It is not the monotony of the buildings nor the unattractive nature of their design that is the greatest problem with Charlotte’s South End. The building codes permit only two types of residential construction: five stories, wood frame over concrete deck, or a high rise building constructed mostly of concrete. There is little appetite for mid-rise buildings to create a diversity in the skyline. South End has become a household term for rapid, frantic and unregulated development in Charlotte.
There are two obvious planning shortcomings with South End. First: It is a linear development. Second: It has no center. When light rail was proposed, the city saw an opportunity to increase the property tax base and developers saw an opportunity to make a lot of money quickly. Both of these agendas somehow overlooked the Planning Department, as little or no thoughtful planning was undertaken to avert the agglomeration that has been constructed. Had the proper zoning, planning, transportation, greenway and infrastructure been appropriated at the time it began, we may have had a better outcome. If the city has the wherewithal to moderate this rapid growth, then perhaps a bond issue should be considered in which a significant amount of land could be purchased and/or assembled to create open space.
Context is the other shortcoming of linear developments. They tend to have no center, therefore, no sense of place. This is evident to anyone who has attempted to walk along South Boulevard between Atherton Mill and, say, Clanton Road. The experience is unfriendly and anti-urban, and to some, frightening.
When Bearden Park was created, it took the efforts and courage of two public officials: Harry Jones, then the county manager, and Wayne Weston, then director of Parks and Recreation. These two visionary leaders saw the potential of creating an open park space within the center city. We have benefited greatly from this action. One only needs to look at all of the buildings that have cropped up surrounding the perimeter of this delightful center city public space.
Without redressing the planning effort and the necessity to create context, South Boulevard will continue its current development path with little or no abatement. And with a population pushing 10,000, South End is now larger than 80 percent of the towns in North Carolina. A scary and ominous thought!
There is a pertinent adage about there being “no place to throw a Frisbee.” That assertion, though simplistic, should have been suggested while the light rail was being planned, and South End could have been a very different place.
Wagner is the president of Wagner Murray Architects. Email: dwagner@