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The Neighborhood - District and Corridor

by Mark Peres

April 3,2004

The Congress for the New Urbanism would be proud of recent plans for the Center City.  ”CNU”—as it is known in the trade—is an association of urban planners, architects, interdisciplinary professionals and community activists that advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the restoration of urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions.

CNU was founded in1993 by six architects, including Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Peter Calthorpe. CNU has since grown to 2300 members and, through its “Charter of New Urbanism,” has influenced urban design principles throughout the world. The organization “stands for the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural resources, and the preservation of our built legacy.”

The Charter of New Urbanism sets out specific principles to guide the development of walkable, distinct, multi-use towns and neighborhoods that reinforce community identity and a thriving culture of democracy.

In a previous column addressing regionalism – the first key principle of the Charter – I spoke to Charlotte’s sprawling low density growth within the context of a multi-county metropolis, and the hope of new alternative mass transit and transit oriented development.

The second key principle of the Charter addresses the neighborhood, the district and the corridor. These units are the building blocks of a functioning community.

New Urbanism calls for neighborhoods that are compact and pedestrian friendly, and as distinct as Dilworth is from Third Ward and Elizabeth is from Wesley Heights.

Districts, in turn, are generally single-use in character. The Center City is becoming a rich mosaic of several definable districts: the government district in Second Ward, the design district in South End, an education district along West Trade, and a new arts & entertainment district between 4th and 9th Street and Tryon and Caldwell.

Transit corridors – within scale and properly planned – are also key to urban coherence. Corridors connect neighborhoods and districts. They range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and streetcars. Charlotte is investing heavily in corridor infrastructure, from the light rail line along South Blvd to Little Sugar Creek Greenway to provide sustainable mobility and to tie communities together.

Is Charlotte a city that the CNU would hold up and praise? My guess is no, not yet. In many ways, Charlotte is a poster child for all the horrors that sprawl has wrought. But Charlotte is reforming, slowly, and if nothing else, New Urbanism is about reform: taking the best of the old and making it new again.

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