March 17, 2002



written by
Lynn Trenning



























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, March 26 and 27, 2002

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read Charlotte’s Planning Director, Martin Cramton’s remarks that if Charlotte continues to develop in a spread-out way there will be the risk the kind of traffic congestion and air pollution experienced in Atlanta. Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Lynn Wheeler puts on her best face with a quote criticizing the completion of Interstate 485, which has already dessicated dozens of miles of open land. "We could create urban blight, damage our air quality and create more sprawl," Wheeler claims.

HELLO!! Do these people live in Charlotte, and are they actually our leaders? Incredibly, the answer is yes. Martin Cramton has been Charlotte’s Planning Director for more than 20 years. Lynn Wheeler was first sworn into City Council in 1989. Under their leadership Charlotte has grown from a pleasant, easy-to-maneuver mid-sized metropolis, to a congested city dogged by hazardous particulate air pollution. It’s a little too late for Mr. Cramton and Ms. Wheeler to pretend they haven’t missed dozens of opportunities to reign in the rampaging, unplanned development that has barrelled through our communities, leaving Charlotte’s autocentric citizenry with air repeatedly ranked among the dirtiest in the country. While both of these public servants are smooth talkers, as far as I can tell, neither hesitates to rezone in favor of developers, and at the expense of the public at large.

It seems a conceit of new southern cities that the right of the individual supercedes the right of the collective population. While protecting the rights of everyone but those of the public, Mecklenburg County has given the growth pattern of sprawl its blessing. The governing bodies of Mecklenburg County have rarely responded to our community’s discussion over how to grow into a big city. The debate about I-485 has been raging for years, led by neighborhood activists and environmental groups. And as their words were echoing, bulldozers crushed trees, and backhoes gored the earth. Farmhouses disappeared, replaced by fast food franchises and strip malls plunked down in a sea of asphalt.

Now with a school system trembling under the aegis of change, and a recession of uncertain length, our tremulous leaders are realizing that the pleasant weather isn’t enough to justify Charlotte as a good place to live. As traffic worsens, and EPA air quality warnings become commonplace, elected officials are paying lip service to civic improvements. Meanwhile, unreasonable intersections that are impossible to navigate by foot continue to be developed. While the politicians use buzzwords, like "connectivity" and "pedestrian friendly," in reality pedestrians are rarely considered as part of any development equation.

The Observer recently featured an article about BirkdaleVillage, off of I-77 in Huntersville. It is planned like an old fashioned hamlet, with wide protective sidewalks, connecting streets, and street level commerce. What is not mentioned is that in order to get there you have to drive through a mangled, misdeveloped commercial intersection that is the very definition of sprawl. It is Exit 25, but it could be the corner of Harris Road and 29, or Park Road and 51, or Providence Road and I-485. These intersections are devoid of character, a nightmare to cross, and they seem to be our future. Martin Cramton claims that the city plans to adopt tight zoning regulations that will control environmental damage and sprawl around the rest of Interstate 485. I can’t think of a reason in the world to believe him.

~ Lynn Trenning

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