If you’re like me, you’ve seen these signs popping up all over Charlotte’s neighborhoods. Or you’ll drive through a neighborhood months later and dozens of homes have been razed and replaced with brand new construction. As a life-long Charlottean it is breaking my heart to see the fabric and character of our oldest neighborhoods be demolished for the sake of making a buck.
This is not an anti-development article. In order to grow from a mid-sized, suburban city to a first-class, urban powerhouse development needs to occur. That includes the redevelopment of parcels and some demolition of buildings. But the key is doing it responsibility. The City of Charlotte has a growth framework and planning tools that determine where these redevelopment areas are – they are generally not in our single-family neighborhoods.
What Does Responsible Development Look Like?
That’s not to say that homes in our oldest communities can’t be enhanced. Renovations and additions sensitive to the form and character of a neighborhood allow for structures to evolve to meet the demands of the market and changes in our lifestyle. Here are some examples of how homes can be renovated and expanded to maintain the building form of a neighborhood. These homes respect the size, height, and architectural character of their original structures and the homes adjacent.
Renovated and expanded homes in Plaza Midwood
It can often be more expensive for a developer to renovate homes then to tear them down and build a new one. There is also a constant demand for housing close to our city center, especially in this market. A developer can do anything and they will be able to sell their product – demolished, renovated, etc. It will all sell and all sell quickly. This leads to the option that will make the most money.
My invitation to those building and buying homes right now: Let’s do it better. Let’s make less money or pay more money – do not raze the history and character of our city.
This Isn’t Just About Character, It’s About Communities
If you’ve explored the Historic West End recently you will see blocks of Biddlesville, Seversville, and Smallwood that have been erased and replaced with large, single-family homes selling up to $500,000. It’s striking to see these historically African-American neighborhoods change so drastically in such a short amount of time. Let’s take a second, to take a step back in history.
A new and existing home in Smallwood
Block of new homes in Seversville
In Uptown’s Second Ward, the African-American neighborhood of Brooklyn Village was razed during the 1960’s Urban Renewal planning movement. In search for a new community, many of these families and business people moved to what is now the Historic West End. Anchored by Johnson C. Smith University, an established African-American university, this area has grown to be rich in history and was the home of many of Charlotte’s Civil Rights heroes.
And here we are again…displacing African-American culture. This is not to say that market forces and the demand for urban living is on par with a highly-debated planning movement some characterize as racist, but unfortunately the result is the same.
Every time we tear down a house to build a new one, we are losing a piece of what makes Charlotte, Charlotte. A City is built over time – layers of the built environment, including the textures, the materials, the form, and even the smells – all contribute to how we relate to and experience a place. When this happens on a large scale entire communities are lost along with their history and identity. Those identities multiplied are what make a city what it is. Charlotte is known for being “vanilla.” It’s new, clean, and nice – but this isn’t the city we want. We want to be known for our diversity, unique cultures, and interesting places – we want to be “rocky road.”
If you have the privilege to shape our city’s neighborhoods and determine how Charlotte grows into a unique, vibrant, and competitive city, you must understand the importance of how history and identity shape who we are. If you’re looking to buy a home close to Uptown, be more aware of the culture and history of where you are moving, instead of the square footage of your closet.
We control our pocket books. Let’s preserve what’s left of Charlotte’s character.
Erin Chantry, a LEED AP ND, CNU-A is a native Charlottean and Urban Designer and Planner for the City of Charlotte. With a BA in Architecture, an MA in Urban Design, and an MS in Urban Planning, Erin writes at helmofthepublicrealm.com. Her views and opinions expressed in this article are hers alone and do not represent those of the City of Charlotte.