Drawn to the Center . . . Living on the Edge

Like many American cities faced with declining populations and economic disinvestment in the post World War II years as the American suburbs began to grow, the City of Charlotte destroyed much of it\’s central city fabric. The downtown core, referred to both as \”Uptown\” and center city lost almost 1,500 structures including homes, offices and civic facilities. With the increasing reliance on automobiles, large areas of the center city were paved over for surface parking lots and parking structures.In the 70\’s an area of downtown that had not been as severely impacted by urban renewal clearance, began to emerge as a solid intown historic residential district and a quality housing alternate to the suburbs. This was spearheaded by the efforts of the CEO of the city\’s largest bank, the Bank of America. Headquartered in Charlotte, the Bank of America is also the nation\’s largest bank in assets and suprisingly Charlotte is the nation\’s second largest banking center after New York City.The presence of Bank of America and four other fortune 500 companies in Charlotte has resulted in substantial population growth due to corporate expansions and employee relocations. As a result housing in the downtown is expected to increase by over 140% to 10,000 units in the immediate future. Drawn by the corporate synergy of the aforementioned Fortune 500 companies many newcomers to Charlotte are relocating, from lively, urban communities across the country and they have high expectations for Charlotte. Coincidentally there has been substantial investment in arts and culture. $500 million has been earmarked for open space improvements and voters approved a = cent sales tax to invest in the city\’s future transit plans. As a consequence of recent revitalization efforts, increasing housing costs now limit opportunities for many Charlotte residents to move into Uptown (center city). Luxury condominiums have been selling out before the buildings are completed. Others observe that Uptown is \”too clean too corporate\”. Increasingly the city\’s leadership has recognized that nearby neighborhoods that offer lower rent alternatives (\”work force housing\”) are important assets in creating a strong downtown core. They would like to explore strategies to strengthen the relationship between the downtown core and the adjacent neighborhoods.In Charlotte several such neighborhoods are evolving including the South End entertainment district and a former mill neighborhood in the North Davidson area now called NODA which has emerged as an artist\’s district. The Optimist Park neighborhood, which will be the focus of the studio, is a working class largely African-American neighborhood located along a partially restored trolley line which links NODA, Optimist Park, Uptown and the South End. The study area includes a combination of residential blocks characterized by modest houses and a large industrial zone. It is also bordered by a linear open space in the flood plain that is an important link in a greenway system proposed to ring the downtown core and might also serve as a \”seam\” linking the Optimist Park community with an adjacent neighborhood.Although there are many worthy structures in the area and an engaged group of community stakeholders, there are also substantial vacant and underutilized properties and ample opportunities for new development and adaptive re-use. Sensitively planning for this neighborhood in a manner that addresses issues of gentrification without precluding the full realization of it\’s potential within the context of plans for the center city core, is an important challenge for the studio.The studio is jointly offered with faculty and students from the University of North Carolina Charlotte\’s College of Architecture, Community Design Center. Students in the University\’s Business School will support the studio\’s efforts with market analysis, development financing analysis and