What is Smart Growth and why is it critical to how Charlotte develops?
Did you know that an average of 44 people move to Charlotte every day, and we are projected to become the second fastest-growing large U.S. city through 2030? Whether you’ve lived in the area for decades or only a few months, you’ve likely noticed signs of growth all over town. A glance at Uptown’s skyline reveals numerous residential and commercial projects under construction. Development and re-development are booming in our urban neighborhoods, too.
But how do we ensure that Charlotte remains an attractive place to live and work as we prepare to welcome 400,000 new residents over the next 25 years? This is an exciting time for Charlotteans to shape the future of our city by making sustainable choices today.
In past decades, Charlotte’s swelling population rapidly expanded into previously undeveloped forest and farmland by building suburban shopping centers with vast surface parking lots, single family homes on large lots, office parks far from residential areas, and an extensive road network designed almost exclusively to move cars as quickly as possible between them. Regionally, this led to a five-fold increase in our human footprint, or amount of developed land per person, between 1976 and 2006. In fact, Smart Growth America has now identified the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill area as the 5th most sprawling large metro area in the nation. Past growth patterns have contributed to a number of economic, social, and environmental problems that our region is now struggling to correct.
Fortunately, there is a smarter way to grow. Smart growth means building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies, protects the environment, and furthers opportunities for all.
Strong local economy
A resilient workforce is a strong workforce. When workers have convenient and affordable transportation to employment centers or are able to live within close proximity, both employers and workers benefit. A U.S. Census Bureau report found that accessibility to jobs significantly reduces the duration of joblessness among unemployed workers. We are seeing a nation-wide market trend towards more compact development. According to development expert Christopher Leinberger, housing prices in walkable urban places have about a 40-200% premium over drivable single-family housing. Smart growth also reduces the combined cost of transportation and housing, which currently makes up more than 50% of the average household budget. Smart growth even helps local governments make the most of their budgets by reducing the cost of infrastructure like roadways and water systems.
Safe and healthy environment
Smart growth strategies protect the air we all breathe, the water we all drink, and our world-famous tree canopy. Sprawling, car-centric development increases air pollution from our vehicles because it results in residents taking longer and more frequent trips by car. It also increases water pollution as more roads, parking lots and rooftops lead to more runoff into our streams and rivers. In fact, the Catawba River -- the source of our drinking water -- has twice been named one of the most endangered rivers in the nation due to the runoff caused by unsustainable development practices.
These types of pollution can be reduced by locating housing, jobs, and stores nearer to each other (commonly called mixed-use development) and providing safe and convenient opportunities for residents to ride transit, walk, or bike between them.
Opportunity for all
Charlotte ranks last among the largest 50 U.S. cities for upward mobility of children born into poverty. Lack of safe and convenient ways to get from home to work or school by bicycling, walking, or transit is a hurdle to economic opportunities that can lift people out of poverty. Families in Mecklenburg County spend an average of 23% of their annual income on transportation costs, much more than the 17% national average. When children and college students can walk or bike to school, and parents can save more than $7,000 per year by taking the bus or light rail to work instead of driving, the savings allow our region’s residents to improve their economic situation.
The link between development and transportation
The ways that we develop our land and build our transportation systems are inextricably linked in a cyclical cause-and-effect relationship. Dense development supports the high population density necessary to make mass transit economically feasible, and it allows people to live within walking or bicycling distance to work or school. Investment in safe transit, bicycling, and walking networks create an inviting atmosphere for developers to build residential, retail, and office buildings more compactly. When we get all of the elements of smart growth right, the result is a city that offers a variety of transportation and housing choices for all who call Charlotte home.