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Mayberry City Planning

by Aaron Houck

July 6,2007

Sheriff Andy Taylor would be amused.

During debates over our region’s growth, you’ll sometimes hear proponents of Smart Growth and New Urbanist principles tell their adversaries to “go back to Mayberry,” and the supporters of sprawl state that they’d gladly do so. Each time I see this type of exchange, their rhetoric confuses me. Have they never watched The Andy Griffith Show?

Mayberry was a traditional town. Its mixed-use Main Street was always full of pedestrians. Opie walked all over town, even as a tiny fellow. Sure, Mayberry accommodated vehicular traffic, but the town was scaled to people rather than automobiles. The Taylors did not live on a cul-de-sac or in a gated community. Nor was their neighborhood cut off from the rest of town by an arterial road with 45 mile-per-hour speed limits.

Many of the principles held dear by the pro-planning crowd are part of the built environment in Mayberry. So why is there hostility directed toward it? I think the antipathy can be explained as a reaction to Mayberry’s rural character. Center-city Charlotte obviously will never be Mayberry or anything like it. But some decentralization is natural and desirable as our region grows, and Mayberry does provide a useful model for some of the other “centers” described in the city’s long-term plans. Those residents and businesses clustering outside the city’s core can form a series of “Mayberrys” – areas with distinct, identifiable Main Streets hosting a variety of activities and within easy walking distance for their residents.

We already see some of the decentralized centers taking on the qualities of Mayberry. Plaza Midwood’s commercial strip resembles its own small town. The Penguin serves as a neighborhood hangout, similar to Floyd’s barbershop – albeit with a few more tattoos and piercings. Another center may adopt a different, more traditional, more Mayberry-y character – that character will be determined by the area’s inhabitants. But as far as planning goes, the Mayberry model should be celebrated, not ridiculed.

Once embraced, the Mayberry model can be shown to skeptics as an illustration of the aims of sound planning. Who wouldn’t want to say they live “in Mayberry” as opposed to “at Exit number X” off the interstate? Yet creating Mayberry involves planning techniques that frequently draw criticism. For instance, Mayberry demonstrates the benefits of more compact development.

When many people hear the word “compact,” they (understandably) think it means high density. But while compact development concentrates more buildings in part of an area – like Mayberry’s downtown – it leaves other areas (like the “wedges” under the city’s plans) less intensely developed. That is, it results in a mixture of densities, as opposed to uniform high- or low-density development. Andy Taylor and his neighbors did not have expansive lawns and 50-feet setbacks. Instead, their compact neighborhood allowed for greater interaction and left natural areas intact so Andy could tell Opie, “take down your fishin’ pole and meet me at the fishin’ hole.”

The final piece to the Mayberry model – one not regularly featured on The Andy Griffith Show – is connectivity. Our area’s “Mayberrys” cannot and should not be isolated from the rest of the region or connected only by old farm-to-market roads. They must be integrated into the region’s fabric of roads and infrastructure.

The connections between and among downtown Charlotte and the Mayberry “centers” are identified in city plans as the “corridors.” These corridors are appropriate locations for mass transit. Our Mayberrys should be destinations and pleasant places to linger, but not traffic logjams. Provided Barney Fife isn’t directing traffic, a smooth traffic flow can be achieved through a combination of mass transit, connective road networks, bike lanes, extensive sidewalks and greenways that will give travelers options and reduce the loads carried by major arteries.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can all learn from Mayberry is to change the way we approach discussions about the region’s future growth and land use. Do we really need Sheriff Taylor here to point out that people on both sides of the divide are looking for the same thing? We want a place that is convenient and safe. We want a place where we can enjoy our friends and family. We want a place that looks a lot like Mayberry.

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