Monday, March 22, 2021

I guess we’e reimagining uptown Charlotte again

Image from draft of the 2040 Center City Vision Plan, of what might (in some distant future) be a large park where the Norfolk Southern rail yard is today, on North Tryon Street

A few thoughts follow, after I listened this morning as Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners briefed the City Council’s Transportation, Planning and Environment Committee on the 2040 uptown plan, known as the All In 2040: Center City Vision Plan. (Watch the meeting here.) That plan will be part of the massive Charlotte Future: 2040 Comprehensive Plan. (See draft here.) The Center City plan is still being drafted with a final draft due in May.


I love the idea of a new Second Ward High School, as this plan proposes. This keeps being proposed by the city, and hasnt happened. Maybe the city council and the staffs from the city planning department and the Charlotte Department of Transportation should burrow into why. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has its own elected school board; do they favor this idea? If yes, maybe the problem is that the school board doesnt raise its own tax revenue; the board of county commissioners must fund school building construction.


The idea for a high school uptown is not new. I recall at one point – maybe 15 years ago? – the concept arose, paired with the proposal that the new high school be a magnet school with curriculum focusing on the arts, and banking/finance. It always made me chuckle to think about the students whod go there. I imagined a Venn diagram of that student body with no overlap whatsoever.


Another proposal Smith talked about, saying the idea was afloat in the community: a big park on the site of the Norfolk Southern rail yard on North Tryon Street. That would be awesome indeed. Heres a story I wrote about it in 2018 when some UNC Charlotte urban design students proposed it. But I didnt just chuckle. I guffawed at the idea that Norfolk

Southern Railroad would just move if asked. Or sell. Ask the frustrated-for-15-years planners of the Red Line commuter rail to north Mecklenburg County about Norfolk Southern cooperation. “This might be a longer horizon,” Michael Smith said with no visible expression. Uh, yeah.


The uptown 2040 plan will propose capping I-277 between uptown and South End. Again. This was proposed in the uptown plans for 2010 and 2020. Smith listed other cities that had successfully capped parts of their downtown freeways, among them Dallas; Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta and Boston. This would create not only some connection, but land for a park. Its not easy, obviously, but I would take substantial bets that this would be accomplished before that rail yard is moved. Im not saying the N.C Department of Transportation is yoga-teacher-style flexible but compared to Norfolk Southern railroad, NCDOT is practically a contortionist


If this idea gets into the plan (again) and it should, how about some real action on it? Come up with a realistic way forward. What agencies would have to OK it? If they're balky how could they be persuaded, and by whom? Get preliminary engineering studies. (I'm looking at you, CCCP.) Come up with some realistic funding strategies. Who would be the political champions? How could NCDOT be brought on board? And so on. 


It's fair to mention here that many plans come with lengthy implementation sections, and Im sure the Uptown 2040 Plan will, also. This should be a part of it.


Read whats posted so far about the Center City Vision Plan.  

Image of proposed cap over the I-277 freeway encircling uptown.