In the old days Charlotte was known as the “City of Churches”. The nickname “City of Trees” has been bandied about as well.
Me? I call it the “City of Apartments”.
See, Charlotte is going through an unprecedented building boom, much of it new mega-apartment complexes. Don’t take my word for it – just look around. On seemingly every corner in every neighborhood, massive buildings are being erected, offering new residents a multitude of living options.
And the boom is showing no signs of slowing. According to a March 30th article in the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte has more than 10,000 apartment units currently under construction, with another 10,000 planned.
As the city grows and people pour into town, new citizens need somewhere to lay their heads. Millennials, a significant portion of our new residents, prefer renting an apartment to owning a home. Experts say high student loan debt and lifestyle habits contribute to that fact.
And these new buildings offer a lot of enticing amenities that you won’t get with a 60 year old bungalow. Pools, exercise rooms, daily trash pick-up, screening rooms and even concierge services pack the sell-sheets (and inflate the prices for the apartment units).
The city’s growth is a great thing. And these new developments are boosting our economy and creating jobs, while also providing new places for new residents to live. But we need to be careful that all of this construction doesn’t lead to the cultural destruction of Charlotte.
Every brick placed in the foundation of a new complex risks knocking down the character of this town. What were once neighborhoods of independently owned shops and restaurants, single family homes and open space are now packed blocks of overpriced, amenity-packed (and sometimes soulless) dorm-like structures.
Sure – some recently shuttered businesses probably needed to be replaced, like the pawn shop next to Fern in Plaza Midwood. But other community staples are fighting to stay in business. The Chop Shop in NoDa is on the chopping block. Jackelope Jacks in Elizabeth is on borrowed time. On May 18th a public hearing is scheduled for rezoning the area in Plaza Midwood where Tommy’s Pub and Backstage Vintage now sit. A developer wants to turn that land into a 160-unit apartment complex.
Can we create a community while replacing community-run businesses? Can we foster creativity while knocking down unique homes and buildings in favor of concrete parking structures that eat up entire blocks? Can we maintain some character, some grit, while each new building looks essentially the same?
And what will happen in 10 years as these buildings age? Will the apartments still look nice and new? Will the amenities still be a draw? What if millennials and Generation Z decide to start buying homes, leaving the apartments behind as empty hulls?
This is an interesting time for Charlotte. As the city grows our identity will form. My hope is that developers will look for ways to build the community through their projects, like how as part of a large development being built Uptown, a 3.2 acre park will open in the First Ward next year. My hope is there will be room for locally-owned businesses in the retail spaces in these new buildings. My hope is that developers will see value in creating all types of living situations for all types of people, so that we don’t push away people who don’t want to live in large, luxury buildings. My hope is we will all continue to support the independent businesses that still dot our city, because if we don’t, one day they may be gone too.
And my hope is that the “City of Apartments” nickname doesn’t catch on, because that’s not the identity Charlotte deserves.