How the Rail Trail Brought Life to South End

Gregg Watkins
Gregg.Watkins@ci.charlotte.nc.us
10/10/2019
How the Rail Trail Brought New Life to South End

The North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized the Rail Trail as a “Great Street” in the 2019 Great Places in North Carolina awards program.

It's hard to imagine, but 20 years ago South End was just a rundown area.

Enter the LYNX Blue Line and the Charlotte Rail Trail and today it's a bustling hub of activity.

It was the Rail Trail's prominence as a place where residents gather to meet up with friends, people watch, and see and be seen that led the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association to select it as a 2019 Great Street.

David Furman, an architect and Charlotte native, is the person responsible for the vivid creations that decorate many parts of the rail trail. What started as a passion project has come full circle for Furman, who sees his art as both retrospective and a look toward Charlotte's future.

"It's immensely gratifying when I go down past Carson Street and I see people on the swings there – it's called Edna's Porch because my grandma was named Edna and she used to have these front porch swings that as a child I would swing on and remember that. But I love seeing people out there engaging with it. It's a big deal."

Vision with a Purpose

David Furman overlooks Rail TrailFurman is a housing specialist with over 35 years' experience designing and developing thousands of units, in projects of all scales, throughout Charlotte and the eastern part of the U.S. Furman has received awards from national entities including the American Institute of Architects. In 2005, he was inducted into the inaugural class of Builder Magazine's Hall of Fame for an outstanding career in housing design. In 2006, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Charlotte Chamber.

In total, Furman has designed approximately 70 projects and developed about 30 throughout the city.

"The population of South End has exploded. So, there's so many people and they have taken to this trail as a primary amenity and connector for the whole neighborhood."

Aside from its functionality, this street adds a certain character to the neighborhood. Architects like Furman are a big part of that.

"It took us awhile to convince people that this was not the back door, it was a real asset and that your development needed to engage this trail and it would make your asset more valuable if it did."

Artistic Vision Meets City Strategy

Charlotte planner Alan Goodwin will tell you the success of the Rail Trail has been a mix of forging relationships with developers, along with enforcing zoning requirements.

"So, we want doors that open out onto the trail, we want retail or commercial uses that also front the trail so that now the Rail Trail begins to function more like a street and it really does," Goodwin says. "It may be a sidewalk, but it functions, and we treat it as a public street."

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Up to this point a lot of what Furman is doing has been a grassroots effort, but now he challenges the community to do more. 

"This can't be a grassroots effort anymore. It's gotta be a community effort. It's time to really take it to the next level, figure out a way to finish it, figure out a way to add more interventions that are cooler and better and more permanent and figure out a way to maintain it."

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