Saturday, September 15, 2018

Waiting for the creek to rise


Now demolished, the Midtown Sundries building was in a floodplain and flooded regularly. Photo courtesy Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services.
Now and then, during extremely heavy rainstorms, my daughter and I used to hop in the car and drive about a quarter-mile away to see if what we call the Creek House was inundated.
The house was built in the 1990s on a you-can’t-believe-it’s-legal site: within about 6 feet from a small creek.

That creek (one of about 3,000 miles of creeks in Mecklenburg County) has the boring official name of Briar Creek Tributary #1 and is neither large nor impressive. Except during a heavy rain. Then it deepens and widens – muddy and dangerously fast-flowing.

At one point, when the Creek House was being built, it was so close to the creek there was a two-by-four propped between an exterior wall and the far side of the creek.

It was a shocking example of how slack Charlotte and Mecklenburg County environmental regulations were, even though they were in some significant ways stricter than the state’s. I sent a copy of the photo to a fellow I knew in the county water quality program; he used it in a slide show urging Charlotte-Mecklenburg elected officials to require undisturbed vegetative buffers beside creeks. I can’t claim that photo is what led the county commissioners to enact the buffer ordinance. But I hope it helped.

Tonight, in Charlotte, N.C., we’re awaiting what may be 10 inches or more of rain from what’s left of Hurricane (now

Monday, August 6, 2018

Should affordable housing be treated as basic city infrastructure?

Here's an interesting piece in The Washington Post today that should be provoking some discussion among people concerned with housing affordability: In expensive cities, rents fall for the rich but rise for the poor.

The conventional wisdom is that a housing oversupply will cause the costs to go down the famous law of supply and demand. If we just allow developers to build plenty of housing, rents will sink. But that appears not to be happening.

The article, which is pegged to information from Zillow, does not address Charlotte specifically. So while maybe the same is true here it′s also possible that given the growth pressures in this fast-growing city – named by Zillow as the nation's fourth-hottest housing market – the top rents here are staying high.

The most significant ponderable here, I think, is whether – if that old law of supply and demand appears not as reliable as we′ve been led to think – the free market on its own can provide enough housing at a price more city residents can afford. The City of Charlotte is helping with its housing trust fund, but it seems doubtful we can simply build our way out of the problem.

I was talking last week with a zoning and planning lobbyist in Charlotte – a guy whose planning background doesn′t stop him from generally hewing to a basic free-market approach. He said he′s starting to believe cities should consider housing affordability as part of the basic package of infrastructure the local government provides like streets, police and fire service, parks, public health services, etc. Maybe the city builds it, maybe it helps other people build it, maybe it helps people afford it, or maybe there′s another way to accomplish this, he said.

For a generally fiscally conservative guy to propose that speaks, I think, to the reality Charlotte and many other cities face: Too many residents don′t earn enough money to afford much of the available housing. And beliefs about how the marketplace can provide it may need some readjusting.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Want to know why Charlotte traffic is bad? One reason: You can’t get there from here

The lack of a connected street grid leads to congestion.
So there I was, heading to an 8:30 a.m. meeting near UNC Charlotte. Zipping up W.T. Harris Boulevard which I note is nothing like an tree-lined boulevard you might stroll down if you were a boulevardier I saw that ahead of me, traffic had stopped.

You expect it on some Charlotte streets Providence Road, for example, or I-77 at rush hour. But usually the drive up Harris Boulevard is smooth and, if not congestion-free, at least mildly and manageably congested. Not this day. My Google maps showed the section ahead as blood-colored, meaning extreme congestion. As I sat there, or crept forward, I watched the clock, fretting that I would be late for the meeting.

I cast about mentally for ways to get around the congestion. Being fully stopped, and not having reached the Old Concord Road interchange, I looked at the maps on my smart phone in search of escape routes.

There were none. My only realistic options were to get on Old Concord Road and drive far out of my way, braving either the morning university traffic or go even farther out of my way over to North Tryon Street with its multiple traffic lights, both options likely to make me arrive even later. (I screenshot the map at right about 10 minutes later.)