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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 3:12 AM
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Charlotte, NC: Downtown and Transit

I was in Greenville, SC three weeks ago for a wedding (yes, for those of you who saw my Richmond thread, that is two separate weddings on consecutive weekends). It turned out to be much cheaper for us to fly into Charlotte and then drive south than to fly directly to Greenville, so that's what we did. Naturally I took a couple of hours to explore downtown Charlotte, having never been there before.

I found downtown to be very much a mixed bag. On one hand, it is clear that residential infill at a fairly large scale is happening and will eventually transform the center city. On the other hand, I was disappointed to discover way too many suburban-style plazas and green spaces around many of the buildings (most of which are still offices), which really made the place feel like a suburban office park writ large. I was pleased to find the streets packed with people, but disappointed to discover that almost every storefront was a lunch spot for office workers, leaving virtually no bona fide retail. While I was impressed by the expensive and well-maintained streetscape (benches, lights, bus stops, etc), I also found it a little too forced - clean is good, but this was so polished that it didn't seem real.

I was impressed by the transit system, which the city is clearly making an effort to promote. Also, I have to say that many of the the postmodern skyscrapers in the city are absolutely gorgeous. Charlotte is definitely home to some of the best skyscrapers since World War II.

Anyway, rambling aside, here are the pics.


Got some good views coming in the plane, although it was pretty hazy.






I've always loved this building. In person I thought the facade could use a few more details, but I also found that the crown is much more easy to appreciate live than via photo.








This building I never cared for in photograph; it always seemed awkwardly top-heavy. However, in person I thought it was beautiful. Even better than the previous one.



I like it because it is much better at the ground level. What a great, engaging entrance. Also, with the foreshortening effect, it doesn't seem so top-heavy.



Few skyscrapers make me want to look up when I'm this close, but this one draws your eye.



And hey! Details!




I hate hate hate this building though. If it had actually been built in 1980, as it looks like, that would be excusable, but nope. Recent construction. In fact newer than the two previous skyscrapers. BLAH!

This is the only picture of it I came home with other than the skyline aerials from the plane. I thought the boom was funny.



Although I will say that skyscraper isn't as bad as this piece of nonsense.




Some older buildings. They do exist.





Normally I'm not a fan of the blank glass facade, but the visible structure makes this one interesting.




All right. Enough skyscrapers. Now: Street level.

I like this. At this scale, the glass curtain wall works.




Statuary that actually looks like humans = +1



This sort of thing is pleasant enough, but there was way way too much of it all over town. Like every sizable building has its own little park.


















I was surprised to find this little block tucked away behind a small shopping arcade. Nice.






And now, transit.

The downtown bus stops are quite impressive. Sizable shelters, lots of seating, and huge, visible, brightly-colored, informative stop shields. Really top notch for a bus stop. Good work.



Your basic city bus. The livery is a little dated, but whatev.



On the other hand, unique paint schemes for express or otherwise special routes is very progressive. Not many cities do this, but more should.



Unfortunately, any city that runs a lame fake trolley like this automatically drops a couple of spots on the respect meter. Free downtown circulators are good. Dressing a particularly small and uncomfortable bus up to look sort of like ye olde tyme trolley is not.



The main downtown bus station.






And finally, the brand new light rail line. I didn't ride it, but did check out the main downtown station, which is conveniently located directly adjacent to the bus station.

The light rail line is elevated or otherwise separated from street traffic downtown - a rare and expensive luxury for light rail. Very impressive.



As a Washingtonian I am charmed by the similarities of this station to our vaulted Metro ceilings.











Looking down the track towards the next station. Looks a little goofy, but I didn't get any closer.





On the whole, a very impressive line.

That's all for now. Pictures from Greenville will come along soon.
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  #2  
Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 4:02 AM
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Not bad at all.
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 6:12 AM
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Nice shots! Love BoA and the light rail trains!
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 8:02 AM
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Good stuff
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 6:07 PM
ue ue is offline
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Sharp images. LYNX looks fantastic, too.
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 6:15 PM
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Nice set of shots!
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 8:33 PM
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Love Charlotte, great pics.

And love the new Duke Energy Center, 786 ft of sleek architecture, no idea what you are talking about.
Balances out the skyline more by providing a bookend on a side lacking in tall 'scrapers.
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Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 9:15 PM
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One of my favorite cities, thank you.
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  #9  
Old Posted Jun 8, 2010, 10:52 PM
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That skyscraper with the spikey crown was designed by Pelli, right? I love his work... thanks for sharing!
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Old Posted Jun 9, 2010, 1:18 PM
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nice pics and tour. i gotta agree with the "too clean" part.

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Old Posted Jun 9, 2010, 1:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
I also found it a little too forced - clean is good, but this was so polished that it didn't seem real.
The part I bolded is perhaps the most apt description I've ever found of downtown Charlotte. When I was there last year, that was exactly my impression. Everything seemed forced, and there was a desperate sort of gaiety to it -- like Hawaiian Shirt Day in some corporate job you despise. It's there in the way that Charlotte has everything a big city is supposed to have, but only because a big city is supposed to have it, not from any real desire or tangible reason for it to be there.
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Old Posted Jun 9, 2010, 2:57 PM
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Nice pictures.
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Old Posted Jun 10, 2010, 2:28 PM
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I really like the tree lined streets in the heart of DT. Charlotte is a very hot city during the summer so the shaded sidewalks for the pedestrians is great! (Phoenix take note please).

Very impressive LR line! Thanks for the photos.
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Old Posted Jun 10, 2010, 3:37 PM
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^^ I agree that the tree lined streets are great! All southern cities should have streetsides dense with trees in order to provide pedestrians enough shade to actually be out & about despite the heat.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2010, 2:02 PM
themaguffin themaguffin is offline
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Quote:
The part I bolded is perhaps the most apt description I've ever found of downtown Charlotte. When I was there last year, that was exactly my impression. Everything seemed forced, and there was a desperate sort of gaiety to it -- like Hawaiian Shirt Day in some corporate job you despise. It's there in the way that Charlotte has everything a big city is supposed to have, but only because a big city is supposed to have it, not from any real desire or tangible reason for it to be there.
But Charlotte is new. Not sure if attempts at constructing additional offices and other buildings etc downtown could seem anything other than clean and shiny. I would think that an attempt to make things look older and perhaps gritty would also come off as contrived and fake looking.

What are they supposed to do? They can't create old. I am not saying that they can't do better, but I also feel that some criticism is beyond their control to a degree.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2010, 2:13 PM
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Originally Posted by themaguffin View Post
But Charlotte is new. Not sure if attempts at constructing additional offices and other buildings etc downtown could seem anything other than clean and shiny. I would think that an attempt to make things look older and perhaps gritty would also come off as contrived and fake looking.

What are they supposed to do? They can't create old. I am not saying that they can't do better, but I also feel that some criticism is beyond their control to a degree.
Charlotte is most certainly not new. It was settled in 1755. It only looks new because 90 percent of its history has been eradicated. If you stroll along the streets of downtown Charlotte, you'll notice that there are all these nice little plaques set into the sidewalk telling you what beautiful or interesting old building used to be located where this faceless office building, parking deck, or bland corporate plaza is now. When Charlotte demolished its history, it demolished its soul, and it shows.
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  #17  
Old Posted Jun 12, 2010, 2:25 PM
themaguffin themaguffin is offline
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Charlotte is most certainly not new. It was settled in 1755.
I understand that, but with so much of the center city relatively new it naturally will be a very high percentage of the core and thus, make it young.

That's what I mean, I know that the city was founded long ago, but I was defending the fact that the fast growth and massive boom obscures what is older. How could it look older with so many buildings that have been built recently without similar older buildings to balance it out?
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2010, 3:23 PM
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Nice pics! I was in Charlotte just a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. Its come a long way, and seems headed in the right direction. Although still new and small, there is definitely a nice fabric growing in DT including some very unique local business (mostly restaurants). Should be interesting in the next 20 years as Charlotte is a hot city.
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Old Posted Jun 25, 2010, 7:21 AM
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Much of the criticism about downtown (or Uptown, as we call it) is warranted. But that's what happens when the vast majority of the growth/revival of the urban core was driven by the growth of banking giants that wanted to create an urban core that was more fitting for their surroundings. Thus, we have an urban core that's been big project driven as opposed to more grassroots/organic, which would have resulted in historic shopfronts being preserved and rehabbed into retail space.
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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 5:25 AM
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These are some awesome pics, thanks for the tour! I like those ariel shots as well.
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