Monday, July 23, 2012

Tree-planting's great; but look at big picture, too

Davis Cable, former head of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, just gave an intriguing presentation to the Charlotte City Council, about a new initiative to try to plant 50,000 trees across the city, to help the city with its adopted goal of having 50 percent of the city land under a canopy of trees by 2050. The city canopy now is about 46 percent. If the city is built out according to current zoning, the canopy will shrink to 45 percent.

It's a public-private venture - not a new nonprofit being formed but an initiative called Tree Charlotte, Cable explained. The Foundation for the Carolinas has given $20,000; so has the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The idea: Get the community involved and engaged in planting trees.

It's probably the best warm-fuzzy idea I've heard emerge from this windowless chamber in the government center in ages. Who could be against this idea?

But as I analyze why Charlotte has lost so much of its canopy, one inescapable conclusion is that a huge amount of the loss has to do with new development, mostly in the suburbs. Duh, right? But think about how much of any new retail development is that huge surface parking lot. Yes, the city requires trees sprinkled through it, but it's not the same as the woods that had to get cleared to build it. If we could drive less, we could save a lot of trees.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Revitalizing outside the spotlight

Expanded and renovated house on Roslyn Avenue in Biddleville-Smallwood
Slowly, incrementally, and without trumpet fanfares, neighborhoods off West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road are changing. Older houses are being renovated or, in some cases demolished, replaced with newly built bungalow-style houses that mimic the neighborhood pattern.

Its happening almost within the shadows of the uptown towers but I had little idea of the transformation until I got a short tour last Tuesday from neighborhood residents Tom Polito and Michael Doney. I surmise many other people in Charlotte are just as unaware.

Polito has lived since 2008 in a bungalow-style house built that year on Frazier Avenue, a street tucked between Interstate 77 and Johnson C. Smith University. Most of the houses on his block are new.
New construction, Rozzelles Ferry Road

Polito introduced me to Michael Doney of 5 Points Realty, whos been behind many of the upfits and new construction. Doney, originally from southwest Pennsylvania, lived for a time in Wesley Heights, another near-uptown neighborhood that has seen an influx of more affluent residents in the past 10 years. He now lives in Biddleville-Smallwood. Doney works with builders on renovations or to build and sell spec houses. He talked about the details: wood windows instead of vinyl, the way the porches are designed, the wide skirts on the steps out front of houses (see photo, right). He said he enjoys renovating older houses: There's such cool old stuff.

We drove down Rozzelles Ferry Road, then up through a 1940s-1950s-era neighborhood that looked like Chantillys separated-at-birth twin (Smallwood, said Doney) and into an area originally known as Roslyn Heights, which was built early in the 20th century. Now the whole area is generally referred to as Biddleville-Smallwood.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Global phenomenon comes to Charlotte

We've finally posted online at a meaty piece about bike-sharing, not just Charlotte's newly launched program (ride for free all weekend!) but about the incredible expansion of bike-share programs around the country and the world. Read it here: "Charlotte joins global bike phenomenon."

“Every city on the map is thinking about this,” quips John Cock of Davidson, with Alta Planning + Design.

In fact, one reason the article didn't get posted until 5:30 or so is that the list of cities with bike-share programs kept expanding as we did more research. And not just world capitals (London, Paris) or granola-crunching cities (amazingly, Portland, Ore., is planning a new program but hasn't launched it yet).  We mean Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Des Moines and Omaha. First one in the Carolinas was in wait for it Spartanburg. Chattanooga launches in the near future. Memphis and Birmingham, Ala., are talking about it. In a word, wow.

Below is a phalanx of  bicycles at a station in the London bike-share program, sponsored (as you can see) by Barclays.

Here's where bike-share stations will be

You've read about Charlotte's new bike-sharing program, (the March article from is here), and my earlier blog items are here and here. It's to be formally announced at noon at The Square, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina as the key sponsor. The program will have 200 bikes at 20 stations, mostly in uptown and nearby areas, such as South End, Elizabeth Avenue and Johnson C. Smith University.

Here's today's Charlotte Observer article,  and today's less than completely laudatory editorial.

Want to know where the bike-share stations will be? Here's a map, courtesy of the program's main sponsor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Click on the image to go to a larger map.

The website, which I direct at UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, will have a longer article later today.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mystery bike-share sponsor to go public

Thanks to a tweet from @NotJCoffeeCLT ("The Not Just Coffee Shop" at the 7th Street Market), we know that the bike-share program bike racks are installed out front of the market at 224 E. Seventh St.  Here's a screenshot of the photo that was tweeted:

Photo courtesy of The Not Just Coffee Shop
And while the mysterious sponsor of the soon-to-be-announced bike-sharing project has not wanted to go public yet, I did receive an invitation from BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina to be at The Square (that's Trade and Tryon uptown if you're not from around here) at noon Thursday. The event  will announce an initiative called Get Outside North Carolina.

Here's what the invitation says:

"Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is launching GO NC! to help improve the health of North Carolinians by encouraging outdoor physical activity. GO NC! will launch in downtown Charlotte in collaboration with Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP), rolling out the largest initiative under GO NC!

"Please join Brad Wilson, BCBSNC president and CEO; Mayor Anthony Foxx; former Mayor and CCCP Board Chair Harvey Gantt; as well as elected officials, Charlotte business leaders and others to learn more about this exciting new initiative."

If you're not sure what this is all about, read "Bike-sharing definite, says CDOT director," and "Charlotte rolls toward N.C.'s first bike-share system."

I don't yet know where all the bike-share stations will be but one is supposed to be going in at the UNC Charlotte Center City Building at East Ninth and North Brevard streets.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Major bike trail among city's 'zombie' projects

The proposal to keep building Charlotte's long-planned streetcar route is now officially a zombie. It's among the living dead, or maybe in the "not dead – yet" category. But so is a $35 million proposal in which the city would have helped the county build out its greenway system, including a bike trail to run from UNC Charlotte to Pineville.

I wrote a piece for – the website I direct at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute – which was also picked up by The Charlotte Observer last Saturday. The PlanCharlotte piece is here: "Finding a lesson in city's budget, streetcar impasse."

Far less publicity has gone to the other community proposals that also were not adopted and, given electoral politics,  are likely to stay in cold storage until after the 2013 City Council elections. Here's a link to a lot of details from the proposed Capital Improvement Program. The cross-county multi-use trail is one proposal whose demise (for now) has drawn sharp disappointment in some quarters. (Want to see a map? Here's a link to City Manager Curt Walton's PowerPoint, with the trail on page 15.) It's also reproduced below.

Two students I know both said the trail and other projects were the sort that would attract young, educated people to Charlotte, or keep them here. That's not scientific research, just anecdotal evidence to ponder.