Saturday, March 06, 2010

Charlottean gives his recipe for cities

City planning has a lot in common with brewing your beer at home, says McDuffie "Mac" Nichols, who grew up in Charlotte and is a South Meck alum. He's talking to the N.C. State Urban Design conference. In home-brewing, he says, you can exercise great creativity, but you're always bound to the unavoidable laws of chemistry.

The same's true with cities. You have to take into account the unavoidable laws of economics and how cities work.

How to create and maintain a city that's economically viable over time? It's not about get rich quick, he says. You need economic diversity. Example to avoid: Detroit. Diversify before things are gone. Cities that depend on "seasonalities" such as beach or ski resorts are vulnerable, too.

Nichols told me at a reception last night he's one of the consultants who has worked with the City of Charlotte to study the Eastland Mall situation (several years ago, before the city gave up its options to buy). I asked him whether there was any hope for decent retail in downtown Charlotte, where much of the existing retail space has been torn down, and the new spaces aren't adjacent to each other. (See "Charlotte's uptown shopping dilemma.") His reply: "Shook." They should just let Terry Shook [of Charlotte's Shook Kelley Design] draw it and then do what he draws, Nichols said.

Another retail tidbit: You need retail (i.e. stores) in any mixed-use project, but you shouldn't let it dictate the way the project grows and is built.