1.3 Equitable Growth Framework
With a pervasive dedication to facilitating a more equitable and inclusive planning process and guiding policy plan, the Comprehensive Plan’s very DNA is an Equitable Growth Framework informed and shaped by the community. The Equitable Growth Framework is intended to reflect and build upon the community’s input regarding long standing disparities and inequities, as well as an existing set of stated and unstated policies that do not go far enough in addressing the inequitable distribution of costs and benefits associated with Charlotte’s historic development and more recent surge in growth and investment. For so many of those policies and resulting practices, equity and the impact on our more vulnerable neighborhoods and residents has been an afterthought. Unfortunately, the effects have been long lasting and manifest themselves as disinvestment, gentrification, displacement, distrust, disenfranchisement, and a frighteningly high barrier to upward mobility in Charlotte, especially for people of color.
The Comprehensive Plan is crafted through a lens of equity and with a commitment to thinking of our most vulnerable populations first with a vision of helping our city become a place where all residents can thrive, regardless of race, income, age, ability, or where they live. We choose to define equity as an active principle, a tool for recognizing and remedying inequality and injustice. Equity is, in a sense, what we owe to each other: a fundamental part of our social contract that recognizes the inherent value of every Charlotte resident, actively works for justice and equality of opportunity in our City, and treats every person with dignity.
Defining Equitable Growth
Change is an inevitable part of cities. Whether a city is growing, shrinking or evolving, a variety of change is happening all the time. This is in part because individual residents and households change. Births, and deaths, aging, joining and leaving the workforce, changing jobs, moving within the community, and changing household composition all have tremendous impacts on individual households, neighborhoods, and the community as a whole. This natural evolution of households is then compounded with local, regional, and global changes in the economy, our climate, and changing tastes and preferences. For Charlotte over the last decade, these forces have contributed to an unprecedented period of growth of any similar length period in the City’s history. While the influx of new residents gets the most headlines, the number of people choosing to stay or return to Charlotte is also a major contributing factor to Charlotte’s growth.
The type of growth that Charlotte is experiencing comes with a large amount of public and private investment in the community. While some strides have already been made to begin directing some of this investment to supporting newcomers in need and to areas of the community with the most need, the vast majority of new growth in housing and employment has been in Center City, University City and south Charlotte. And many of the older, diverse, and naturally affordable neighborhoods adjacent to these places – especially those in Center City – are experiencing a large amount of gentrification and displacement. While a host of factors are at play, the bottom line is that residents of color and households with lower incomes are often being left out and pushed out. Targeted efforts have certainly attempted to be more inclusive and equitable in the approach to planning and development, but the truth remains that there has not been an overarching vision or plan that truly includes all Charlotteans in the future of the City.
The Comprehensive Plan has been created by the community and on a basic assumption that we must listen to each other and consider the intended and unintended consequences of the Plan’s recommendations on all residents, households, and neighborhoods. The Equitable Growth Framework is intended to provide more transparency and accountability as we plan, design, and implement public and private investments in housing, employment, services, schools, parks, roads, trails, and other infrastructure. It is a framework to help ensure that the costs and benefits of growth and change in Charlotte are distributed more equitably. When an investment is made in a particular area, how will the residents and businesses that are already there benefit? How do we ensure that all neighborhoods share in the impacts of growth?
The Equitable Growth Framework and the Comprehensive Plan can not reverse the wrongs of two and a half centuries, but it can acknowledge those injustices and set a clear direction for change, establish goals for more equitable growth, and provide a lens through which to evaluate a deliberate and concerted effort to make a more inclusive and equitable Charlotte. The remainder of this section highlights a set of Equitable Growth Metrics, the key tenets of a more equitable growth strategy, and ten community goals for Charlotte in 2040.
Metrics for Equitable Growth
Building on the Built City Equity Atlas developed in Phase One of the Comprehensive Plan planning process, a methodology for measuring access, environmental justice and equity has been developed to help identify areas where residents and businesses may not have access to daily needs, choices for housing, a diversity of employment, or safe and healthy environments. The Equity Metrics described and mapped herein were used to 1) inform the development of Goals (introduced later in this section) and supporting Policies, Projects and Programs (presented in Section Three); 2) to identify priorities for Community Planning Areas for subsequent mapping and planning efforts within sub-geographies throughout the community; and 3) to assess and track progress towards becoming a more equitable, fair and just city over the next 20 years.
Each of four Equity Metrics comprises a series of relevant indicators within neighborhoods and is compared to data that helps us understand where populations that are vulnerable to displacement are concentrated (Populations Vulnerable to Displacement Overlay) and where neighborhood character is threatened by new development. The four Equity Metrics described in greater detail after an explanation of the Populations Vulnerable to Displacement Overlay include:
- Access to Essential Amenities, Goods
- Access to Housing Opportunities;
- Access to Employment Opportunities; and
- Environmental Justice.
The methodology and sources for each of the
Equity Metrics is described in more detail in the
Plan Manuals and Metrics in the Equitable Growth Framework Manual.
Areas Vulnerable to Displacement
What is Vulnerability to Displacement?
Displacement occurs when an individual, household or business leave a neighborhood or district. Displacement can be voluntary or involuntary. While the Comprehensive Plan’s preference is to minimize voluntary displacement, especially in areas of the community where change is occurring very quickly and the history and culture of a community is being weakened, the primary focus is mitigating involuntary displacement to the extent possible. Involuntary displacement typically results from increased land values, rents, taxes and other household or business expenses. There are certain characteristics that tend to make certain individuals and households more vulnerable to displacement. Unfortunately, the same characteristics – race, income, education level, and age – that make certain populations susceptible to displacement are also used in identifying whether environmental impacts are justly distributed. They are often good indicators, along with low or no car ownership, of transit propensity – the likelihood of using public transit. Mapping these key contributing factors can help us understand how physical conditions, access, costs and benefits impact residents that have suffered from systemic racial and other social discrimination and/or are less likely to be able to adapt to rapid economic and other changes.
Four measures have been documented as major contributors to vulnerability to displacement and are used to identify the areas with the most vulnerable populations across Charlotte:1
- Poverty Rate;
- Educational Attainment;
- Race; and
The Importance of Mitigating Vulnerability to Displacement
When individuals, households and businesses are displaced from an area they have been a part of for a long time, the unique culture and identity of that area can quickly erode. Charlotte is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct past and social fabric. Unchecked gentrification of an area can result in substantial displacement. And with prices increasing across the entire community, there is a chance that those who are displaced are forced to move out of Charlotte or even the region. In Charlotte, those most vulnerable to displacement are also those who have suffered most and benefited least over decades of growth and development. Additionally, when we help those who are most vulnerable, it benefits the entire community through shared wealth building, economic sustainability, expanding the tax base, attracting investment, and adding local businesses, jobs, and skilled workforce into the system. Thus, it is especially critical that the Comprehensive Plan begin identifying ways in which existing residents and businesses can participate in and benefit from new investments throughout Charlotte.
1 Grid cells that met the “vulnerable” criteria for each of the 3 metrics are scored with a 1, while those that do not meet the criteria receive a 0. Scores are added to create a final Vulnerability to Displacement score. All vulnerability metrics are measured using US Census American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year estimates (2018); data was collected at the Census Block Group level and apportioned to grid cells. County-wide metrics were pulled from the same data source as the point of comparison.
Access to Essential Amenities, Goods, and Services
What is Access to Essential Amenities, Goods, and Services?
The community expressed a strong desire for more complete neighborhoods across the entire city. Measuring access to essential amenities, goods and services can help identify areas where residents and businesses may not have access to what they need close to home. The result typically involves having to travel farther and pay more to meet basic daily needs. In extreme cases, the results can be even more dire if the lack of nearby access means simply missing out on essential amenities, goods and services. The following measures are proposed to measure access to essential amenities, goods and services.
Access to essential amenities, goods and services is analyzed using seven measures2:
- Proximity to Childcare and Early Childhood Education;
- Proximity to Parks, Open Space and Trails;
- Proximity to Community Facilities;
- Proximity to Fresh Food;
- Proximity to Health Care & Pharmacies;
- Proximity to Financial Services; and
- Access to Internet Service.
The Importance of Improving Access to Essential Amenities, Goods and Services
The lack of access to essential amenities, goods and services can significantly impact the health and well being of an individual or household. A lack of easily accessible childcare may result in substandard care or a parent or guardian passing on employment or other opportunities. A lack of access to parks, trails and community facilities can create a significant barrier to physical, mental and social health. Likewise, a lack of access to fresh, healthy food often results in settling for less healthy options and can contribute to a number of chronic health issues and disease. Lack of access to health care, pharmacies and financial services all pose barriers investing one’s self, property and/or business. A lack of Internet access can be detrimental to learning, working remotely, and communicating with friends and loved ones.
2 Grid cells that meet the “opportunity” criteria for each of the 7 metrics are scored with a 1, while those that do not meet the criteria receive a 0. Scores are added to create a final Access to Essential Amenities, Goods, and Services score. The primary housing data source is Mecklenburg County tax parcel data (2019). Data is reported at the parcel level and aggregated to grid cells based on the centroid location of the parcel. The amenities, good and services data is from a variety of sources and is outlined in the data inventory.
Access to Housing Opportunity
What is Access to Housing Opportunity?
The Access to Housing Opportunity metric identifies areas where the housing stock in a particular area of Charlotte does not provide opportunities for all residents to live. Housing Opportunity, for the purposes of this analysis, is defined as the ability for residents of all income, household compositions, and life stages to access housing options that meet their needs and economic conditions.
Access to housing opportunity is analyzed using
- Housing Unit Diversity;
- Housing Cost;
- Housing Size;
- Subsidized Housing;
- Tenure; and
- Level of (Re)Investment.
The Importance of Improving Access to Housing Opportunity
Neighborhoods should include unique compositions of housing types, but they should also include some diversity of housing stock to help promote diversity, inclusion, and economic stability throughout the entire community. It can also be difficult for a family or household to stay within a neighborhood they desire as circumstances change if all the housing units that are available are of the same size and type. Different life circumstances can result in the need for owning or renting, a yard requiring lots of maintenance versus a relatively maintenance free attached unit, and one or two bedrooms as opposed to three or more. This variety helps support young families as well as seniors who want to age within their neighborhood. Access to housing opportunity in a neighborhood also results in access to the amenities, goods, services, and employment opportunities nearby. A variety of housing opportunities may reduce the barriers to entry into an area with the job of choice or right mix of opportunities nearby. Housing diversity is also an important aspect of creating an economically resilient community, with studies showing that neighborhoods with diverse housing choices have lower foreclosure and sales rates.
3 Grid cells that meet the “opportunity” criteria for each of the 6 metrics are scored with a 1, while those that do not meet the criteria receive a 0. Scores are added to create a final Access to Housing Opportunity score. The primary housing data source is Mecklenburg County tax parcel data (2019). Additional data includes building permits (Mecklenburg County, 2017-2019), rental housing (apartment) properties (City of Charlotte, 2020), subsidized housing units (units with development-based rental assistance, Quality of Life Explorer, 2017), and household income (US Census, 2018).
Access to Employment Opportunity
What is Access to Employment Opportunity?
The access to employment opportunity metric identifies areas with a lack of employment opportunities for residents. Employment Opportunity is defined as the ability for residents to live proximate to jobs that are attainable for a variety of residents and provide a family sustaining wage. For the sake of measuring access to employment opportunity, a commute shed is defined as a 20-minute (2.5 mile) radius from a residence.
Access to Employment Opportunity is analyzed using five measures4:
- Proximity to Employment;
- Employment in Commute Shed;
- Wage Levels;
- Middle Skill Jobs; and
- Knowledge Based Jobs.
The Importance of Improving Access to Employment Opportunity
The financial stress and wellbeing in a household is largely driven by the balance – or lack of balance in many cases – of income and household expenses. The two largest household expenses are housing and transportation. And the largest driver of both income and transportation costs is related to employment opportunity. It can be challenging to find a good paying job that matches a person’s skills close to an area they can afford to live. In most cases, the individual will compromise and take a lower paying job that may not be as good of a fit or have to spend a good portion or all of the higher pay they receive on getting to and from work. Thus, Access to Employment Opportunity is largely related to Access to Housing Opportunity. In addition, it should be noted that education and training are an important component in promoting upward mobility and aligning individual skills and expertise with employment opportunities.
4Grid cells that meet the “opportunity” criteria for each of the 5 metrics are scored with a 1, while those that do not meet the criteria receive a 0. Scores are added to create a final Access to Employment Opportunity score.All employment metrics are measured using US Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) employment data (2017). Data is reported at the Census Block level, and aggregated to grid cells based on the centroid location of each Block.
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental justice seeks to minimize and equalize effects of environmental hazards among the entire community regardless of income, race, education level and age. Issues of environmental justice often arise from geographic or procedural inequities. Geographic inequities occur when neighborhoods with high percentages of low-income residents, minority residents, and/or immigrant communities take more than their share of the worst environmental hazards, nuisance impacts, and resulting health problems from exposure to these hazards. Procedural inequities occur when the same neighborhoods face obstacles to participate in the decision-making process for projects that directly affect their neighborhoods.
Many factors contribute to these geographic and procedural inequalities. These include a development pattern that concentrates undesirable or unhealthy land uses in certain areas, the placement of desirable public amenities outside of disadvantaged communities and limited or non-existing political influence among certain demographic groups. The following measures – coupled with sociodemographic characteristics captured in the Populations Vulnerable to Displacement metric – are used to measure environmental justice (or injustices as the case may be).
Environmental Justice is analyzed using five measures5:
- Tree Canopy;
- Impervious Surface;
- Proximity to Heavy Industrial Uses (including extraction operations (i.e., quarries));
- Proximity to Major Transportation Infrastructure; and
The Importance of Improving Access to Environmental Justice
As previously stated, the costs and benefits of growth and change in Charlotte have been distributed inequitably throughout the community for decades, if not centuries. Some of the major costs of development include nuisance and health impacts of large land use and infrastructure decisions. Health impacts include accute and chronic conditions as well as shortened life expectancy. Highways and other disruptive infrastructure divided neighborhoods and now focus pollutants and noise generated on those facilities in the neighborhoods that remain nearby. Similarly, land use decisions have often resulted in a lack of trees and greenspace in neighborhoods that are lower income and communities of color. Flooding risk is increasing with climate change and many lower income neighborhoods are most susceptible. Along with enhanced standards and regulations addressing many of these issues for the entire community, decisions regarding land use, new development and infrastructure investments should be made with these disparities and new consequences in mind.
5 Grid cells that meet the environmental justice criteria for each of the 5 metrics are scored with a 1, while those that do not meet the criteria receive a 0. Scores are added to create a final Environmental Justice score.Environmental justice data sources include a tree canopy study (Mecklenburg County, 2016), impervious surfaces (Mecklenburg County, 2020), zoning (heavy industrial zoning districts, City of Charlotte, 2020), major transportation infrastructure (freeways, expressways, railroads and the airport, Mecklenburg County, 2020), and FEMA Existing 100 Year Floodplain (Mecklenburg County, 2020).
It became readily apparent during the development of the Comprehensive Plan that detailed mapping at the neighborhood and community level would not be equitable and inclusive if conducted on a citywide scale. Thus, a first step in the implementation of the Equitable Growth Framework and the Comprehensive Plan will include mapping of Place Types (see Section Two for more detail) and then developing Community Area Plans for the entire city (see the Implementation Strategy and Manuals and Metrics for more detail) with recommendations for public investments and desired benefits to the public. With that said, there are clear tenants of the overall growth strategy that are shared across the entire community and have been foundational in developing the components of Complete Communities and Places, as well as the Plan’s Policy Framework.
The major tenets of the community’s desired growth strategy include:
- Develop a more localized and context sensitive network of Connected Corridors and Neighborhood Centers: While the community expressed a strong desire to bolster and grow large mixed use centers like Uptown, University City and Ballantyne, an equal or stronger emphasis was on creating improved access to employments and daily amenities, goods and services close to home by promoting more walkable and bikeable corridors and small scale neighborhood centers. Community members highlighted economic and environmental benefits of this emphasis related to shorter trips, more transportation options, more equitable access, and a development pattern that still focused on concentrating growth, but in smaller footprint and less intensive ways.
- Accommodate a large portion of projected growth equitably along our existing and planned transit and other transportation corridors: The community is concerned about the pressure that housing and employment growth is creating in established neighborhoods. While many community members expressed a desire to strategically diversify existing neighborhoods, a focused emphasis of new growth along transportation corridors was identified as an opportunity to help retain the character and charm of existing residential areas as well as a means to distribute new growth and services equitably around the community. A particular emphasis has been identified for transit corridors, as well as trails and other bicycle friendly connections. The combined focus will help to leverage investments in transportation options and better manage demands on the existing roadway network. Community members also expressed a desire for larger scale Community and Regional Activity Centers to be developed along and connected by multimodal corridors.
- Ensure existing neighborhoods and businesses have opportunities to thrive and benefit from public and private investment: As articulated throughout Section One and emphasized in the Equitable Growth Framework, the community wants a set of goals and recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan and companion planning efforts that plan for the inclusion of and benefit to existing residents and businesses. From new housing and employment opportunities to new investments in transportation, recreation and entertainment, the needs of current residents and businesses should be considered and incorporated into both public and private investments. The community desires an asset-based approach to planning and development in existing places that celebrates, enhances and integrates the best parts of neighborhoods (including the people) rather than planning for or allowing mass replacement and displacement.
- Allow greater varieties of housing types in neighborhoods around mixed-use activity centers: While the community expressed a strong desire to retain the character, charm and relative affordability of existing neighborhoods, there was also a desire to introduce new housing options throughout the community. Coupled with development and design standards to ensure context sensitive development, many community members supported strategically introducing more housing types in existing neighborhoods. And nearly all participants in the planning process supported creating a greater variety of housing options in new development, especially new neighborhoods, along corridors and in mixed use activity centers.
- Create more complete places that are walkable and bikeable: Although it is related to several of the other growth strategies, Complete Places that are well-connected cannot be overemphasized. Many community members highlighted the fact that neighborhoods and business districts that already benefit from a diverse mix of offerings and amenities are receiving more investments in the form of private development and public infrastructure that make these places even more desirable. In addition, the community expressed concerns that individual developments were not context sensitive, not contributing to a larger whole, and not benefiting existing residents and businesses nearby. Thus, the goals that follow and Section Two of this Plan emphasis the creation of complete communities and complete places throughout Charlotte.
The Comprehensive Plan goals reflect the voices of our community. They make critical connections between community values, guiding principles and vision elements; articulate key elements of the growth strategy and establish the foundation for complete communities and complete places; and provide the structure for the Plan’s Policy Framework presented in Section Three.
Goal 1: 10-Minute Neighborhoods
All Charlotte households should have access to essential amenities, goods, and services within a comfortable and tree-shaded 10-minute walk, bike, or transit trip by 2040. Not all neighborhoods are expected to include every essential amenity, good, or service, but every resident should have access within a ½ mile walk or a 2-mile bike or transit ride.
Goal 2: Neighborhood Diversity and Inclusion
Charlotte will strive for all neighborhoods to have a diversity of housing options by increasing the presence of middle density housing (e.g. duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, accessory dwelling units, and other small lot housing types) and ensuring land use regulations allow for flexibility in creation of housing within neighborhoods.
Goal 3: Housing Access for All
Charlotte will ensure opportunities for residents of all incomes to access affordable housing through the preservation of naturally occurring affordable and workforce housing and increasing the number of affordable and workforce housing units through new construction.
Goal 4: Transit- and Trail-Oriented Development (2T-OD)
Charlotte will promote moderate to high-intensity, compact, mixed-use urban development along high-performance transit lines and near separated shared-use paths or trails.
Goal 5: Safe and Equitable Mobility
Charlotte will provide safe and equitable mobility options for all travelers regardless of age, income, ability, race, where they live, or how they choose to travel. An integrated system of transit and tree-shaded bikeways, sidewalks, shared-use paths, and streets will support a sustainable, connected, prosperous, and innovative network that connects all Charlotteans to each other, jobs, housing, amenities, goods, services, and the region.
What we heard from the Community:
- Address disparities and inequity in access to basic daily household needs
- Ensure all parts of Charlotte are a part of future growth
- More equitable distribution/allocation of costs and benefits
- Help to keep and create a variety of housing that is attainable for all residents
- Embrace and celebrate diverse cultures and ethnicities, a growing international population, and the needs and contributions of all newcomers, immigrants and refugees
- Focus a good portion of growth in mixed use centers and along transportation corridors
- Add more high-quality transit and trail connections throughout the community, especially in places with poor access today
- Create safer and more accessible transportation infrastructure and options across the entire city
- Create more places that are accessible from neighborhoods that are walkable and bikeable
Goal 6: Healthy, Safe, And Active Communities
All Charlotteans will live and work in safe and resilient neighborhoods that enable healthy and active lifestyles by reducing exposure to harmful environmental contaminants, expanding and improving the quality of tree canopy, encouraging investment in walking, cycling, and recreation facilities, and providing access to healthy food options and health care services.
Goal 7: Integrated Natural and Built Environments
Charlotte will protect and enhance its surface water quality, tree canopy, and natural areas with a variety of trees, plantings, green infrastructure, green building practices, and open space at different scales throughout the entire community as a component of sustainble
city infrastructure that addresses the threat of climate change.
Goal 8: Diverse and Resilient Economic Opportunity
Charlotteans will have opportunity for upward economic mobility through access to a diverse mix of jobs and careers that align with education and skill levels of residents and the economic strengths of the region.
Goal 9: Retain our Identity and Charm
Charlotte will cultivate community-driven placemaking and identity, while limiting displacement and retaining the essence of existing neighborhoods by intentionally directing redevelopment.
Goal 9: 10: Fiscally Responsible
Charlotte will align capital investments with the adopted growth strategy and ensure the benefit of public and private sector investments benefit all residents and limit the public costs of accommodating growth.
What we heard from the Community:
- Address large disparities in factors contributing to personal and community health
- Create strategies to address healthy food deserts
- Maintain and enhance Charlotte’s tree canopy, drainage ways and natural areas
- Plan for better air quality and water quality
- Integrate sustainable and resilient building and development practices
- Support upward mobility
- Improve access to and diversity of employment options, especially on east and west sides
- Mitigate residential and business displacement
- Use community resources efficiently
- Leverage public dollars to guide and shape private investment
- Address major disparities in spending across the community
Vision Framework Summary