New center consolidates existing urban design services under one roof, anticipates eventual opening of studio space where staff and residents can work together
The City of Charlotte officially unveiled the new Charlotte Urban Design Center on Jan. 28 at the 2021 Southeast Urban Design Summit, a virtual gathering of urban designers from city governments across the southeastern United States.
The new center consolidates the Charlotte Planning, Design & Development Department's existing urban design services under one roof. These services include urban design consultation and guidance for citywide projects, connecting people to the built environment through placemaking, and community engagement. The consolidation will foster efficiency and innovation, promote collaboration and strengthen the city's efforts to design places for people.
"When we focus on designing places with people and for people, and lead with creativity, we build a livable, resilient city for everyone," said Taiwo Jaiyeoba, the city's assistant city manager and planning director. "Launching the streamlined Charlotte Urban Design Center renews our commitment to this vision and is key to ensuring we achieve it."
The long-term vision for the center includes opening a renovated design studio in Charlotte's South End neighborhood. The new South End Studio, housed in the former Charlotte Trolley Powerhouse Museum at 1507 Camden Road, will be a place where residents, artists and community organizations can access urban design resources and staff in a single location. However, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, opening the studio to the public – originally scheduled for 2020 – has been delayed. The staff continues to provide its full breadth of services virtually.
City urban designers meet increased community needs in 2020
The unveiling of the Charlotte Urban Design Center capped a year full of challenges, but also full of opportunities to adapt and adjust to community needs.
Charlotteans' relationship to public space changed in 2020. The pandemic and related precautions limited the places people could be and made them prioritize getting outside to stay healthy while social distancing. Additionally, people marched in streets and parks to protest systemic racism and demand justice after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In Charlotte, the city's urban designers met these needs head on, rolling out projects and programs throughout the year that prioritized physical and mental health and well-being, economic resiliency, and civic expression. Among these programs were:
Temporary outdoor dining guidelines developed in May 2020 to help restaurants expand their capacity while social distancing, and recover from COVID-19 business impacts.
$130,000 in annual placemaking grants awarded to artists and local organizations in support of community projects, including edible landscapes, sculpture gardens, traffic-calming murals, and culture-reflecting bus stop designs. 2020 produced the largest group of grant awardees to date.
A Black Lives Matter mural painted by 17 local artists near the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, the city's historic heart. The mural reflects the artists' perspectives on the phrase "Black Lives Matter" when they painted it in June 2020. The block, which the city closed to traffic until November 2020, became a place for community pride, expression and gathering at a distance.
"Pivoting, growing and responding to the world around us has pushed my design and implementation skills in unimaginable ways," said Monica Holmes, program manager for the Charlotte Urban Design Center. "For all the challenges, it is rewarding to be a part of so many positive projects for the community. I am so proud of our team and the work that we've led for the City of Charlotte."
Take a look at the Charlotte Urban Design Center's 2020 year-in-review report
to learn more about the city's urban design work in 2020.
Looking forward to 2021
The Charlotte Urban Design Center is poised to take 2020's lessons in adaptability, creativity and excellent public service, and elevate its work even further. The center's designers hope to open the South End Studio to visitors in 2021, but, in the meantime, they will continue to solve public space issues and find ways to make Charlotte more beautiful and welcoming for all.
"We eagerly look forward to the day when we can welcome community members into the South End Studio," Holmes said. "Until then, we invite people to reach out and join us virtually as we transform public spaces in Charlotte and create even more pride in our city."
Go to charlottenc.gov/urbandesign
to connect with Charlotte Urban Design Center staff and be part of building the Charlotte of the future.