Shannon Binns is the founder and executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that advocates for smart growth.
Every now and then we have an opportunity to demonstrate who we are, or at least, who we want to become. A chance to live our values by shaping the place we live.
The Charlotte Future 2040 Plan is such an opportunity. Through this vision for the city we want to become, we will make our values clear.
Do we want to continue to grow primarily by paving over forests and farmlands at our periphery to build yet more single-family home subdivisions? A costly and inefficient pattern that will create more time-wasting traffic and climate pollution because these far-flung homes can only be reached by car?
Or do we want to grow in a less expensive, more efficient way, by allowing a range of housing types in neighborhoods that already exist, especially the “missing middle” housing that falls between single-family homes and apartments: duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes? A practice that will not only reduce the cost of housing but also reduce the cost of transportation by allowing more residents to walk, bike, or ride transit instead of drive.
Do we want to remain a city where one’s income determines the neighborhoods in which one can live, creating a city segregated by race and income? Or a place where we can choose to live where we desire, creating a city where our neighborhoods reflect our diversity?
Over the past two and a half years, the City of Charlotte’s planning department has been asking these questions with an unprecedented focus on equitable and inclusive engagement.
More than 6,500 Charlotteans have taken the time to answer them. And now their answers are reflected in Charlotte 2040 — a long-overdue plan that will guide the development and investments made in our city over the next two decades.
We haven’t had a plan like this since 1975, which goes far in explaining why we are the unsustainable, segregated, car-dependent city that we are today. We haven’t had a plan to manage our tremendous population growth in a sustainable manner that ensures the benefits and costs of growth are borne fairly by all.
With this plan, we have an opportunity to begin to reverse decades of exclusionary zoning practices that segregated our community.
However, after years of robust community discussion, a small, vocal, politically-connected minority is standing against our community’s vision.
This not only undermines the results of the democratic public process that this vision reflects but also ignores the needs of the many who struggle to find an affordable home in our city due to our shortage of housing.
A shortage made greater by the fact that 70% of Charlotte’s land is zoned for single-family housing: the most inefficient type of housing from a land-use perspective.
A majority of Charlotteans do not want to maintain the status quo that is working for the few but failing the many.
They want diverse neighborhoods that reflect our population; they want to be able to more safely walk, bike, and ride transit instead of drive; they want to maintain the beautiful tree canopy that makes Charlotte special; and they want Charlotte to be a place where all are welcomed and provided opportunities to affordably live where is best for them and their families.
Our city leaders should respect the democratic process that has been used and adopt the Charlotte Future 2040 plan without delay.
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