Sunday, February 26, 2012

Author: Redevelop in increments

Architect, planner and author Stephen Mouzon, did more than just give some lectures from his book, Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability, when he was in town recently. He also took a look at a section of south Charlotte that he thinks might be ripe for a different kind of long-range plan: The Park Road-Woodlawn Avenue neighborhood.

City planners are drawing up an area plan for that part of town, home to Park Road Shopping Center and Montford Drive's burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, among other things.

Like many places in Charlotte, the area has most elements of a strong city neighborhood – houses, apartments, condos, shopping, offices, schools, churches, parks and greenways – but is suburban and auto-oriented in its layout and the way it functions. I've long thought it would be a good area to transition to a more urban flavor as it redevelops over time. But the zoning now in place for most of the area requires suburban-style building: stores and offices sitting behind huge parking lots, single-uses, apartments quarantined from single-family houses, and all the buildings too far apart to make walking practical, much less pleasant.

An aside: Don't get me wrong; I love Park Road Shopping Center, despite its hopelessly car-focused design. It opened in 1956 as Charlotte's first open-air shopping center, and for years has offered a mix of stores that works exceptionally well. I hope to heaven its new owners, Edens & Avant, don't mess up a good thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to get Americans walking again

Uptown Charlotte, one of the city's few walkable areas
Yes, we in Charlotte are geeky enough that it's exciting when the mighty BBC takes note of North Carolina. And the WalkRaleigh campaign that I wrote about Feb. 6 in "Guerrilla wayfinding and the Charlotte dilemma" has hit the big-time, so to speak.

Asking, "How to get America to walk?" the BBC's piece on Raleigh features WalkRaleigh's Matt Tomasulo, who was behind what he calls a "self-motivated and unsanctioned" posting of signs telling passers-by how many minutes it takes to walk places in Raleigh. Note, too, that in the video Raleigh's chief planning officer, Mitchell Silver, appears disinclined to call in the sign police to take down the signs. [Update: Silver reported via Twitter that the signs came down Wednesday. He is in charge of zoning enforcement, he said. He talked first with Tomasulo and they are working on a longer-term strategy to make the signs either a pilot project or permanent, Silver said.]

But maybe the best snippets are from the jogging stroller exercise class, where women with children work out, in a gym, with their strollers because they can't, or don't, actually take the strollers out for exercise or a walk. In one great visual, a woman points to a sidewalk that ends abruptly, keeping her from walking to a nearby grocery store.

All of which leads to a question I keep bugging my friends and colleagues with: Why isn't there a pedestrian advocacy group in Charlotte to do what the bicycle advocates have been doing so effectively? Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance (aka was founded in 1997 and has successfully raised the profile of bicycling.  Is this bicycle nirvana? Of course not. But CABA has worked diligently to be at the table for policy discussions, and has clearly made a difference. So where's the pedestrian counterpart?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Commuter rail to Gaston and Union counties?

Here's an interesting snippet from deep inside a report to a Charlotte City Council committee. It suggests that some of the money from a proposed special tax on property along the proposed Red Line commuter rail would be set aside to help pay for commuter rail to Union and Gaston counties.

This is intriguing, but extremely preliminary.

The mention is in a memo emailed to council members of the Transportation and Planning Committee in advance of the panel's Feb. 23 meeting (noon-1:30 p.m. in the city-county government center, room 280); the documents haven't been posted online yet.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

'Original Green' author to speak in Charlotte

Steven Mouzon, whose book Original Green makes the point that environmentally sensitive living requires more than what he dubs "gizmo green" gadgets, will give a public lecture in Charlotte on Wednesday Feb. 15.

Sponsored by the Charlotte Department of Transportation and the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, Mouzon's talk will be at 6 p.m. in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, Room 267.

Mouzon, an architect and author, is founder of the New Urban Guild in Miami, "a group of architects, designers and other New Urbanists dedicated to the study and design of true traditional buildings and places native to, and inspired by, the regions in which they are built."

One of the things I find interesting about Mouzon's writing is that, to my mind, he's an illustration of how New Urbanism can't be so easily pigeonholed as "liberal" or "conservative." He writes in his blog, for instance, that Original Green is what we had "before the Thermostat Age," when "the places we made and the buildings we built had no choice but to be green."

I'm not sure if trying to return to the building and living styles of old can be considered anything other than conservative, but as I wrote in "Is sustainability for Commies?" there's a school of thought that anyone who mentions protecting the environment or conserving energy must be a Marxist who'll rip people from their cars and subdivision houses and force-march them into Pruitt-Igoe-style high-rises. Note the Gaston County commissioners' action late last month: "County leaders identify ‘insidious’ threat of Agenda 21."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Guerrilla wayfinding and the Charlotte dilemma

I spotted this article, from Atlantic, "Guerrilla Wayfinding in Raleigh," about mysterious signs that have sprouted in downtown Raleigh, to help pedestrians, courtesy of a project calling itself WalkRaleigh. The Raleigh piece is a follow-up to this article on wayfinding in cities.

All of which brings us to three Charlotte-related thoughts.

1. Why don't we have more guerrilla urbanism here? Tom Low of Civic by Design has been trying to work on an idea for pop-up porches, which isn't a bad notion but it begs the question: If you're getting official authorization for your plans, is it truly "guerrilla"?

2. Why isn't there a WalkCharlotte project out there, like WalkRaleigh, doing similar things, such as what Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers (@KevinSiers) suggested today via Twitter: "Maybe we need urban guerrillas to post pedestrian crossing signs in Charlotte, since the city doesn't bother."

WalkRaleigh is a project of CityFabric, "Wear You Live," a clever idea and definitely place-centric. Has anything of that sort been launched in Charlotte? If so, I'd love to hear/see more about it.

3. While we're on the topic of wayfinding, what's with those supposedly helpful signs on freeways and streets heading into uptown Charlotte, dividing uptown into color-coded quadrants, N, S, E and W?