#DiscussCLT: Where To Start a Conversation About Charlotte's Future

The latest in a continuing series: How do we manage Charlotte's growth?


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The #DiscussCLT panel at C3 Lab on Wednesday.

George Lainis

Last night, a couple of hundred people packed a modest space underneath a barrel roof in South End to talk about what they wanted their city to look like. This magazine organized the event, the third installment of the #DiscussCLT series, and provided free catering and beer from nearby Triple C Brewing Co. (Not saying the people who came don’t care deeply about urban design, but sometimes you need a sweetener.) OrthoCarolina sponsored it.

For a couple of hours, half of it taken up by a panel discussion, people exchanged opinions, ideas, concerns, and business cards. The venue was C3 Lab, a classic example of a third place beloved by urban designers and young entrepreneurs, occupying land that’s about to absorb the latest wave of Charlotte’s growth. It represents the future of the city—one section of it, anyway.

Charlotte presumably will keep growing. The city is working on an update to its zoning code. What’s the future going to look like? More jenga towers with eight-story parking garages at their bases—“cars behind bars,” as panel member Tom Low calls it? Or organic blocks that mix homes, retail, and entertainment, real urban neighborhoods where people practice life?

Rather than try to recap the discussion, I’m just going to point you to some resources. If you’re interested in what Charlotte’s going to be putting on its land in the decades to come, these are the starting points. No beer here, sadly.

Here were the panel members and their related institutions:

  • Moderator and former Observer colleague Mary Newsom of UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, where you’ll find a ton of useful information about Charlotte, its neighborhoods, and the issues facing them: environment, housing, transportation, and more. You should visit PlanCharlotte.org, run by the institute, to take part in an ongoing discussion about how Charlotte should grow.
  • David Furman, architect, founder of urban housing development firm Centro Cityworks, and one of the magazine’s Charlotteans of the Year in 2015. Read Kristen Wile’s story about him to understand why he matters—and why his ideas about transportation, housing, and use of public space are worth listening to.
  • Chuck Barger of Common Market, with its two (for now) locations, in Plaza Midwood and South End. Chuck’s about to lose the South End location—home to what the aforementioned Tom Low calls the coolest public space in Charlotte—to an office building. Chuck’s out where the fighting is fiercest, and he’s a super-nice guy, and Common Market is wonderful, so just go there one day to say hi.
  • Monica Carney Holmes, an experienced urban designer (and NoDa resident—holla!) who now works for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department. Here’s her Twitter feed, where her latest tweet refers to “Choices today that lead to a better tomorrow,” which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
  • And, finally, Tom Low, architect and planner, co-founder of Civic By Design, who’s so influential and forward-looking that I’ve mentioned him twice already before I even got a chance to introduce him. We wrote about him five years ago, and people still haven’t fully caught up to his ideas about urban design.

If you care about what this city will look like in 10 years, or 20, or 50, take an hour or so and do some reading. Then shoot some emails off, follow people on Twitter, Facebook-friend them, bring up these issues over coffee or beer with the neighbors. Keep the conversation going. It’s how the best work gets done—and if we don’t talk about it, others will do the talking for us.

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