Congress for the New Urbanism hosts neighborhood meetings in Charlotte

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North Carolina Construction News staff writer

Within a span of 11 days, three charrettes – intense periods of collaborative design and planning – were held to focus on accomplishing three legacy projects in the Charlotte community.

With Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU)’s annual Congress held in Charlotte from May 31 through June 3, the charrettes were a leadup to the event to implement New Urbanist design principles in the host region. CNU is a nonprofit set on diversifying neighborhoods, designing for climate change and legalizing walkable places. In short, building places people love.

The sessions bring together diverse groups in the heart of the community where the work will actually take place, pool resources and talents and develop a cohesive design proposal, with community feedback. Workshops were hosted for projects in the Gastonia, University City and West Boulevard areas.

“It’s truly a meritocracy, where we all realize and recognize that we all have skills, but we also recognize that the best idea comes from togetherness and being able to debate ideas off of one another,” said Detroit-based urban design architect Marques King, team lead for the Gastonia charrette, known as the Healthy Highland project.

The vision for the primarily Black community was to design a development that would address the food scarcity issue, offer commercial space for significant businesses, and create rental housing opportunities. From March 20-22, King met with other designers from around the country, Kintegra Health, CNU support staff and community stakeholders to improve the social, economic, health and educational conditions in Highland.

“There’s a group of people in the community who are really on fire to make change,” said architect Terry Shook, of architecture firm Shook Kelley that was also involved in the Gastonia charrette.

Another proposal that was awarded legacy project status by CNU and had resources devoted was in University City. Spearheaded by nonprofit organization University City Partners, CNU was enlisted to help tackle scars left by suburban policies by creating a main street to serve as the center of the community that is home to UNC Charlotte and is the city’s second largest employment center. The charrette took place on March 27-29.

“Over the course of these three days, we kicked off with a site tour, and from there, [we brought] in stakeholders from the community – the people who use the site most regularly – and from there, it’s heads down,” said Tobe Holmes, executive director of University City Partners.

The final charrette, held March 28-30, focused on a proposal submitted by the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, a grouping of 19 communities that comprise the life fabric of the West Boulevard corridor. This project had the key themes of health equity and neighborhood development, with specific strategies like adding affordable housing and providing safe links to transit.

Murphy Antoine, a planner and principal architect for the DC-based firm that took part in the charrette, offered his expertise and outlook.

“We’re trying to use our design skills and other experiences to make a difference and push the revitalization forward for West Boulevard,” said Antoine.

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