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Regionalism - The Broad Canvas

by Mark Peres

February 3,2004

Regionalism is urban planning that addresses the broad canvas: the metropolis, the city and the town. Regionalism seeks to address pressing transit, economic and environmental issues that cross jurisdictions to create a sustainable place to live.

American cities generally fall into two categories: traditional cities that developed prior to the automobile (New York, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco) and dispersed cities that have been built around the car (Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit).

Most American cities—including Charlotte—are dispersed. Dispersed cities are characterized by an immature center, ill-defined boundaries, expanding, low density development and a vast system of freeways, beltways, urban arteries, strip malls and parking lots that serve the car and provide for private mobility.

In automobile-era cities, 25% to 40% of the landscape is asphalt. Single use, geographically separate destination – office parks, malls, homes, schools – are designed to provide adequate parking for every traveler who, in most cases, arrives alone by car. Corners of intersections, which would otherwise be prime civic real estate, are given over to gas stations. As car-oriented development fixes the landscape, citizens demand more and more asphalt to navigate the region.

Charlotte’s dispersed metropolis reaches well beyond Gastonia, Davidson, Concord, Matthews and Rock Hill to include Shelby, Mooresville, Hickory, Statesville and Monroe. Citizens in all these jurisdictions are impacted by unrestrained car-oriented development that threatens to make each place Anywhere USA.

New Urbanism calls for a metropolis of cities, towns and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges. Key principles call for boundaries guided by unique topography, watersheds and farmland, and infill and mixed-use development to conserve resources and the social fabric.

Transit is the one concern shared by nearly everyone, and the one concern that can bring neighbors together. Work is underway to support the region with a framework of transportation alternatives. Light and heavy rail, streetcar, pedestrian, and bicycle systems are options for mobility that allow for a different way for us to live and connect.

Regionalism enhances the economy, accessibility and quality of life, and is in the best interest of each city, town and village.

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