Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In 1969 planners imagined Charlotte’s University City. Did their vision come true?

1969 University City Planning Concepts
This is part two of my "I Love Old Maps" series.  In addition to ferreting out that fun 1986 map of Charlotte, retiring UNC Charlotte Associate Provost Owen Furuseth also handed me a 1969 city plan for University City, the part of Charlotte that surrounds UNC Charlotte, where I work.

The plan was produced by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission -- "William McIntyre, Planning Director; Richard C. Hauersperger, Chief Planner; Gary L. Sieb, City Planner, and W. Earl Long, Planning Intern." The university, which now has 27,000 students, at the time had 2,350 students in nine buildings. The plan predicted that eventually the university would serve 15,000 students.

Its goals are laudable, if imprecise. "This report outlines the Planning Commission's concept of the kind of community University City might become if its development is fashioned to create an environment of quality." It lists some goals, among them:
  • "To create a community designed for the convenience of its people." Since the whole area can basically be navigated only by car once you leave the campus, I'd score that at a 3 on a scale of 10.
  • "To carefully fit the development of the community into the land so that it preserves the assets of the natural landscape." I'd score that about a 4 on a scale of 10. 
  • Other goals would get a higher score from me: Providing housing, developing public and private facilities, etc. Then this final one, which I'll let you score on your own:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Charlotte in the '80s

I love how old maps show what the mapmakers valued. 

I recently came across this map of Charlotte circa 1986. (You'll want to click it to zoom in.) It was among the things Owen Furuseth found as he cleaned out his office after almost 40 years at UNC Charlotte. Furuseth left June 30 as associate provost of Metropolitan Studies, the wing of UNCC academia under which nestles the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, where I work.  Because Owen is a geographer and planner, he was keeping the map but he let me borrow it to copy the image.

The map’s credit line says “Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission 1986.” That probably helps explain why the route for the then-unbuilt I-485 is shown, although construction on the highway didn’t start until 1988, and the full outerbelt was not completed until 2015. Notice, also, how the I-485 route shown on the map is pretty much where it eventually was built. One small exception: The northern section is south of Eastfield Road, which is farther south than shown on the 1986 map.

Those of you who’ve been in Charlotte only a decade or so might get a chuckle out of seeing the “New Coliseum” west of I-77 off Tyvola Road. The “New Coliseum,” was just under construction in 1986, the year this map was made. After it was replaced in 2005 by the Time Warner Cable Arena uptown, the Tyvola coliseum was demolished in 2007 (see its implosion here).*

Note the prominence of Eastland. That was Eastland Mall.  It’s now a vacant city-owned plot of land, after the mall failed about a decade ago. 

Note city limits of Charlotte. “Rea Road Extension” south of N.C. 51, the huge chunk of south Charlotte south of N.C. 51, and UNCC and University Place were not inside the city in 1986. 

Finally, note the relative lack of prominence of “UNCC” compared to University Place, a shopping center and suburban-form mixed-use development north of the university. I wonder what that reveals about the university’s prominence in the minds of the city-county planners. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Today the university is almost 28,000 students, a campus surrounded by some of the most gawd-awful strip-shopping-center and big-box unwalkable and unbikeable suburbia that you can envision. 

* About that Coliseum implosion video.  I had never watched that until I dug up the link today. It made me cry.  At that just-opened venue in November 1988, I and 23,000 other people watched the old Charlotte Hornets – including Dell Curry, father of today’s more famous Curry – debut to a tuxedo-and-formal-gown wearing crowd, lose by 40 points. They got a standing ovation.  Less than 2 months later, on Dec. 23, Kurt Rambis’ last-second shot defeated Michael Jordon’s Chicago Bulls. (Read the Chicago Tribune story here.) The old Coliseum hosted 364 consecutive NBA-game sellouts. We loved the Hornets in those days. Loved Dell and Muggsy and for a time even loved George Shinn, though that came to a bad end. Our then toddler daughter loved Scott Burrell.  Look him up. He was a bouncy jumper.

The coliseum also hosted Frank Sinatra, Springsteen and Mother Teresa among other icons, and the 1994 Final Four, complete with then-President Bill Clinton, various and sundry FOBs (Friends of Bill), and an Arkansas victory.

The Coliseum was built in the wrong place and was poorly designed for what NBA arenas came to need just 10 years later. But it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Do you live in the 'real' Charlotte?

Plaza Midwood, a neighborhood that is not south of Fairview. Photo: Nancy Pierce

Do you live in “the real Charlotte”? I was chatting with a guy at a recent party who opined that only the part of the city inside Route 4 is “the real Charlotte.” (Route 4 is the Woodlawn-Runnymede-Wendover-Eastway thoroughfare that’s approximately 4 miles from uptown Charlotte.)

Au contraire, I said, or words to that effect. Actually, I said, a more accurate boundary would be Fairview Road, as in “I try never to go south of Fairview,” an expression I hear now and again from certain friends and acquaintances whose lives, like that of the aforesaid guy at the party, focus more on the center of the city than the far-flung edges. (Happily, the shopping mecca of SouthPark perches on the north side of Fairview Road.)

But more to the point, huge expanses of this city are outside Route 4. A circle with a 4-mile radius covers about 50 square miles. The 2010 Census tells us Charlotte covers almost 298 square miles. So the “real Charlotte” would be one-sixth of the actual city. I don’t think that makes it real, although most of the city inside Route 4 dates to the era preceding the overwhelming suburban-style growth that started in the 1950s and exploded by the mid-1960s.

But he also had put his finger on a cultural/social reality that’s been building here over the past 15 or 20 years: A lot of residents in the older, inner neighborhoods have a completely different view of their city than people who live in the far-flung, newer