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Is the 2010 Vision Real

by Dan Thilo

January 5,2006

In 2000, the City of Charlotte issued the 2010 Center City Vision Plan. Inevitably, someone will ask: is it real? Will it come true? Can we rely upon it? Does it really impact what happens on the ground?

The 2010 Plan represented the evolution of city planning over four decades. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, after urban renewal when downtown had become abandoned, our concern was making the core of the city viable. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the rejuvenation of Fourth Ward and the growth of our major employers, we concentrated on making uptown livable. In 2000, as we considered the thousands of new residents moving into the city, we turned our attention to making the heart of the city memorable.

But does community envisioning work? A closer look into the vision or master plan might help answer the question.

In Charlotte, strategic plans for the urban core have been updated on a ten year cycle. Prior to the 2010 Plan, plans were the result of the collaboration of a small select group of business and government leaders determined to meet the needs inside the freeway loop. For several months they would huddle to create a plan with solutions to stop the outgoing flight of business and residents to the suburbs. Urban design ordinances were written, streetscape improvements were made, and ground work laid to entice business to stay. The ambiance of the area became viable for the nine-to-five office workers. What lacked was energy beyond the work day.

In 2000, we took an entirely new approach to generating a new plan. The magic ingredient was people. People of all walks of life participated in determining what the vision should be and the necessary elements needed to make it successful. Large public meetings gave citizens the opportunity to voice their wishes. Parks, entertainment and art venues, transportation alternatives and housing choices were voiced as requirements. The center city boundary was expanded to include adjacent neighborhoods. The vision stretched beyond the parameters of previous thinking. People cited a desire for a center city that provided the necessities to live, work and play. In addition, they felt new catalyst projects were needed to leave a lasting impression on those that visit.

Their vision included an urban arena, a multimodal transportation center, and covering a segment of the John Belk Freeway to provide pedestrian access to South End, an urban mixed-use-village in First Ward, the restoration of a residential neighborhood in Second Ward, creating an urban academic campus, and developing large urban park. Citizens felt these were the missing pieces that would combine to make the Center City a place to remember – a place people wanted to be. The list was a list for all of Charlotte.

That was five years ago. In just five years, the fruits of the community visioning are blooming. We have a new arena, planning for a new multimodal station is underway, a new park is in the design stage, baseball is being reviewed, new high-rise residential buildings are abounding, NASCAR is considering Charlotte for its Hall of Fame, Johnson & Wales University is educating students, a master plan for the rejuvenation of Second Ward has been completed, a Center City Transportation Plan is nearing completion and a new mixed-use art/theater complex is in the design stage on South Tryon. In five years, the ideas dreamed about during the 2010 visioning process are tangible or committed projects.

The location of the facilities underway is not always as the Center City 2010 Vision Plan had imagined it. Land ownership, financing and unforeseen land use changes often determine placement. That is not to say location is unimportant, but a long range vision brought to reality seems to be a much greater reward. City leaders, private corporations and citizens worked together to achieve a dream. As the Center City 2010 Vision Plan edges past half way on its completion timeline, the majority of the goals have been accomplished or are well along, and success seems imminent.

Is the 2010 vision real? It is because people in Charlotte have strived to involve everyone to make it possible. Imagine what will come next.

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