Charlotte, NC skyline via Flickr.
The last time we checked in with Charlotte, we learned that the City Council had approved a Capital Investment Plan for $120 million for catalytic economic development and community reinvestment projects.
Now, the public has given their go-ahead. This November, voters approved the first two-year, $20 million investment in the program.
These funds will go to high-impact projects in five targeted areas of the city, namely Whitehall/Ayrsley, Prosperity Village, West Trade/Rozelles Ferry, Sunset/Beattie’s Ford and Central/Abermarle/Shamrock. The goal? To strengthen these neighborhood by making them more desirable for commercial and retail development and mixed-income housing.
In May 2013, Smart Growth America visited Charlotte to provide a workshop on Planning for Economic and Fiscal Health. At the workshop, Smart Growth America’s experts and City officials discussed how to achieve quality growth throughout Charlotte (not just in certain neighborhoods) and how the City’s new Comprehensive Neighborhood Improvement Program (CNIP) could jumpstart more private investment in areas that were currently lagging behind.
CNIP is the City’s effort to merge and strengthen Charlotte’s former Neighborhood Improvement Program and Business Corridor Revitalization Program so that neighborhood and business district improvement efforts could be addressed in more complementary and comprehensive ways.
“We were hearing from [residents] that they care about their neighborhoods, but they also care about their business districts and their schools,” said Tom Warshauer, Community Engagement Manager for Charlotte Neighborhood and Business Services. Because Charlotte’s business districts often border multiple neighborhoods and schools tend to draw their students from multiple neighborhoods, the City adopted this broader approach to community improvement. Now, the City is “looking not just what’s in the neighborhood, but how the neighborhoods relate to one another.”
Since the workshop, Charlotte has assembled teams of interdepartmental consultants to hone in on the most impactful investment opportunities in each target area. Not only have these teams conducted market studies and examined neighborhood plans, they have also consulted various focus groups of local stakeholders. Their community engagement plan also calls for engagement with neighborhood groups and the general public to solicit their input.
These consultants will give the City reports containing their findings next summer. From there, the City will prioritize specific investments and their timing.
Although the projects have yet to be finalized, Warshauer anticipates many of them to improve connectivity, accessibility and health. He suggested possible projects could include providing better bicycle and pedestrian access in shopping areas, expanding access to local greenways and connecting them to the bicycle network and completing discontinuous road segments.
Looking back on the technical assistance Charlotte received from Smart Growth America, Warshauer believes that “Smart Growth America helped us get a better handle on some of the bigger trends of neighborhood and demographic change,” like Millennial and Baby Boomers’ growing preferences for walkable environments, the rising number of people living alone or without children. “You opened our eyes” to how these changes affect housing and amenity preferences “so that we could think more carefully about… what assets we should be highlighting, beyond just places to raise families and… strong school districts.”
Warschauer also noted, “This [the creation and execution of CNIP] is not just a change for the public, it’s a change in the way we do business, too.” He noted more interdepartmental collaboration and also commented on how City staff are now more attuned to the fact that “we are building a community, not just pieces of infrastructure.”
Residents head back to the voting booth in two years to approve the next round of funding. Over the course of the next eight years, residents will vote for a total of $120 million for CNIP projects.
Smart Growth America’s technical assistance program, made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place.
Smart Growth America’s technical assistance has helped over 50 communities from California to Maine achieve their goals. To see results and recommendations from our past workshops, click here >>