SOME NEW URBANISM IN CHARLOTTE
Charlotte is a typical sunbelt metropolis (I hesitate to call it a city): walking outdoors is done mostly in parking lots, or grimly in the morning with a weight in each hand.
There are pockets of New Urbanism, including a resurgent downtown recovering from a severe attack of parking lots. Elsewhere, developers have built pockets of fabric that physically resemble parts of real cities without connecting to form a greater whole:
Dilworth Crescent is one such fragment, tucked into a leafy one-time streetcar suburb of detached houses.
Here, for the well-heeled empty-nester or divorce’, cluster idyllically about fifty single-family town houses. I wish there were a town to go with them; and so probably do those who paid top dollar to live here.
Dilworth Crescent was under construction in 1993 (that’s 1993, not 1823). Its inspiration, clearly enough, was Boston’s Beacon Hill, with a dollop of Seaside thrown in. It predates Poundbury by a year or two, though clearly it shares some traits with Prince Charles’ Utopia.
Quirkily for its single-family surroundings, the land was zoned for high-density multi-family: great enough density that a slender high-rise was briefly contemplated as the centerpiece among the town houses. This was, however, soon abandoned for fear of the NIMBYs. Parenthetically, the first design was collegiate gothic, to match a big church across the street:
The design brief was to design the largest possible house on the smallest possible lot, with garage parking for each unit. (Does this sound like Poundbury?) Because the streets were private, as in Seaside or Poundbury, highway-department design standards could be avoided. The streets are barely wide enough for two cars to pass, speed bumps and traffic signs are unnecessary, and sidewalks are purely token. How could you possibly speed in a place like this?
There are no side yards, front yards are as deep as the stoops, and the back yards are walled: roofless rooms, full of outdoor living and horticultural inventiveness. Each house is different in elevation and in plan. Though built speculatively, these might as well be custom homes in their idiosyncrasy and diversity: one house even has a three-story space corkscrewing to a rooftop skylight. You can probably imagine the persona of the person who bought that one.
These photos were taken when almost no-one was home. On a Saturday morning the streets would have been lined with parked cars and chatting neighbors unloading groceries, two wheels up on the make-believe sidewalk.
The photographs make this project seem walking distance from the splendid Cesar Pelli Bank of America skyscraper that marks the heart of downtown. In fact, the distance is around a mile and a half, walking distance in New York but not in Charlotte, with its intervening parking lots and freeway ramps.
When this project was built, the houses sold for more per square foot than any houses ever built in Charlotte, even those on acre lots.