If you love the North Carolina mountains – the rocky wilderness trails, shady streams, the waves of mountaintops fading into the horizon – you won't like what I'm about to tell you. On the other hand, if you like miles and miles of stripped-out highways lined with conveniences stores, gas stations, chain motels, chain restaurants and billboards, you may enjoy it:
A recent study has found that in 30 years – 1976 to 2006 – land development in the North Carolina mountains increased 568 percent – from 34,348 acres to 229,422 acres – while population increased only 42 percent.
I know unemployment in the N.C. mountains has been a severe problem. My concern is that the form of development, not the fact of the development, is destroying a precious natural treasure. Plenty of other countries have figured out how to have both development and preserved natural areas. Too bad ours hasn't done that yet.
Read the full study at the newly launched, newly redesigned website for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. You can also read pieces by UNCC architecture professor David Walters, comparing Charlotte's transit options to those in Basel, Switzerland (er, we fall short), and a piece by now-retired Urban Institute director Bill McCoy on dynamic downtowns throughout the region.
Walters says, "Cities such as Basel are ... better positioned to respond effectively to future changes in lifestyle that may be occasioned by external factors such as climate change, volatile energy prices and diminishing oil supplies. Charlotte, by contrast, faces some daunting, self-imposed challenges as it struggles towards a more sustainable urban future."
McCoy concludes that downtown Charlotte puts downtown Atlanta to shame, and gives a rundown on changes in places such as Mooresville, a former mill town that now sees gallery crawls and wine-tastings in its downtown. He concludes: "The suburban big box retail option dealt a blow to our regional downtowns, but it was not a fatal blow. In fact, our towns have weathered that storm and have come back by emphasizing niche markets, micro-retail, festivals and celebrations, cultural events, music, residential opportunities, and other community building dynamics."
The mountain study come from a collaboration among researchers at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC Charlotte, RENCI at UNC Asheville, researchers from UNC Charlotte's Center for Applied Geographic Information Science (CAGIS), with funding from the City of Asheville, the U.S. Forest Service, and RENCI's home office in Chapel Hill.
(Photo above courtesy UNCC Urban Institute, ui.uncc.edu)