Friday, June 20, 2014

Watch Charlotte grow ... foot and bicycle traffic

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park is one of Chicago's treasured public spaces. Photo: Mary Newsom
CHICAGO – Can Charlotte ever become an authentically walkable and bikable city?

I’ve just spent three days at a conference encouraging cities to overcome obstacles that keep them from achieving that goal.

The conference was sponsored by a group called 8-80 Cities. The idea behind that name is that cities should be designed for kids of 8 as well as adults of 80. The first group can’t drive and must walk or bicycle; the 80-year-olds may have already lost or be about to lose the ability to drive from hearing, vision, mental acuity or other age-related factors.

As 8-80 Cities executive director Gil Penalosa put it, “We have to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic.”

The 8-80 Cities Forum conference was named “The doable city” to encourage participants to consider the art of the possible in their cities. Co-sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, most participants were from some of the 26 cities where Knight has a special relationship, among them Charlotte; Akron, Ohio; Detroit; Macon, Ga. ; Miami; Philadelphia; Saint Paul, Minn.; and San Jose, Calif. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation paid my travel expenses.)
Millennium Park's "Cloud Gate" offers dry space during a rain.

We were shown numerous examples of efforts in cities from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Bogota, Colombia, to as close as Raleigh – events and campaigns and years-long projects to bring more public spaces (read parks and greenways) to cities and to find ways to encourage residents to view their city streets as public spaces, too – which of course they are.

Here’s an apt metaphor: impatiens or orchids? The idea was to encourage activists and public officials at the conference not to try to cultivate orchids, exotic, beautiful and needing expert

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlotte's lost old buildings may be costlier than we thought

Where a historic-district house once stood, in Dilworth
It's sadly coincidental that this week, I went out to snap a photo of the lot where a vintage 1920s house in Dilworth has been demolished, just a few days after I read this article in the New York Times. The Times piece, "Urban Renewal, No Bulldozer: San Francisco repurposes old for the future," describes how it's San Francisco's older buildings downtown that are luring the tech firms that so many cities – including Charlotte  hope to attract.

Charlotte's Dilworth neighborhood is a turn-of-the-last-century streetcar suburb built a mile from the city's uptown in an era when that was the edge of town. The section where the house was demolished is a local historic district. (This PlanCharlotte article describes growing discontent among some Dilworthians with the way that district has been managed over the past decade.)

In North Carolina, buildings in local historic districts can be demolished, as can local historic landmarks. The law says that if a city or county has a local historic district or landmarks ordinance, an appointed commission can delay