Charlotte Future 2040
The City of Charlotte has a great legacy of developing and implementing plans for various aspects and areas of the community. Unlike many plans developed across the country, the neighborhood, community and systemwide plans created in Charlotte do not just sit on a shelf and collect dust. Instead, they are calls to action that guide and propel investment and transformation in the community. With that said, Charlotte has not had a Comprehensive Plan to guide growth and development communitywide since 1975. A comprehensive plan is a blueprint for a city’s next phase, a statement on a community’s character, and a guiding light for determining a community’s goals and aspirations for the future.
The Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan is our shared, comprehensive vision to guide the Queen City’s growth over the next 20 years. Once adopted, the Plan will be the foundation for strategic policy, equitable investment in infrastructure, and new regulatory tools such as the Unified Development Ordinance. The planning process has been guided by a focus on equitable growth and by the residents of Charlotte coming together to prioritize what is most important to us. As a community-driven Plan, it seeks to address the inequities of the past, and unite the city around a shared set of goals for our future.
The Comprehensive Plan is a living document that integrates community input and best practices into a framework that will guide our city’s decision-making and investment in both the near- and long-term. This Plan addresses topics that affect how we will experience the built environment and layout of our city for decades to come. It also addresses how our built city can better reflect and advance our community values and aspirations around topics like equity, transportation, quality of life, economic development, jobs, affordable housing, health, safety, and sustainability.
The policies, projects, and programs in this Plan aim to help shape the future of the places we live, work, shop, and play by preserving what’s important to our community and guiding investments that help make Charlotte a vibrant and unique city for decades to come. The Plan will help ensure a high quality of life for residents and an attractive community for employers and employees.
Divisions and Inequity: How We Got Here
Charlotte was an early hub of transportation along the Catawba tribe and other tribes’ trading paths. Successful railroad bids strengthened the city as a transportation hub. Charlotte’s transformation into a prominent urban center can largely be traced to the first half of the nineteenth century. Charlotte was the location of America’s first gold rush. This led to a US branch mint, establishing the city as a center for banking. Well-established transportation, technological advancements, and the cotton-based economy facilitated the growth of textile manufacturing and goods distribution. As the railroad and cotton industry attracted investors, innovators, and jobseekers, landowners subdivided and sold their land around the urban center and rail corridors. This urban expansion started to segregate land uses, classes, and people. It was during this time of growth that the city became more divided.
In the mid-1900s, Federal mortgage programs, automobiles, and a strong economy created a suburban development boom across the country. By this time, racial and class tensions were entrenched and limited how people of color could purchase land and where they could live. Federal financial assistance required maps that classified housing areas in the city based on racial, economic, and land use homogeneity (redlining). Low-income and African American areas were redlined (D grading) and denied loans. These maps also guided the first zoning. Redlined areas were zoned industrial or multifamily.
The events of the 1930s-40s hampered African American families’ ability to build wealth. Segregation limited choices. Disenfranchisement made African American neighborhoods and business centers vulnerable to change. New highway networks supported suburban growth but bisected neighborhoods, primarily lower income neighborhoods inhabited by people of color. Urban Renewal aimed to rebuild in “blighted” areas but led to the destruction of Second Ward and other neighborhoods throughout Charlotte. Suburban shopping malls located near areas with high disposable incomes. This moved employment opportunities, goods, and services further away from African American homes.
By the time the civil rights movement culminated, the city was physically segregated by race and income. This led to concentrated poverty and a need to develop new strategies for affordability and investments. Some strategies have been successful in and around Uptown (e.g., First Ward Place, a mixed income, mixed tenure HOPE VI development), but the demand in these areas has placed financial pressure on residents. Some communities have been able to use opportunities and their organizing power to become more stable, but only through their own effort. Today, neighborhood change, fear, and polarization inequitably impact historically African American areas. Charlotte currently has the least amount of upward economic mobility of America’s 50 largest cities1. This impacts our future as a livable, vibrant, and sustainable place to live and do business. The City believes it must take responsibility for its role in creating, perpetuating, and otherwise turning a blind eye to this system of discrimination and that there are opportunities to be more accountable in its decisions around future growth and to better understand the consequences (intended and unintended) of those decisions. If we do not, we will exacerbate disparities, become more divided and risk losing the sense of community that is so uniquely Charlotte.
1Source: Equality of Opportunity Project, now rebranded as Opportunity Insights based at Harvard University
Charlotte has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country, with an average annual growth rate of over 1.7% during the past 10 years. Many factors have attracted new residents to the region, including diverse employment opportunities, a relatively low cost-of-living, and the city’s unique character. This growth has established Charlotte as a vibrant and desirable city; however, this rapid development has also contributed to many challenges facing the city. If Charlotte is to continue to grow sustainably it will need to do so intentionally and strategically. Most U.S. cities have a Comprehensive Plan to establish a desired vision for the future and a strategic action framework that would help implement it. Charlotte however has not had a plan like this since 1975. The city’s current growth policies are decentralized and lack a coherent unified vision, as they were written over the course of the past 30 years and vary between different areas of the city. Though some areas have updated policy guidance by virtue of City-adopted area plans, several others have not had updated guidance for ten years or more. Taking these disparities into account, the City recognizes that an updated and holistic approach to unify long-range planning efforts is needed.
Charlotte has attracted growth and innovation for the last 130 years. Along with the innovation has come more wealth and jobs, bringing new people to the city. To new residents, Charlotte has offered a balanced quality of life with reasonably priced homes, diverse job opportunities, access to nature, and transportation choices. Yet, for those who were born in this city into in a lower-income or African American household, the economic boon has been largely inaccessible. Charlotte’s rapid growth comes with opportunities, new energy, and increased investment in the city, but it also brings with it additional pressures and strains on existing residents. Growth, among other factors, has led to home and rental prices outpacing median household income, leading to gentrification and the risk of displacement for many Charlotte residents.
Early in the planning process the City created the Charlotte Equity Atlas, which looks at the built aspects of the city through a lens of equity and inclusion. This document built upon the past work of the Opportunity Insights Team, the Leading on Opportunity Report, the Mecklenburg Quality of Life Explorer, and the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard. The mapping of the development, environmental, and demographic patterns across the city helped identify areas of disparity and establish a baseline to better understand the real-world results left by our inequitable system. This data-driven baseline grounds the Comprehensive Plan so that it can shape opportunities in such a manner that the impacts are equitable or, in plain terms, fair. Fair, whereby all communities are provided with access to the specific services and amenities they need to be successful.
The process of mapping household income, race, and voter participation shows a clear pattern in the spatial distribution of these statistics. Charlotte’s Neighborhood Planning Areas (NPAs) with the lowest incomes, highest percentages of non-white residents, and the lowest voter participation are highly correlated. This distribution is inherited from a history of racial and economic segregation. The spatial pattern derived from these maps can be described as an “arc” of Communities of Color and concentrated areas of poverty that extend broadly around Uptown from the east to the southwest. In contrast, a “wedge” stretching from Uptown and the center city down to the southwest contains many of the NPAs with the highest incomes, percentage of White residents, and voter participation. The built environment of the arc is less complete than the wedge. These patterns are a direct impact of redlining and the ongoing effects of explicitly racist and segregationist policies of the past.
Based on current projections, Charlotte is expected to continue a high rate of growth over the next 20 years. Mecklenburg County can expect an approximately 1.6% rate of population growth and a 1.5% rate of employment growth2. This equals about 1,491,900 total residents and 1,080,100 total jobs throughout the County by 2040. The City of Charlotte is expected to add over 385,000 new residents and 212,000 new jobs over this same period. This new growth will come with both opportunities and challenges, including increasing diversity and a potentially unequal distribution of benefits without Planning intervention. Establishing a vision for directing and managing future growth that is based in a clear understanding of current and past inequities is critical to the long-term success of our city.
A number of local and nation-wide trends will contribute to Charlotte’s growth over the next 20+ years. These trends include a natural population increase as more people are born than die; Charlotte’s employment growth as new jobs attract skilled workers to the region; Center City growth as more people want to live and work in urban centers than ever before; and Charlotte’s quality of life as even more people are drawn to the city as it improves. Understanding these motives is important to making decisions about future growth.
Charlotte’s future growth will be made up a variety of demographics, including many new residents who are foreign born, non-English speaking, Millennials, and young families. This increased diversity will bring even more culture and vibrancy to the city, which is already rich in history and character. New residents may have different needs and customs than existing residents. An equitable plan for future growth will need to welcome and celebrate new culture and demographics, while maintaining the diversity and authenticity that makes Charlotte the city it is today.
Of its peer cities, Charlotte is slated to see the highest rate of job growth, regional job capture, and diverse development types over the next 10 to 20 years. All of these projections indicate that Charlotte will continue to have a strong economy and economic growth, however there is the risk that this wealth generation may not be available to all residents. New residents, while bringing a diverse workforce to the city, could also mean increasing housing prices, less housing stock and choice, fewer middle- and lower-wage jobs, increased pressure on the city’s infrastructure, and even increased racial and socio-economic tensions. The Comprehensive Plan aims to address these issues so that development can benefit existing and new residents. With proper planning, new growth could instead come without displacement of existing residents, and with a variety of new and affordable housing types; accessible jobs for all education levels; increased investment in roads, transit, and trails for all areas of Charlotte; increased access to goods and services; and a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity.
2Source: Economic and Planning Systems and Charlotte CONNECT
Equality versus Equity
The first section, A Community-Based Vision, communicates the Vision and Values that were identified during the robust community engagement process. It then lays out the Equitable Growth Framework that grew from the vision, which measures access and community benefits across the city. This sets the stage for what the goals will address later in the Plan.
Section Two, Complete Communities and Places, outlines the elements of a Complete Community, which meets the needs of all residents and employees in an area. This section describes the ten Place Types, which are used as tools to direct growth and investment in an equitable and integrated way.
Section Three provides the Policy Framework, the essential component of the Plan recommendations. Ten primary Goals and Objectives, built from the Vision Elements, each have recommendations for big ideas and supporting policies, projects, and programs.
The final section, Implementation Strategy, provides the details and tools used to make it all happen. This includes actions for the policies, projects, and programs; strategies for integration with other Plans; a framework for Community Area Plans and mapping; guidance for the Unified Development Ordinance, recommendations for Capital Improvement Projects, and how to track our progress.
The Plan concludes with a Glossary of key terms, Acknowledgments of the many voices that contributed to the contents of this document, and two Appendices. The first Appendix summarizes the methodology for the Equitable Growth Framework’s Equity Metrics. The second Appendix is a Place Types Manual that provides an introduction to Place Types, more detailed direction for each Place Type and an overview of Place Type Mapping.