Neighborhood leaders in the Five Points area near Johnson C. Smith University are making big plans for a small plot of land on W. Trade Street.
With help from the Knight Foundation and a Danish consulting firm, community leaders next month will turn the vacant parcel into a space for neighborhood interaction and outdoor events — and in the process, they hope, also promote more interaction between the area’s historically black population and its recent influx of newcomers, who are predominately young, white and professional.
Last Saturday, at a food-truck event near the site, community leaders invited residents to vote on the types of events they’d like to see in a public space. Options included outdoor movies, music, arts and culture, black history, yoga and activities for children. Residents also got to vote on a list of names being considered for the spot.
Neighborhood leaders who are attempting to manage the area’s transition say they’d like to avoid the mistakes made in other U.S. cities, where waves of newcomers pushed out long-time residents and changed the character of historically black communities.
In addition to providing a space for outdoor activities, organizers say they hope the parcel also will be a place where neighbors – new and old — can get to know one another.
J’Tanya Adams, president of Historic West End Partners, one of the groups leading the effort, said the outdoor spot will be a space for “authentic community engagement.”
Adams said her group also is working to preserve the history and culture of Historic West End, which runs along Beatties Ford Road.
“We’re not going to have a Brooklyn situation here,” she said, referring to the Charlotte neighborhood razed in the 1960s under the banner of urban renewal. “We’re not going to be trying to restore anything, because we don’t plan to lose anything. We are going to build on what we have. We plan to transition in a thoughtful way.”
A ‘fun, playful destination’
Efforts to create the space can be traced to a 2015 study that sought to evaluate how public spaces are used in Charlotte. The city hired Gehl Studio, an urban design firm based in Copenhagen, Denmark, to conduct the review.
Gehl found that, of all the areas looked at, the Five Points community had “the lowest number of people walking, biking and spending time in the streets.” And while the community sits in close proximity to uptown Charlotte, “walking or biking from the West End is not very inviting,” Gehl noted in one of its reports.
“There is a lot of public space here, if we look at the streets and the sidewalks and include that,” said Julia Day, a Gehl project manager. “So it made us question what’s going on, why don’t you have more people out?”
The outdoor space, she said, is a pilot program to address those concerns.
Meanwhile, Gehl’s nonprofit arm has given $20,000 to help implement the project, which has stated goals that include:
• Create a fun, playful destination
• Create a place inviting to a diverse population
• Create a community hub that can serve as a catalyst for economic opportunity
• Enhance connections between people and places, such as the West End and Uptown
• Recognize and celebrate the West End’s cultural identity and highlight its African-American history
• Make Five Points more visible to people outside the community.
September Launch Date
The parcel, about 1,000 square feet adjacent to Mosaic Village, is owned by the Griffin Family, which owns Griffin Brothers Tires. Officials say the family agreed to lease the property for $1 per year.
Unlike traditional parks, the outdoor space in Five Points will have no permanent structures. It will, however, have access to electricity and free Wi-Fi.
The property will be surrounded by a wooden fence that will display artifacts from the former Latibah Collard Green Museum, which closed in June 2015 citing financial challenges. The first exhibition, panels highlighting the historic Underground Railroad, will be unveiled Sept. 10, the day the space officially opens.
Showcase for Diversity
Alysia Osborne, director of Historic West End with Charlotte Center Partners, said she hopes the new space will be known for its diversity.
“That’s what you want in neighborhoods, a diversity of not just generations but race and class and economic status,” she said. “You want that diversity across the board, and I think Five Points is an opportunity to showcase how that might work in Charlotte.”
Osborne said the Five Points community is working to manage its growth and transition – a process she characterized as going well.
To help drive community discussion, Historic West End Partners last month hosted a screening of the documentary “Dog Parks & Coffee Shops,” which chronicles the effects of gentrification on three Washington, D.C., neighborhoods. The event included a complimentary breakfast and a live jazz performance.
Adams, who heads the group, said the community is coming together “wonderfully.”
We’re being truly inclusive without compromising who we are as a community,” she said. “We’ve had moments, no doubt. For those who want to have zero regard for others, they might not find this a comfortable place, because we don’t tolerate that. You cannot ignore what exists, and the people that exists are not going anywhere.”