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In with the Old - In with the New

by Michael Carson

January 3,2004

As we venture into the New Year, many of us will look forward to putting the past behind us and starting anew. We hope the New Year is filled with a wealth of new opportunities, but what is certain is that it will quickly present pitfalls. Hopefully, our past experiences will provide us the wisdom to turn difficulties into success.

Philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “When experience is not retained...infancy is perpetual.” These words, certainly, are significant to our everyday lives, but nowhere are they more relevant than in the development of Charlotte as a world-class city.

Charlotte has been criticized as a city that is all too willing to demolish its past for the sake of economic development. I am definitely a proponent of growth, but it’s unfortunate that development in the city is so often at odds with preservation.

Within the Center City, there are a number of architectural gems, such as the Federal Courthouse, Latta Arcade, First United Methodist Church, the Carolina Theater, Bank of America Corporate Center, and the Hearst Tower. Much as our personal accomplishments and failures define us as individuals and shape us for growth, so these architectural gems define Charlotte and allow the city to grow to a new level of sophistication.

Currently, there are a number of battles brewing—The Carolina Theater may soon be torn down; railroad expansion has threatened to displace graves at the Elmwood-Pinewood Cemetery; and a proposed Johnson & Wales facility may result in the demolition of a 1940’s Art Moderne-style bus station located on Trade Street.

Although the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Landmarks Commission and the Fourth Ward Historic District Commission have done a great job working to preserve important pieces of Charlotte history, we, as a city, need to work even harder to find solutions that will allow us to preserve historic architecture while still allowing for growth.

The challenge, of course, is to find the proper balance. Although difficult, preservation and development are not mutually exclusive. Look no further than the Ratcliffe Flower Building. In order to facilitate the construction of a mid-rise residential building, the old Ratcliffe building was moved and incorporated into the new construction. The compromise has resulted in one of the most visually appealing buildings in uptown Charlotte.

Economic development or preservation? Old or new? I choose both.

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