Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charlotte earns another dubious ranking

Back in November, we told you about a study that named Charlotte the nation's least walkable city. Now, further evidence that Charlotte is unusually spread out: A new study finds the Charlotte area to be the fifth most sprawling big metro area in the United States.

The report from Smart Growth America ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metropolitan area behind only Atlanta, Nashville, Riverside, Calif., and Warren, Mich. for sprawl among areas with a million people or more. (It also names the Hickory area as the most sprawling in the country overall.) Smart Growth America describes itself as an advocacy organization for sustainable growth.

Researchers used four primary factors to measure sprawl: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network.

It analyzed 221 metropolitan areas. The Charlotte area ranked 197th overall. The Hickory area ranked 221st; Greenville, S.C. 214th; Winston-Salem 209th; Fayetteville 203rd; and Columbia 200th. It's important to note that the results would be significantly different if they considered only the city limits of Charlotte or Mecklenburg County. The census-defined Metropolitan Statistical Area has a higher sprawl ranking than just the county or the city.

The researchers argue that sprawl is linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, lack of social capital and longer commutes. They say that more compact areas generally have greater economic mobility, lower housing and transportation costs, more transportation options, shorter commutes and longer life expectancy.

The study is just one more piece of evidence that Charlotte and the region need to reconsider how they are growing. Development needs to be done in a way that encourages more walking and less driving. It's hard to imagine such a reality in Charlotte, but other places do it. Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, says, among other things, the zoning code could be reformed to better encourage compact development.

What do you think?

-- Taylor Batten


Garth Vader said...

Mr. Batten,

Do you live in:

(a) a condo or apartment within walking distance of your employer;


(b) a million-dollar-plus home with a private pool in a gated community with a pretentious British name out near Arboretum?

I hear that home is made of glass...

Archiguy said...

Charlotte is a town run by developers, especially tract home builders who think suburban sprawl represented by poorly designed cul-de-sac neighborhoods built on former farmland is the epitome of the American dream. Their infrastructure costs are socialized by the city/county taxpayers and their profits are privatized. It's the easiest and fastest way to make a quick buck in the development biz.

Then, to make sure their vision is protected, they couch it terms of political class warfare. If you advocate for livable neighborhoods and concentrated development and expansion of mass transit, you're labeled a pinko, liberal traitor. Patriotic god-fearin' Republicans love sprawl and they love their cars! They hate light rail and mass transit! Only those European-lovin' liberal Democrats favor strategically planned walkable neighborhoods.

I remember when Mick Mulvaney, now a SC Congressman (you get the government you deserve) used to write periodic op-ed columns the Observer would faithfully publish. He was part of the "community columnist" program. Each one was just a thinly veiled ad for the type of cheaply built suburban sprawl his company did so well. In each one he sang the praises of suburban sprawl and decried the awfulness of anything that would concentrate development intelligently as part of a commie plot to destroy the American Way of Life.

In other words, we built this city the way we did because nobody told the developers they had to do it better.

Karl said...

Gee, has the Observer ever wondered WHY people are wanting to move further away, i.e. outside of Mecklenburg County?

Unlike the 'static' presentation journalism proffers, talk radio provides an interactive debate. Keith Larson's show on WBT-1110 the other week, highlighted the number one reason why people CHOSE to spend more time in traffic and higher transportation costs was due to LOWER TAXES, BETTER SCHOOLS and SMALLER GOVERNMENT!

P.S. @GarthVader -- Brilliant question! I doubt Taylor will bother to Liberals -- do as I say, not as I do! Much like Al Gore whose made over $200M on 'global warming' yet owns 3 homes and a private jet, producing more CO2 emissions than several neighborhoods combined.

Unknown said...

One must wonder why the powers that be has put a public housing project in the suberbs, away from rail or bus transportation? Is this the type of sprawl you speak about?
With the recent scandals in town, may want to look at the people involved with making this baffling decision.

burtshabby said...

Shouldnt the fact that the study uses two different cities in NC plus one in SC to qualify for sprawl be an automatic disqualification?

WeLikeItThatWay said...

This is by definition a "southern City". This is by choice. I am going to speak for myself....

I could not imagine a more horrible life on the planet than to live in a concrete palace firmly surrounded but pavement and the filth that is "Uptown"

I want to get away. I want to see a creek without 15lbs of trash per yard.

If the people did not like it, they wouldnt live there.

Stop trying to force us all into your idea of a city and let people live where they want to.

I will take my 10 acres, stream, trees over anything the "metro" area has to offer Any day.

Mary Newsom said...

Interesting piece. For Karl and others, recent Census data show that by far the biggest population growth in NC 2010-13 was in Mecklenburg and Wake counties. People may be wanting to move away, but a lot more people are wanting to move in. See today's demographic analysis from from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute:

Mary Newsom said...
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Ghoul said...


Living in the suburbs, with trees and a lawn, is the American dream. Now the communist dream is to live in highrise concrete leanups with a view of the homeless sleeping in alleys.

By the way Taylor, you need to get your Mexicans to mow your lawn, or God forbid,you get out in your own yard and do it yourself.

Larry said...

Yes Mary, want to give the break down on those numbers of folks moching in, I mean moving in?

And folks unless you are will to help pay more taxes for an acre of land by living on top of each other in boxes, then the observer will not be happy with you.

And I can not wait till Ballantine becomes it own town so they can finally get respect for doing so much for all of Charlotte Mecklenburg.

Willy Loman said...



Aubrey Moore said...

It is funny that those who chose suburban life are so ready to peg anyone who doesn't as some sort of wart on the hind side of society. The truth is that more people are opting for dense living than are not and to deny that fact is absurd and a little on the side of ignorant self promotion. I have had a custom drapery business in this area for 36 years and I can not sell a job in the suburbs because while there is a lot of pretentiousness there, there is little wealth to back it up. I live on 3+ acres here in Wesley Chapel, but I am country, not suburban, they moved to me, not me to them. I often tell people that there are country people and there are city people and Death Valley between, and a lot of people who earn their money the way that I do know exactly what I am talking about.

The culture that suburbia is built around is not self sustainable, it does not know what it likes or wants, and it is hypocritical of anything not like itself, displaying a rather deep ignorance. You will not hear this on talk radio because it is a part of that culture. I can write this, unafraid of the business ramifications, because quite frankly, those from whom I draw business pretty much agree with me, for the most part.
Those who disparage communities like Statesville Avenue should go spend some time there with their defenses down. You will find a rich culture that much more than the suburbs, is self sustainable.
My attitudes are developed over thirty six years of doing business here, in all parts of the city, yes, even the suburbs years ago. Those of you who want to label me as an out of touch liberal, or whatever, only deepen your own self delusion.

James Edgar said...

My views on this subject are both conservative and liberal. The liberal view of population density and mass transit is a noble one, which I lean toward due to my requirement to use public transit due to my visual impairment. But the constant cry for carries with it some questions "leaders" do not want to deal with.

Why haven't we figure out a way to build condo/apartment buildings with sound-proofing so you won't have to hear all the noise from the units around you? I do own a condo (in suburbia; I will never be able to afford one uptown). My building was built just like every other multi-family building in the history of the world - there is barely any wall, floor or ceiling to separate the units. Trust me, it is no fun having to live somewhere where you can hear every bit of the domestic violence going on in the unit above you.

And speaking of affordability, have you noticed that every unit being built within 5 nautical miles of Trade & Tryon is being built for $400 a square foot for purchase or for $2,000 - $5,000 a month for rent? That leaves no room for those of us who make $4,000 a month, before taxes. (I'll repeat myself from other posts: If you pay $5,000 a month to rent an apartment, you are a complete fool.) As others have said, if we could manage to get to the point where developers didn't rule the roost around here, maybe something could be done about that.

Wiley Coyote said...
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Wiley Coyote said...

To hear liberals tell it, our founding fathers tried desperately to keep people from moving off the east coast for density sake.

Ehh..we should have let France keep the Louisiana region, Mexico keep California and the Russians Alaska.

Wiley Coyote said...

Walkable city?

Just another liberal buzz phrase. Who cares?

What's interesting is that the city spent several million putting sidewalks in our neighborhood only to have many of the same idiots still walk in the road on the other side because they are either too stupid, lazy or both to walk on the sidewalk.

If you want to live on top of each other, by all means do so. I choose not too and don't want to hear my neighbor flush his toilet.

Regarding demographics, cities such as Charlotte and others in the South expanded outward when the Federal Government rammed a busing policy down our throats to integrate schools.

One thing they could never control was where people lived which made busing fail miserably.

Bob said...

This is comical to say the least. The last time I checked Gastonia was a separate municipality as well as Rock Hill. How is this slanted piece comparing Charlotte to cities like Houston which IS quite frankly eaten up with sprawl. Over 6 million people in and around Houston, a true world class city compared to a city of what, 800K with others in out lying areas? Ah what liberals will say to create dooms day and fear. Truly sad and pathetic.

Cornelia said...

Since the South was an agrarian society fifty to so years ago, many small towns comprised it. Those small towns grew until they have virtually merged with larger cities such as Dallas, Austin. Nashville, Atlanta. Also, lots of people who grew up in small towns prefer the suburban lifestyle to a city life style. In the past several decades in Charlotte, at least, I think the situation with the schools has had a huge effect on where young families live.

misswhit said...

Re: the situation with the schools influencing how we developed.
Back in the late 90's and early 2000's this editorial page was already criticizing suburban growth as car dependent. Yet at the same time they demonized suburban parents who wanted close to home schools. I always found it quite humorous to read the same editor write one week about the importance of walkable development and then the next week write about those selfish suburbanites who wanted their kids to attend a nearby school.

Matt Hickey said...

This study points to the need for a way to create an outer boundary on the city's development, and for a sustainable level of taxation on gas.

For those who love living on their large acreage, that's great. But typical developments in America subdivide larger acreages into 1/5 to 1/2 acre lots to maximize profit per acre. Meck County already has about 2.9 residents per acre, so we aren't all going to be able to live on ten acres.

Instead, endless suburban expansion reduces everyone's access to open space and makes farmland and large acreage harder to maintain, even far from the City as the subdivisions creep outward. It devalues existing older homes while increasing tax bills on rural property, and it also creates a big public burden for maintenance of utilities and roads.

Our existing urban and suburban neighborhoods aren't going away--why not invest in them instead?

The big question is whether we will focus our limited resources on bigger beltways and connectors ("garden parkway?") to allow more farmland to be turned into subdivisions, or instead spend money on improving the city we already have.

Garth Vader said...

>> a sustainable level of taxation on gas.

NC already has one of the highest gas taxes in the nation.