Leveraging Light Rail Development for an
Authors: Britt Davis, Susie Wold, Feier Chen
Institution: North Carolina State University
Instructor: Kofi Boone
Studio: Charlotte West Boulevard: Envisioning an Equitable District; Graduate Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning; Spring 2021
In the City of Charlotte, NC, the proposed light rail expansion provides opportunity for a Green New Deal in action. Situated at the center of the proposed rail line between Uptown Charlotte and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the West Boulevard Community faces mounting pressures from development. The historically Black community of West Boulevard holds a rich legacy of farming, care for the land, and community activism. It has stood firm against effects of displacement, contamination, and unbalanced power dynamics that extend through today. Years of justice-focused grassroots efforts have invested in the health, wealth, and future of West Boulevard, though equity will always be hampered by the extractive, carbon-intensive status quo of industrialized nations. Through the lens of the Green New Deal, paradigm shifts may be mapped and equitable paths discovered.
In order to fully respond to the Green New Deal, a recipe toolkit provides a flexible, community-based design process to formulate hyper-local alternative scenarios. A policy tree helps community members share local knowledge, flesh out emerging ideas, and map routes to sustainable change in the policy landscape. Four major themes guide the visioning process: polycentrism, optimization, connection, and redistribution. These themes organize a “recipe book” from which community members are empowered to combine ingredients, building unique recipes that form an equitable community vision.
A potential alternative scenario built from this toolkit visualizes what an equitable West Boulevard might look like. The themes of polycentrism, optimization, connection, and redistribution carry through to provide citizens with the opportunity to eat, live, travel, and work within their own community.
Working in collaboration with a range of community stakeholders and City agencies, interdisciplinary teams of landscape architecture and architecture students developed Green New Deal informed visions of neighborhood change in the West Boulevard community of Charlotte, NC, USA. West Boulevard is an historically Black community and was the home of some of the earliest Black landowners and institutions in Charlotte after the American Civil War. The community has borne the burden of industrial land uses and contamination. It has resisted displacement throughout the 20th century and is now faced with development pressure associated with rapid growth in nearby Uptown. West Boulevard has worked collaboratively with the City of Charlotte for years and have articulated their own vision of community change including important environmental justice imperatives. However, that vision did not address the challenges of decarbonization and the need for job creation as components of a growing community. The City of Charlotte recently unveiled its citywide Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) and was interested in opportunities to address decarbonization strategies at the neighborhood scale. Additionally, a recently proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) station area in the community offered the opportunity to explore the potential to address mobility inequity in the neighborhood.
The studio worked with community stakeholders and City agencies to translate community visions into alternative scenarios that could be used to evaluate the jobs, justice, and decarbonization potential of their current development ideas. The scenarios addressed site, neighborhood and regional policy imperatives associated with the Green New Deal and were presented to community stakeholders and City of Charlotte agencies as a part of the studio.
The studio work presented represents two (2) general studio approaches: Adapting in Place-Growing a green neighborhood center (Approximately 4 acres): in this project, students developed urban design strategies visualizing how the West End Commons could grow and expand in accordance with the principles of the Green New Deal. This project focused on retention and reuse of existing infrastructure and envisioning the programs and uses proposed in the recent market analysis conducted for the study area. Students conducted baseline assessments of the existing context, generated alternatives, and evaluated how alternatives compared with regards to decarbonization, justice, and jobs. Leveraging Transit-envisioning an equitable district (Approximately 100 acres): in this project, students developed vision plans showing how the planned LRT station in the area could enable equitable development including affordable housing, local food systems, and other compatible uses. For the purposes of this project, students used existing station area planning assumptions to do a baseline assessment in the context of the principles of the Green New Deal. Students generated alternative plans and evaluated how alternatives compared with regards to decarbonization, justice, and jobs.