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    New Urbanism in Charlotte

    by Debra Moffitt

    When New Urbanism was starting to develop in the 1980's, much of the Charlotte, North Carolina, area was not yet conceived; uptown was dying, and building mixed-use areas was "illegal." The suburban model of growth reigned supreme. But times change.

    Ranked number seven on the U.S. Census list of fastest-growing urban areas — with a growth rate of over 29 percent between 1990 and 2000 (according to CensusScope) — Charlotte faces tremendous pressures in urban planning. But New Urbanist principles have made inroads to compete with simplistic suburban sprawl.

    New Urbanism, also known as Traditional Neighborhood Design, promotes walkable communities with a diversity of housing types, mixed with commercial and public spaces, connected by public transit, and designed to conserve resources and protect greenbelts.

    In the Charlotte area, designers attempting to create communities that meet those criteria have faced obstacles.

    Post-war U.S. zoning practices typically designate specific areas for housing separate from commercial and office projects, with distinct divisions.

    "Virtually everything you like in Europe or in a New England town is illegal in most U.S. cities," says Terry Shook, principal of the Charlotte-based design firm Shook Kelly. "You cannot do that by virtue of zoning."

    New Urbanism in Huntersville

    Huntersville, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from Charlotte's city center, attracted two New Urbanist-designed communities due to its mixed-use "Smart Code"-type zoning laws passed in 1996. They encouraged walkable communities and said "No" to the big-box retailers.   >>>

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    Mixed-use buildings with apartments line the main street of Birkdale Village. Homes increase in size toward the edges of the development.
    Photo: © Patrick Schneider Extra Large Image

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    Birkdale Village, a New Urbanist development near Charlotte, North Carolina, was designed by Shook Kelly.
    Photo: © Patrick Schneider Extra Large Image

     

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