Inside the University City reboot – Charlotte Magazine


For decades, the intersection of WT Harris Boulevard and North Tryon Street was little more than a rural junction. The Mecklenburg County Poor’s House operated there from 1904 to 1957, when it became the Green Acres care facility. Five years later, Charlotte College established a 1,300-acre campus in the neighborhood (and soon after became UNC Charlotte). Then, in 1984, what is now Atrium Health opened a hospital on the Green Acres site. This once quiet junction has become the busiest intersection in North Carolina, where today light rail trains pass at full speed.

Tobe Holmes joined University City Partners, which promotes the neighborhood’s economic vitality, as Director of Planning and Development in 2015. The organization tasked him with developing a strategy to guide the next 20 years of development. piece. The plan, released in November, capitalizes on existing assets, including the university and hospital, and presents a modern vision for this northeast pocket of Charlotte. “We already have all the pieces of the puzzle,” says Holmes. “It’s just about getting them to connect better, so that we can be a better version of who we are today. “

The University City Vision Plan will move the district away from car-focused development (top) and towards a pedestrian-friendly model that unites urban and green spaces (top). WITH THE COURTESY OF THE PARTNERS OF THE UNIVERSITY CITY.

University City, which spans about a 3 mile radius from the WT Harris-Tryon intersection, is in many ways a classic suburb. Unlike the mixed-use developments in vogue today, the university research park, founded in 1966, is entirely commercial; the 450-acre site is still home to the east coast headquarters and outposts for Fortune 500 companies like Electrolux. Most of the malls along North Tryon were built between 1984 and 2005, and they reflect the automotive obsession of the time: huge thoroughfares, sprawling parking lots, big box stores.

But the district is also home to many natural settings that seem to be in a world far from the main roads suffocated by exhaust fumes. “It never fails to amaze me when I walk from University Place to Barton Creek Greenway, right next to Mallard Creek Greenway,” says Holmes. “You are in downtown University City, and 10 minutes later you are in the middle of the woods. And this is what I see as what the suburbs were meant to be.

The suburban format, as opposed to rural or urban, dominates all American cities, and it’s not hard to see why. The suburbs were designed as a place where you could have it all: nature, lots of space, a quick commute, and acres of free parking. Some parts of this model are worth keeping, Holmes says, but others will need to adapt as city dwellers ditch the car and embrace public transport.

Chemin du boulevard Uc after

The University Town’s greenway network will go beyond recreation and become essential transport infrastructure. WITH THE COURTESY OF THE PARTNERS OF THE UNIVERSITY CITY.

All of the University City Vision’s 10 key strategies, from pedestrian safety to housing diversity, align with the goals of Charlotte’s Global 2040 Plan, which city council adopted in June and will guide the entire city through it. inflection. While the University City Plan is not a binding political document, Holmes states that “the comp plan and our vision share a lot of aspirations for the future and, frankly, a lot of hope that we can achieve what we said we would achieve. “

University City, which hosted the Blue Line in 2018, is well positioned to navigate this transformation. “Here in this place are the ingredients to begin to understand how we are changing what so much of America is,” said Holmes. “To be something that reflects a location more accessible on foot and by bike, capable of accommodating far more than the commercial stripes you see when you are driving down the road.”

The University City Vision Plan designs a city center around the JW Clay light rail station, which provides easy access to the university, greenway, and hospital. (The multimodal North Bridge, slated to open in 2024, will cross Interstate 85 and also connect University Research Park to the center of University City.) In the city center, a north-south urban axis will cross an east axis. – west “green belt”.

The urban axis will give priority to entertainment, apartments and pedestrian shopping and dining areas, where canopy trees will shade the sidewalk seats. The University Place boardwalk and lake, built in the 1980s, will become a center of cultural, public art and fitness events, a flagship public space similar to Bicentennial Park in Columbus, Ohio.

The plan reinvents the traditional “Main and Main” intersection as an intersection between Main Street and the Greenway. The Greenbelt will take advantage of the existing 14 miles of continuous greenway and provide a focal point to develop 1.5 acres of green space per 1,000 residents. (The university town has no parks.) Greenways will unify recreation and transportation, with safe routes to work, school, and the light rail by scooter and bicycle..

The focus on car-free transportation is part of an ambitious transit-focused approach that incorporates 10-minute neighborhoods and ‘last mile’ solutions, which help transit users navigate safely. security the last mile to the house from the bus stop or train station. “Ten years ago you could hardly drive in this community without touching a main thoroughfare,” says Holmes. “And in 10 years you will be able to ride a bike or walk from a light rail station to a light rail station in a way that is not only safe, but in a way that feels safe.”

University City Partners conducted 12 interviews, three focus groups, and a number of visioning sessions, surveys, and presentations to find out what local residents and staff wanted. One survey focused exclusively on crossing the street, and 65% of those polled said the walkability in University City was poor. Almost the same percentage said walkability was a big factor in deciding where to live.

Every now and then, a longtime resident sends Holmes photos of University City’s past, precious reminders of what deserves to be preserved as he looks to the future. “History is not always at the age of the building; it has a lot to do with who is in the building and the community around the building, ”says Holmes. “These photos remind me that this is a community, and that it has been a community for a long time.”

This community is a hotbed of talent and diversity. UNC Charlotte trains more engineering and technology graduates than any other university in the state, and Holmes believes the neighborhood will attract more and more businesses, which increasingly value diversity in thought and thought. experience. The mix of residents includes students, alumni, young families and a wide range of nationalities, but Holmes has found a surprising unifier: they are ready for change. The university campus was built in a bygone era. “People,” he said, “are thrilled to see these things turn into something else.”

The University City Vision Plan provides one way to achieve this, and progress has already started. The university research park is integrating collective housing and townhouses. New bike paths and sidewalks line McCullough Drive and greenway improvements are underway. Water’s Edge, a redevelopment of University Place, opened last year. By 2040, if the plan is realized, University City will have profoundly transformed the way of life in the suburbs. “I don’t think suburb is the right word for this anymore,” says Holmes. “It’s definitely more modern, but it takes into account the best parts of that foundation. “

An old photo took hold of Holmes. It showed the WT Harris-Tryon intersection, when the light rail was still 50 years into the future. The image was a testament to the speed and scale of the change, something Holmes keeps in mind as he plans a college town decades away. “Do not think that something is not possible today, because tomorrow it may be,” he said. “So let’s get started.”

University town Fast facts

85,000 workers. The main employers are Allstate, Wells Fargo, TIAA and Centene.

43,000 residents. Almost 55.5% are between 20 and 39 years old, making University City the youngest neighborhood in the city.

$ 54,000: median household income.

14 miles de Voie Verte, the longest contiguous greenway in the department.

Second busiest public library in the departmental library system. The University City branch circulates more children’s books than the Main Library and ImaginOn combined.

4 LIGHT STATION. JW Clay is the fourth busiest station on the Blue Line.

25 900: average daily users of light rail.

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