A Year in Review – Charlotte’s Events Tell the Story

Written by Tom Low, AIA AICP CNU LEED NCARB

This past year brought us continued interest in walkability with a talk by urban designer Julie Campoli featuring her book Made for Walking as well as the 3rd annual Janes Walk recap sponsored by UNCC’s Urban Institute. We discussed how Good Bones — human-scale buildings and ready-made networks of small blocks and connected streets — make walking easy. We discovered there are growing concerns with the proliferation of Snout Houses infesting our older walkable neighborhoods and a lack of ways to protect them. Citizen activists Ken Steiner and Nancy Pierce are rallying awareness about the consequences of too much outdoor lighting with a forum on Illuminating Glare. Victor Dover inspired us with the Street Secrets for creating great streets. Exciting to hear from Ken Szymanski, the Chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing about how Charlotte is taking bold and necessary actions towards Housing Homeless. We collaborated with Darlene Heater, Executive Director for University City Partners to determine the top 10 time-tested urban design rules for increasing the University City area’s A+ Urbanism. We produced this with forum participants by tapping into the expertise of Nico Larco’s design rules ideas from his book Site Design for Multi-Family Housing and Rob Steuteville’s, 5 steps for complete communities, and how to build better suburbs. But we found out we are not A students per our grades on the Sustainability Scorecard of our Environmental, Economic, and Social Health by Sustain Charlottte as presented by Shannon Binns, Executive Director. We discussed the importance of creating good bones to the urban fabric and once the good bones are established, how essential is getting the right urban tissue towards creating a successful walkable community. To do this Joel Russell, Director of the Form-Based Code Institute explored with us the use of Form Making including Form-Based Codes as Charlotte is in the long-overdue process of updating our zoning ordinance. And finally Michael Powe with the National Trust for Historic Preservation Green Lab discussed Older Smaller Better in that small-scale urban development and thoughtful, context-sensitive design enhances urban vitality and can actually be more economical viable. Green Lab’s mapping data points of Charlotte and Davidson confirm with new data what Jane Jacob’s revealed over a half century ago.

Read on for a fun (and easy) way to recap our monthly forum events from 2014. Below is our 2014 Puzzler poster collage of event images and a numbered list describing each monthly event. See if you can match the images with the specific event. Answers are at the bottom.

Charlotte trivia image

It’s fun to look back over ten years and more than 100 forum events, several hands-on design workshops, seminars in planning, design, and history, topic specific conferences. The results have been increasing general community awareness, as well as indirect and direct influence on community projects. The launch and implementation of exciting Initiatives include Learning Cottages currently be designed and built around the country and our Pop-Up Porches launch (more on this soon.) Looking forward to 2015 in our 11th year!

1. WALK MORE

Making the case for great urban neighborhoods to walk more…and drive less.

Density is often defined in terms of population per square mile, but such a crude measure makes it difficult to understand the relationship between density and city life. We need to think about urban density by including the density of jobs, schools, and services such as retail, transit, and recreational facilities. Fitting more amenities into a neighborhood within a spatial pattern that invites walking will create the type of built environment that offers real transportation options.

Landscape architect and urban designer Julie Campoli as she discussed our current notions of space and distance and helped us learn to appreciate and cultivate proximity. In her book, developed as a follow-up to Visualizing Density (2007, co-authored with aerial photographer Alex S. MacLean), she illustrates urban neighborhoods throughout North America with hundreds of street-level photographs.

THE JANUARY 9 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1. Introduced the concept of the 5 D’s – Diversity, Density, Design, Distance, and Destination.
2. Discussed how the “good bones” of urban form affects travel behavior and identify specific characteristics of place that boost walking and transit use while reducing VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled).
3. Reviewed case studies of urban neighborhoods with a comfortable pedestrian walk zone. Some are in familiar cities others have emerged in unexpected locations, where the seeds of sustainable urban form are taking root on a micro level; and
4. Identified and proposed places in the Charlotte region where the design of places would benefit from a 5-Ds approach.

PARTNERS: UNC Charlotte Master of Urban Design program with UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Urban Land Institute, Charlotte Center City Partners, Sustain Charlotte, American Institute of Architects/Charlotte, Civic by Design, AARP North Carolina, Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Dept., North End Partners, Sierra Club Piedmont Chapter, Clean Air Carolina, Charlotte Dept. of Transportation, Grubb Properties, Alta Planning & Design. Civic By design is presented with Levine Museum of the New South.

REFERENCES:
Lincoln Institute
Julie Campoli

Image:  Book jacket:  Made for Walking

2. SNOUT HOUSE

What’s wrong with this house?
WSJ: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

3. ILLUMINATING GLARE

When does outdoor lighting keep us safe and when does it blind us? How does glare affect visibility of the night sky, public health and safety, neighborhood appearance, nature and wildlife, and energy consumption? What does Charlotte City Code say about outdoor lighting?
Citizen activists Ken Steiner and Nancy Pierce kicked off a local effort to increase awareness of sensible outdoor lighting and they would like to hear Forum attendees’ responses to the photographs and facts they have compiled so far. They are also seeking participation from the City and from Duke Energy.

THE MARCH 11 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1) Heard about medical studies suggesting that light pollution negatively impacts public health, particularly in low-income communities.
2) Saw photos showing how efficient light fixtures, properly placed, shielded and aimed can provide safer lighting with less energy consumption.
3) Reviewed and discussed Charlotte’s Outdoor Lighting Ordinance.
4) Learned about how LED technology will affect outdoor lighting in the next 10 years.

PARTNERS: Presented with Levine Museum of the New South and Civic By Design

REFERENCES:
Ken, a retired sales engineer, is director of the Twelve Meter Radio Telescope program for the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute and observatory director for the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club.
Nancy, a professional photojournalist, has been a neighborhood activist and participant in many City and County committees and stakeholder groups for the past 25 years.

Image: Outdoor lighting glare experienced along Providence Road

4. SNOUT HOUSE

Why are these proliferating in our historic neighborhoods and what can be done?

With the upswing in the economy and an increasing desire of people to live in walkable connected traditional neighborhoods, our historic communities such as Cherry and Chantilly are feeling pressure from infill development that is architecturally and urbanistically insensitive to the original character. The historic character is a major reason why people desire to live in these neighborhoods. One major proliferating negative aspect are snout houses. A snout house is a house with a protruding garage that takes up most of the street frontage, squeezing out front yards and making it hard to find the front door. This layout is worked into many types of houses, including single-family houses, duplexes and other multifamily structures. Snout houses come in a full range of styles from neo-craftsman to neo-modern.

THE FEBRUARY 11 EVENT: The following were included in this event:
1. Introduced the concept of the snout house;
2. Explored why these are poliferating;
2. Presented examples of historic and new houses that feature elements of traditional neighborhoods;
3. Discussed how home builders and designers think in terms of home design and building in relationship to architectural and urban context; and
4. Proposed design techniques and other ways to protect and enhance our historic and new neighborhoods.

PARTNERS: Presented with Levine Museum of the New South, Civic By Design, Charlotte Historic District Commission, and Historic Charlotte

REFERENCES:
Snout House def.
We can do better than this?
The “snout house bill” that prohibits design controls.

Images: New snout house infill in the historic Cherry neighborhood

5. WALK CHARLOTTE 2014

1. People gather for a common cause.
2. People gather in a common place.
3. People take a common journey together.
4. People share their common stories.

Each year on the first weekend in May, the anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ birthday, communities across the globe host neighborhood walks to help people get more familiar with their cities. This was the Queen City’s 3rd annual Jane Jacobs Walk. Consider sponsoring a walk of your own, join one of the walks, and come join walk leaders for a conversation where we take a look back at the “Jane’s Walks” in early May that explored Charlotte neighborhoods. The Jane Jacobs Walk website puts it this way: “A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play.”

THE MAY 13 EVENT: During this event participants learned about the following:
1. Heard about who Jane Jacobs was and her impact of how we plan cities,
2. Discussed her book Death and Life of Great American Cities,
3. Learned about the essential philosophy behind the Jane Jane’s Walk movement, and
4. Interacted with walk-leaders and walk participants as look back on their experiences on this year’s Jane’s walks.

PARTNERS: Levine Museum of the New South, PlanCharlotte, UNCC College of Arts + Architecture, Charlotte Museum of History, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Jane’s Walk

REFERENCE:
JanesWalk.org
If you’re thinking of organizing or joining in a Charlotte walk: http://www.janeswalk.org/united-states/charlotte-nc/
PlanCharlotte article on how to set up your own walk: http://plancharlotte.org/story/janes-walk-2014-charlotte-neighborhoods

Image credit Jane Jacob’s Walk

6. STREET SECRETS

THE CIVIC ART OF STREET DESIGN

America is rediscovering its streets. A revolutionary makeover is underway to promote walking and cycling and appeal to a new generation of creative, demanding citizens. Victor Dover, coauthor of the new book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, described how street design can shape enduring cities and towns that people really love. Victor Dover, cofounder of Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning in Coral Gables, Florida, has 25 years’ experience restoring healthy neighborhoods and creating walkable communities. The coauthor of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (Wiley, January 2014) with architect John Massengale, he has designed 150 neighborhoods, urban revitalization programs, and regional plans across five continents including Plan El Paso, hailed as “America’s Best Smart Growth Plan.” Victor is a native of Charlotte — two streets in Charlotte are featured in the Street Design book.

THE JUNE 10 EVENT: During this event participants learned about the following:
1. Observed how historical, tree-lined streets like those in Charlotte are a model for street design today;
2. Previewed the new book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns with foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales:
3. Heard about the movement to create “complete streets” that serve cars, pedestrians and bicyclists: and
4. Learned how civic design is a key element to creating safe and beautiful streets where people want to be.

PARTNERS: Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte Department of Transportation, Congress for the New Urbanism Carolinas

REFERENCE:
Street Design book, photos and events: http://streets-book.com/home/
Victor Dover’s firm and projects: http://www.doverkohl.com/ or on Twitter @VictorDover

Image credit: Street Secrets book jacket

7. HOMELESS HOUSES

Taking bold and necessary actions towards housing homeless

The January, 2014 Point in Time count, a census of both sheltered and unsheltered families and individuals in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, revealed a total of (ironically) 2014 persons. It was a snapshot on a given night. Single-person homelessness is decreasing locally, but family homelessness is increasing. As a community, C-M continues forward with a systems response to homelessness, including a powerful tool that began on May 1st called Coordinated Assessment. There is a 20+ year history in C-M of coordination and cooperation among the many homeless advocates called the Homeless Services Network. In a community where 15% of households fall below the federal Poverty Line (about 150,000 persons), there are many individuals and families who are at-risk of being ill-housed. For example, Crisis Assistance Ministry in its most recent 12-month cycle, assisted over 19,500 households (comprised of about 55,000 persons) with eviction stave-off or utility disconnection. Clearly, there are many more Charlotteans who are so-called ‘couch homeless” – doubling up with family or friends – than sheltered or unsheltered homeless. And there are only so many housing subsidies to go around. Come hear Ken Szymanski, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing and other discuss Homeless Houses.

THE JULY 8 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1) Heard about the homeless situation in the Charlotte region,
2) Learned about strategies other cities are using with success,
3) Heard from a panel of experts as they share their ideas on addressing housing for homeless here in the Charlotte region, and
4) Discussed/proposed ideas and what kind of housing design can best contribute to addressing this issue.

PARTNERS: Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing, Charlotte Urban Ministries

REFERENCE:
Executive Director Ken Szymanski became the Chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing – a community-based board appointed to implement the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Ten Year Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness – at their meeting on June 24th. Ken brings expertise and commitment to the Ten Year plan with authentic and influential experience in homelessness and housing services. This is a working board that recommends strategies for implementation of the Ten Year Plan to the City Council and County Commission. The Coalition develops strategies to meet the Ten Year Plan goals of housing, outreach and engagement and prevention, and to provide advocacy and partnerships with service providers and funders. The Coalition will take bold and necessary actions towards deterring and even eliminating homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg – a tall order but one that is making considerable progress via community cooperation and coordination.

image: Courtesy of Under the Bridge Ministries

8. A+ URBANISM

What are the top 10 time-tested urban design rules for increasing the University City area’s A+ URBANISM?

Mostly we speak in broad brush terms on solving community problems. We obsess over mission statements that envision a more prosperous future for our region. We hear leaders exclaim how we must expand housing choices for everyone, add public transportation where it is needed, create and attract jobs, plan for infrastructure, preserve our scenic and natural resources, and design better walkable, healthy, convenient, communities. But sometimes all these big picture action agendas distract us from the essence of community. Sometimes the details makes all the difference in creating a successful place. And sometimes, just creating a block or two of A+ urbanism in the right place makes all the difference between failure and excellence for a community’s success. In fact, many wildly successful places basically followed a simple set of urban design rules and, as a result, have created a fantastic place that, mostly by its own physical form, accomplishes all these broad brush goals and desires. There are many more places that have failed because, although significant amounts of money, creativity, market research, and institutional programming were thrown at them, they forgot or ignored the basics rules of place making and, once they were built, people didn’t want to be there. Darlene Heater, Executive Director for University City Partners, and urbanism experts discussed A+ Urbanism.

THE AUGUST 12 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1) Heard about the growth and development history of University City,
2) Learned about simple design rules that have made successful places,
3) Heard from a panel of urban design experts as they share their opinions on time-tested rules to create A+ Urbanism, and
4) Discussed these ideas and as a collective group determine the top ten recommended rules for University City to implement.

PARTNERS:
Levine Museum of the New South http://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/
University City Partners http://universitycitypartners.org/

REFERENCE:
10 Points to Well-Connected Multi-Family Housing
5 Steps to a Complete Community
10 Reasons Why Good Design Creates a “Place” in the Suburbs

Darlene Heater is the Executive Director for University City Partners, which envisions and implements strategies and actions to drive University City’s long term economic vitality as a center for employment, living, education, commerce and entertainment. Heater is a graduate of The Ohio State University. She has held roles in the public sector for nearly twenty years. Prior to her role at University City Partners, she was the Vice President of Neighborhood Development and Sustainability at Charlotte Center City Partners and Director of Strategic Partnerships for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

image: University City lakefront courtesy of University City Partners

9. SUSTAINABILITY SCORECARD

Scoring Our Environmental, Economic, and Social Health

Sustainability is not just a measure of how well we are meeting our needs today, but also an indicator of how well those who come after us will be able to meet theirs. The intent of this score card is to objectively evaluate progress towards greater sustainability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and recommend strategies that will accelerate it. While adoption of these strategies will require the leadership of local government and business leaders, progress also depends on the choices made by every resident across the county. Therefore, this score card and report is created for the community, to enable each of us to better understand and impact our shared future. Sustain Charlottte’s Shannon Binns, Executive Director as presented information and trends intended to provide baseline on goals and strategies for the Mecklenburg Livable Communities Plan.

The September 9th Event: The following was included in this event:
1) Learned about the five community issues on which we are making progress (earning an A or B) and the four issues on which we are not (earning a C or D),
2) Learned about the 57 metrics Sustain Charlotte uses to objectively measure our progress towards sustainability and their key findings,
3) Learned what Sustain Charlotte recommends we can do as a community to accelerate our progress, and
4) Provided feedback on the report and civc design ideas for how to translate it into greater awareness and ACTION.

PARTNERS:
Levine Museum of the New South http://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/
Sustain Charlotte http://sustaincharlotte.org

REFERENCE:
Sustain Charlotte:
Our mission is to inspire choices that lead to a healthier and more vibrant community for generations to come.
To achieve our mission we focus on three key strategies:
Educate – We educate the public about the value to our community of sustainability and how it is achieved, including the best ideas and practices from other cities around the country.
Engage – We provide opportunities for increased public engagement in the discussions and decisions that determine our future’s sustainability.
Unite – We unite citizens, businesses, nonprofits, public agencies and academic institutions to develop shared visions, goals, and strategies for a sustainable region.
Download our 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card!

Image: Sustain Charlotte 2014 Sustainability Report Card

10. GOOD BONES

and the importance of good urban tissue for community success

Walkable communities are attracting a new generation of residents and businesses in the 21st Century. “Good Bones” — human-scale buildings and ready-made networks of small blocks and connected streets — make walking easy. To ensure that a place is truly walkable, it is essential to establish a web of property lines and rights-of-ways, supporting the desired population and housing density, services, streetscape, and green networks connections formed on good bones. But once the good bones are established, how essential is getting the right urban tissue towards creating a successful walkable community?

THE OCTOBER 14 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1) Learned about what constitutes a community’s “good bones,”
2) Learned about what are the ingredients of good “urban tissue,”
3) Discussed how important is it for the build out to follow a holistic long term vision, and
4) Discussed how important is it for the vision to be embraced by the community that has strong support from leaders and a commitment to seeing it through without significant compromise.

PARTNERS:
Levine Museum of the New South

REFERENCE: Prosperity Huck Area Plan

Image City of Charlotte: Prosperity Hucks Area Plan Framework design on good bones but what’s the urban tissue?

11. FORM MAKING

Making Innovations in Zoning Codes and Regulations

Many people haven’t a clue about what a zoning code means — tech savvy people think it’s more about computer software than about land development. But at least some correctly think it means something about rules on how and where you can build stuff. Zoning ordinances are evolving in response to shifting trends on where and how people want to live, especially a desire for what many people call walkable communities or smart development or good urbanism. Within the world of code-writing there is a tendency among some urban design advocates to see form-making as a technique that is different from and opposed to zoning. While many people now see that the desired form of our built environment cannot be achieved by following the use-based ground rules found in conventional zoning, both form-based and use-based development regulations are actually different kinds of zoning. The question is not whether or not to have zoning, but what kind of zoning will produce the best urban /village form. Please join us for a lively discussion with a panel of national experts including Joel Russell, Executive Director, Form-Based Code Institute on form-making and zoning codes.

THE NOVEMBER 11 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1) Saw how the ground rules of zoning can tilt the playing field to make good or bad things happen,
2) Learned about common misconceptions about how form-making techniques relate to zoning and how form-based codes are zoning but also include much more than zoning,
3) Discussed how the “rules of the game” for building our communities can promote economic vitality and implement a holistic long-term vision for all scales – from neighborhood and districts, to large scale comp plans and even regional plans, and
4) Determined ways for these rules to be easily understood, user-friendly, and embraced by the community with strong support from leaders.

PARTNERS:
Levine Museum of the New South

REFERENCE:
Form-Based Codes Institute

image Prosperity-Hucks zoning diagram ± credit City of Charlotte

12. OLDER SMALLER BETTER

Measuring How the Character of Buildings and Blocks influences Urban Vitality and Economic Performance

In 1961, Jane Jacobs issued the now-famous argument that the most thriving urban streets and neighborhoods are comprised of a mix of old and new buildings, used in a variety of ways by diverse people and groups. Today, more than fifty years later, many of Jacobs’ ideas are widely accepted among urban professionals, but city policies and plans often continue to favor large-scale redevelopment projects over more fine-grained approaches that utilize existing community assets and preserve communities’ built fabric. Newly released research from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab shows that neighborhoods with a mix of small, old and new buildings outperform districts of large, new buildings on a wide variety of social, economic, and cultural metrics. Mike Powe, Senior Research Manager from the Seattle-based Green Lab, will connect new ideas drawn from Big Data to the writings of Jane Jacobs and discuss how planners, policymakers, and designers can leverage the unique fabric of our center city, neighborhood main streets, regional town centers, historic crossroads as well as the emerging salad bowl suburbs to strengthen local economies and foster distinctive commercial corridors.

THE DECEMBER 9 EVENT: The following was included in this event:
1. Learned about how the older fabric of cities supports robust local economies and distinctive, livable neighborhoods,
2. Heard how Big Data, GIS, spatial statistics, and Jane Jacobs have been connected in this new research and its application for the Charlotte region,
3. Reviewed key sources of public data from downloaded and leveraged research on the Charlotte region specific to the center city, neighborhood main streets, surrounding town centers, crossroads as well as the emerging salad bowl suburbs, and
4. Thought together about how small-scale urban development and thoughtful, context-sensitive design can build upon the performance of older, smaller buildings.

PARTNERS:
Levine Museum of the New South http://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/
National Trust for Historic Preservation Green Lab

REFERENCE:
Read about the Preservation Green Lab’s Older, Smaller, Better research and download the report here – www.preservationnation.org/oldersmallerbetter

image credit Green Lab

Answers to Puzzler: 1-K, 2-G, 3-C, 4-E, 5-D, 6-B, 7-I, 8-H, 9-A, 10-J, 11-F, 12-L.

In Other News

Also the Civic By Design Center in partnership with Helping Homeless to Housing (HHH) of the Urban Ministry Center of Charlotte launched our first event in December during the Food Truck Friday in South End, Charlotte, North Carolina to advance the Pop-Up Porch Initiative and Street Stories and Beyond: Past and Present Initiative. Here is short video of the event:

Here is a pictorial booklet of the event.

 

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