Congress for the New Urbanism Hosts Neighborhood Charrettes

Published on June 06, 2023

CNU Charrettes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (June 2, 2023) - Within a span of 11 days, three charrettes – intense periods of collaborative design and planning – were held to focus on accomplishing three legacy projects in the Charlotte community.

With Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU)’s annual Congress held in Charlotte from May 31 through June 3, the charrettes were hosted by CNU in the leadup to the event to implement New Urbanist design principles in the host region. CNU is a nonprofit with clear goals in mind: diversifying neighborhoods, designing for climate change and legalizing walkable places. In short, building places people love.

The idea of a charrette is to bring a diverse group of professionals into the heart of the community where the work will actually take place, pool resources and talents, and develop a cohesive design proposal, while also welcoming community feedback. The workshops were hosted for projects in the Gastonia, University City and West Boulevard areas.

“It's truly a meritocracy, where we all realize and recognize that we all have skills, but we also recognize that the best idea comes from togetherness and being able to debate ideas off of one another,” said Detroit-based urban design architect Marques King about the charrette process. King was the team lead for the Gastonia charrette, known as the Healthy Highland project.

The vision for the primarily Black community was to design a development that would address the food scarcity issue, offer commercial space for significant businesses, and create rental housing opportunities. From March 20-22, King allied with other designers from around the country, Kintegra Health, CNU support staff and community stakeholders to improve the social, economic, health and educational conditions in Highland.

“There’s a group of people in the community who are really on fire to make change,” said architect Terry Shook, of architecture firm Shook Kelley that was also involved in the Gastonia charrette. “Something tangible is going to come from this.”

Video Transcript

Narrator 00:05

Ahead of our annual Congress, CNU invited municipalities and neighborhood organizations in the Charlotte region to apply for pro bono technical assistance from leading urban design firms. Each expert-led, legacy project is aimed at supporting local leaders, advocates, and residents in communities that might not otherwise be able to convene a project team or develop a vision that can help people and businesses in their communities to thrive. CNU's partner firms provide public engagement and collaboration, or a charrette. working directly with local communities. These charettes are intense, multi-day, multidisciplinary design workshops, and they allow stakeholders to work with experts on designs that best reflect the needs of the community and their vision for the future of their neighborhood. The goal of the CNU legacy projects is to deliver direct impact to local communities with both short term progress and long lasting momentum so that they can achieve the walkable, sustainable equity supportive urbanism that they desire.


Marques King  01:06

Let's let's come over here first and talk about the site a little bit. My name is Marques King, and I am the principal architect of fabric design in Detroit, Michigan. So we've been working on this for about two months, before we even got here. It's a parcel that's just underneath an acre. Lots of unique conditions, we have a lot of topography, that we have about a 16-foot drop from the front edge of the sidewalk all the way to the back of the site. Some of the biggest challenges that we've witnessed and unearthed here are challenges of affordability. From the way I understand it, Gastonia in the last 10 years has just received a wave of financial investment. So this is one of the preliminary versions that we came up with here. You know, that's, that's part of the way I think about buildings, it can't just be a pretty picture. It's got to come with some financing. It's got to come with some level of numbers behind it so that yes, we can make it look like this, but can we actually build it? And so that'll be a part of the package that we deliver to the folks here at Gastonia. Yes, we heard what you said we've embedded the social programs, the buildings look like this. And yes, along with that, here's a couple of financial pathways that you can now begin to seek out to be able to put this project together.

Tobe Holmes  02:34

We have three days to take a site here in University City to understand it better and how it can evolve into the future and become a student mainstreet for our local research university, UNC Charlotte. Over the course of these three days, we kicked off with a site tour, which took us to the site itself, explored the site. And from there, bring in stakeholders from the community, the people who use the site most regularly, a lot of students that come through the first day. From there, it's heads down. We figure out the site itself; figure out how transportation needs to work with regard to vehicles; how people enter next to the side on foot or on bicycle; and then create a program around it. 

Murphy Antoine  03:30

I'm Murphy Antoine, I'm an architect and planner and a principal at Torti Gallas and Partners, an architecture and planning firm, based in Washington, D.C. We've been here learning a lot about West Boulevard, a lot about the history, a lot about the current conditions, a lot about the concerns of the folks that live here, and more more than concerns the aspirations. So we've heard several physical things and a lot of social and service and even policy concerns. So that's really a little bit where we come in — is there an idea about a physical framework that supports that really deep sense of community and community commitment, that the people are already forming that node but that there's not the the specific locations perhaps to concentrate that enthusiasm?

Rickey Hall  04:33

In many ways it's a tale of two cities. West Boulevard is the same arterial as East Boulevard. You slow down in East Boulevard and see all the amenities and the access points. But when you come into the West Boulevard corridor, you don't get that same feel. So you're just traversing through. When the CNU opportunity came on board we applied for it and was fortunately selected. We're very excited about what This opportunity has given the community.


Another proposal that was awarded legacy project status by CNU and had resources devoted toward it was in University City. Spearheaded by nonprofit organization University City Partners, CNU was enlisted to help tackle scars left by suburban policies by creating a main street to serve as the center of the community that is home to UNC Charlotte and is the city’s second largest employment center. The charrette took place on March 27-29. 

“Over the course of these three days, we kicked off with a site tour, and from there, [we brought] in stakeholders from the community – the people who use the site most regularly – and from there, it’s heads down,” said Tobe Holmes, executive director of University City Partners.

The final charrette, held March 28-30, focused on a proposal submitted by the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, a grouping of 19 communities that comprise the life fabric of the West Boulevard corridor. This project had the key themes of health equity and neighborhood development, with specific strategies like adding affordable housing and providing safe links to transit.

For Rickey Hall, board chair for the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and born-and-raised Charlotte resident, applying to be a CNU legacy project was a great opportunity, and he was excited to have had their proposal selected. 

Murphy Antoine, a planner and principal architect for the DC-based firm that took part in the charrette, offered his expertise and outlook.

“We’re trying to use our design skills and other experiences to make a difference and push the revitalization forward for West Boulevard,” said Antoine.

Charlotte was excited to welcome the 31st annual Congress for the New Urbanism to the Queen City from May 31 through June 3. It is through CNU 31 that these charrettes came to fruition and three neighborhoods took strides toward becoming people-centered places.

Learn more about CNU 31 and the work that is being done in cities around the country, including right here at home.


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