Growing Responsibly: Charlotte 2040 Plan

On Wednesday night, the Simmons YMCA hosted the Charlotte 2040 Comprehensive Plan Workshop, organized by Charlotte Planning, Design & Development. Simmons YMCA sits at the end of Democracy Drive, an appropriate street name for an institution dedicated to fostering “diverse and dynamic” wellness programs in the Charlotte region.

The Simmons branch turns 50 years old this year. It’s also home to the first water park in Charlotte. However, this community workshop was all about the future. Planning, Design & Development described the workshop as one of “vision and values”, a plan to help Charlotte growth responsibly and collectively.

Astrid Chirinos, the branch’s new executive director, started the meeting by encouraging energy and participation with multiple inquiries of “How are you?” and “Buenas tardes!” Once the nearly-packed gymnasium showed enough spirit,  Astrid introduced the first speaker, Taiwo Jaiyeoba, Director of Charlotte Planning, Design & Development Department.

“We are a city that people are choosing to come to,” Taiwo said. He stated that his organization asked people to provide one word to describe Charlotte, and the most common word was growth. He described how, as of 2017, Charlotte has 859,013 residents, making it the 17th largest city in the United States. Yet, 250,000 people in Charlotte don’t have access to a car or can’t drive. That’s one of the many reasons that Charlotte leaders want the city to grow in a responsible way, including responsible use of land and city design.

That’s one of the seven main factors of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The other points include facilities and services, environment and sustainability, general county and regional plans, parks and greenway plans, housing and economic development, and transportation. Framing the vertices of this seven-point plan are three overarching principles: authentic and equitable participation, interwoven equity, and an integrated framework.

The first overarching principle came into play when the second speaker, another member of Charlotte Planning, Design & Development, opened up the floor for audience input. Hands immediately shot up, and audience members expressed what they thought was missing from the plan.

Among those, a few poignant, eloquent comments stand out. One African American woman commented, “When people come to Charlotte or when we travel to another place, there’s something that brings us to that place. What are you looking for? What are the stories? What are the historic sites? People want to know the stories. Our historic sites need to be highlighted to give Charlotte an identity.”

Charlotte’s identity—now that’s a nuanced subject. Especially with the demolition of the Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s, historic sites, especially African American historic sites, are hard to find, just like it’s hard to find a building in the city that’s more than three decades old. That’s why grassroots community planning sessions such as these are so integral in forming the overall identity of the city. If we’re not intentional about where the city is going and the quality of life for its residents, we lose an opportunity to shape Charlotte into the city we want—and need—it to be.