Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Foodies get their due, in new urban study

Foodies around the N.C. Piedmont visit downtown Shelby, for Alston Bridges Barbecue. Photo: Nancy Pierce
Foodies can take a bow. A new report released by Sasaki Associates says it found that 82 percent of city-dwellers appreciate their city’s culinary offerings, reports Anthony Flint for Almost half the respondents said a new restaurant is the top reason they'd explore different parts of their city. And the majority said they consider food and restaurants the most outstanding aspect of cities they love to visit.

Sasaki is a Boston-area architecture, planning and design firm. Its report was a survey of 1,000 people who live and work in Boston, Chicago, New York, Austin, San Francisco, and Washington. They were asked what they like and don’t like about the area where they live in terms of architecture, activities, parks and open space, and transportation.

Architects might not want to read this next paragraph:

When asked what kinds of buildings people admire as they’re walking down a downtown street, 57 percent said they stop to admire buildings that are historic. Only 19 percent admire buildings that are modern. And in a rebuff to the mine-is-bigger-than-yours tower developers, just 15 percent said they admire the tallest buildings. In addition, 54 percent of respondents said they agreed the city should invest in renovating historical buildings as a way to improve their city’s architectural character. Only 22 percent “would like more unusual architecture (get Frank Gehry on the phone!)” and only 17 percent said they’d like to see more skyscrapers and iconic buildings.

East Charlotte offers many ethnic options.
And Charlotte's stadium- and arena- and ballpark-besotted uptown boosters might be interested in this:  
When asked what would make them want to visit a new part of their city, participants overwhelmingly (46 percent) said “a new restaurant.” Just 16 percent said they would do so for a sports event.

Coincidentally, I've been having an email exchange with Nancy Plummer, one of the founders of the now-venerable Taste of the World festival in east Charlotte. You buy a ticket, board a bus and visit three or four of the ethnic eateries in and near Central Avenue. Next one is Oct. 2. To learn more, click here. Plummer and her colleagues on the Eastland Area Strategies Team founded the event in 2005, a time when many local residents were worried about the influx of immigrants into neighborhoods in east Charlotte, among other areas. To counteract the fears, Plummer and others decided to use food as a way to bring visitors to their part of the city. It worked remarkably well. The most recent tour sold out in 14 days.

People, cities and food. It must be a good recipe.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Proposed bill would hobble transit across North Carolina

A bill being considered in the N.C. General Assembly would bar N.C. counties from raising sales taxes to fund both education and public transportation. The taxes could fund one or the other, not both.

The bill - House Bill 1224 - acquired some surprise provisions in the last few days. One provision would kill the plan to ask Mecklenburg County voters in November to OK a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for teacher raises and offer a bit of help for arts organizations.

The bill would cap any county's local sales tax at 2.5 cents, and Mecklenburg is already at the cap. See "Senate bill would scuttle November sales tax referendum."

The effect on transit hasn't gotten much publicity in the Charlotte region, although it can't afford to build its long-planned transit system with only the half-cent transit sales tax it's had for 14 years. But in the Triangle, it's a different story. Transit advocates are worried. (Update July 25: The bill was amended to get rid of the either-or provision. It still would cap a county's sales taxes, effectively barring Mecklenburg from its planned sales tax referendum for teacher pay and creating a dilemma for Wake County. Here's a summary of the bill's process. It passed the N.C. Senate on July 24, and now sits in the N.C. House Finance Committee.)

Local transportation planner: Outerbelt warning was prescient

My posting Tuesday on the death of long-time Atlanta Regional Commission executive Harry West, "Atlanta's 'Mr. Region' (who warned against our outerbelt) has died" brought this memory from longtime local transportation planner Bill Coxe, Huntersville's transportation planner who previously the transportation planner for Mecklenburg County, back when there was enough unincorporated county land to make work for a county transportation planner.

Coxe wrote:

Saw your blog on Harry West’s passing. Had the following knee-jerk reaction:

As a transportation planner intimately involved with Charlotte's outerbelt since its original environmental study in 1979, I vividly remember Mr. West's comments at that conference. And time has proved him true. This billion-dollar infrastructure project causes the market to distribute land use in its wake. And since it turned land that had been used to row-crop food into land that is used to row-crop homes that are followed by row-cropped retail centers, it in turn demands more infrastructure investment. But the distances involved now make the cost of that provision daunting.

I also recall XX [Coxe named a local planner; I'm checking with that person to make sure Coxe's memory is accurate] making a presentation on his research that indicated outer loops did not bring more development to a metropolitan region, simply caused it to occur in a different fashion. Don’t know how you could ever prove or disprove this thesis.

Coincidentally, 1998 was also the year of the 2025 Transit/Land Use Plan, which recommended using rapid transit investment as a tool to engender a more compact and economically viable land use pattern.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Atlanta's 'Mr. Region' (who warned against our outerbelt) has died

2009 photo of unfinished I-485 at Old Statesville Road. Photo: Nancy Pierce
Sad news from the Saporta Report in Atlanta: Harry West, longtime (1973-2000) executive director of the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission, died Monday morning, reports Maria Saporta.

West, writes Saporta, "probably did more than any other person in metro Atlanta to create a regional mindset." Read more about his role here.

I met West several times over the years, but his most memorable visit to Charlotte, at least in my memory, came in March of 1998. He spoke at a regional conference on the then-unfinished I-485 outerbelt loop. The conference was sponsored by the Centralina Council of Governments, the now defunct regional advocacy group Central Carolinas Choices and - perhaps amazingly - the Charlotte Chamber.

It was a time when some community leaders worried that building the outer loop would create so many miles of low-density sprawling development that Charlotte would go the way of Atlanta.

As I wrote in an April 11, 1998, column for the Charlotte Observer, West described what Atlanta's Perimeter Highway, I-285, had meant to the city and what Charlotte might learn from Atlanta's experience.

I-285 was finished in 1969, he recounted, and was intended to maintain a strong center city. Instead it attracted development, and what Atlanta got was sprawling growth "that doesn't allow you to do anything but use your car," as West put it.

Then came his advice: “If I thought you would listen to me,” he said, “I'd tell you not to build it.”

He didn't mean not to build any more streets or roads or highways. He meant not to focus our transportation plans

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Charlotte history, hiding behind a wall

Can you find the Jane Wilkes statue behind the brick wall along Morehead Street? (See below) Photo: Mary Newsom
One of the best statues I’ve ever seen sits atop Rome’s Gianicolo Hill. A series of Busts of Important Men lines an avenue, and there is the obligatory statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian hero of the Italian unification movement in the 19th century.

But a short walk away is another statue. It’s Anita Garibaldi. She is sidesaddle, atop a rearing horse, holding a small child in her left arm, close to her breast. With her right, she aims a pistol at the sky. What a woman!
Anita Garibaldi. Photo: "Blackcat" via Widkimedia Commons

Charlotte, in some ways being even more traditional than Rome, does not memorialize its women with statues. Heck, it barely memorialized anyone with statues – at least, not until the Trail of History project came along, since representational statuary today is about as fashionable among artists as bustles, spats and top hats. 

That’s a group of local donors and history buffs who are working to erect a series of statues of historic personages along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Their first was a monument to Capt. James Jack, who rode from Charlotte to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 carrying (according to local legend) a copy of the May 20, 1775, Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Meck Dec skeptics say he only carried the Mecklenburg Resolves, adopted May 31, 1775. Whatever.  There’s a guy on a charging horse, in a pool of water across Kings Drive from Central Piedmont Community College.

Now Trail of History monument No. 2 is up, and by golly, it’s a woman: Jane