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New Urbanism - A Dynamic Sense of Place

by Mark Peres

January 3,2004

Long time residents of Charlotte who visit the Garden District in First Ward consider the neighborhood a modern miracle: where once an under-privileged, racially segregated, crime-challenged housing project once stood, today stands an economically-diverse, racially integrated, safe community. Neighbors visit on front porches, children play, and school, milk, green spaces and transit are a short walk away.

It is a stunningly attractive, functioning, neighborhood.

It didn’t happen by accident. Good folks at NationsBank (Bank ofAmerica), the City of Charlotte, the Charlotte Housing Authority, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, Odell Associates, Urban Design Associates, Saussy Burbank, Tuscan Development, and Boulevard Centro followed a set of core principles In redevelopingthe neighborhood.

At the heart of those principles is an urban planning movement called New Urbanism.

I’ve once heard New Urbanism described as “the revival of the lost art of place-making.”

New Urbanism is essentially a re-ordering of the built environment into multi-use, sustainable communities. It guides development at all scales, from the region to the building, embracing infill and green-field projects, to create distinct, memorable places.

New Urbanism is a response to a series of horrific problems that have plagued our cities since we abandoned it to the automobile.

These problems include strip malls, parking lots, highways and housing tracts that have consumed the landscape, leading to congestion, pollution, walled gates, environmental destruction, higher taxes to subsidize stretched infrastructure, social disconnection, and the loss of civic centers that would otherwise bind us together.

Do we love our Charlotte suburbs? You bet we do. At least those that are well-planned: enduring, integrated, walkable, tree-lined and inter-connected on a street grid-network.

Over the next several issues, this column will explore New Urbanist planning: specifically, principles that guide (1) the region, city, town; (2) the neighborhood, district and corridor, and (3) the block, street and building.

Good planning and smart choices allow Charlotte to create its very own dynamic sense of place.

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