason - Currently without a sidewalk on both sides, its dangerous.
I would like to walk around on the Sedgefield side, but instead I have to walk up the hill a hundred yards then take my life into my hands to cross over to the other side where the sidewalk is.

If the residents of Dilworth want to discuss waste they should look at the narrowing of East Blvd. I can't wait for GreekFest when there's only one lane traffic in each direction. I often wonder if the City of Charlotte tries to create congestion just to up the ridership of its subsidized toy trains.... WHATEVER.

barkomomma said...

"note that the editorial clearly wasn't in step with most of the readers"

Which should tell editors something?

Anyway, sounds like we can just recycle past plans and save a ton on money. For sidewalks. Or trees.

Or, novel idea, both?

Pathmaker said...

Here is an interesting piece from the UNC Highway Safety Research Center entitled "What objections might homeowners make to installing sidewalks..." It addresses some of the opinions and perceptions posted in this blog.

consultant said...


That's a good link. It proves and expands on my point. People who hate sidewalks have frozen brains AND they are anti-social.

This is what I recommend. Lets give the brain dead, anti social types a state. Texas. Let them settle there. We can then build an electric fence and moat filled with alligators around the state. Everyone will be happy.

Many of the anonymous posters here can blog from their new location in Texas.

What would the frozen heads call their new country?

consultant said...


Most of the rest of us would PAY to move the frozen heads to Texas. We'd also buy them a house on 1 acre, no sidewalks or trees anywhere in sight. We'd pay to tear down all existing mass transit in the state too.

One final gift to them, we'd blow up every govt. office building in the state (schools too). Put the whole thing on Youtube.

I'd be willing to sponsor 2 brain dead types who want to relocate.

I think this would work because the anti everything crowd seems to mostly want to get away from, well, everything.

Okay, I'm down for 2. How many others are willing to do the right thing and sponsor a frozen head's escape from civilization?

Towner Blackstock said...

"I heard once that the City of Charlotte went for something like 75 years without buying land for a single park. Not until city and county park departments were combined in the 1990s were any new parks created inside the city."

The first sentence may be correct, but the second is not; nor is the implication correct that no parks were created in the 75 years prior to the 1990s.

Charlotte created parks throughout the 20th century, often (but not exclusively) with land donated by developers, neighborhoods, or civic associations, or reappropriated from other purposes (such as McAlpine, built in the late 1970s on a former landfill).

A good source for details are the following chapters from Brian Sturm's thesis, "The Evolution of Green Space: A History of Urban Landscape in Charlotte, North Carolina, 1890-1990":

Stephen said...

Of course this city is park-poor. That would be land developers couldn't use.

As far as city planning:
You never see people walking on East Blvd. between Dilworth West and Euclid. So why are they making that "pedestrian friendly" when it already has sidewalks on both sides? I've said it before but I'll say it again, the only people walking on that stretch are exercising or pushing strollers. Noone with a particular destination. That stretch is completely different than the "entertainment district" between Kenilworth and Kings. It was still stupid to reduce East to one lane but at least the supposed reason behind it was fathomable.

Anonymous said...

"One policy in the 1995 Plan encouraged city council members to clip the spread of restaurants, car washes and convenience stores along busy streets by denying rezoning requests.
For the most part, they didn't do it. Albemarle Road in east Charlotte, for instance, now is lined with commercial development and choked by traffic."

Well, when a mere $1,000 campaign contribution from a developer is all it takes to change your vote to anything pro-developer, of course they weren't going to do it. And that's why Pat McCrory called Albemarle Rd "a corridor of crap." (Can anyone envision the newly-crowned mayoral spokesperson Erica Johnson saying anything like that? Me neither.)

This is normal life for a politician who cares about nothing else but winning the next election. And that's the ONLY thing our politicians care about. "To hell with the people (after they've voted for me)."

Mary, perhaps you should email some more questions about these findings to our local politicians. Send the emails during council meetings, so you know the council members will be available to read them.

Anonymous said...

Take down the trees. Safety is more important.

Druid said...

Anonymous said:"Take down the trees. Safety is more important."

A wise man once said: "Deforestation signifies the onset of cultural degeneration."

I bet Anon is a Yankee.

I worship the trees. Worshiping trees is part of my religion. Why do you seek to interfere with the practice of my religion by removing them?