Second Ward is in the midst of massive changes to its urban fabric, from a shiny new office tower on Tryon Street, to apartments on Stonewall Street. Another change has also taken place near the governmental offices on 3rd Street, the sale of multiple parcels of land to a developer called BK Partners, LLC. It will culminate in the creation of Brooklyn Village, taking on the name of a neighborhood mostly lost to the “urban renewal” projects of the mid-20th century. These parcels include the old Education Center, the Robert L. Walton Plaza, various parking lots, and the entirety of Marshall Park. The previously mentioned buildings will hardly be missed: their exposed concrete structures and barren surrounding landscaping seem to repel those who venture near. Additionally, replacing surface parking lots with space that is actually productive should always be celebrated. This leaves us with the final area, which has brought some contention: Marshall Park. Is the loss of the park as bad as it seems?
Parks in cities can be important to the vitality of the greater community, as centers of community. The landscape designer J. B. Jackson said as much in his 1984 article titled “The American Public Space,” wherein he details the history and at the time contemporary use of parks in the United States. He described how people from different economic and social backgrounds could intermingle, “the spaces occupied by these groups, if only temporarily, constituted so many public places in the strictest sense: places where like-minded people came together to share an Identity.”
Indeed, I heard such praises for public space from At-Large Commissioner Pat Cotham, who sits on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners and opposes the project. “We should cherish parkland,” she said during our phone conversation, and when it comes to losing the 5 acres of the park, “that’s our gift to the future.” It should be noted that according to the project’s website, there will be 1.9 acres of green space incorporated into the design.
Another part of the project is affordable housing, which is another issue in and of itself. This is not just an issue of the availability of housing either, it is where this housing is located. Uptown, with its access to services, jobs, entertainment, and centers of government, is quite unaffordable for many Charlotte residents. In his 2017 book “The New Urban Crisis,” urban studies theorist Richard Florida states, “In America today, economic inequality is also spatial inequality: rich and poor increasingly occupy entirely different spaces and worlds.” This is true for many cities in the United States, including Charlotte.
Cotham stated that she thought this development project was, “an opportunity to make a dent in the problem,” and wanted to have 700-800 units set at 30% AMI (Average Median Income) level for disabled people, elderly, low income residents. As per the project’s website, Brooklyn Village is planning to include 107 units of affordable housing set at 80% AMI, which is more than the required amount for such projects. While there will not be massive numbers of affordable housing, it still will help those who will one day live in these areas. Its proximity to jobs and public transportation will have a greater impact on the upward mobility on these individuals than if they were forced to live farther away due to housing costs.
Overall, I do lament the loss of the park, especially when you think about the vast swaths of unused land in First Ward. It conjures up images of what this city could have been had it not been for so-called “urban renewal.” Ironically, we may not have had Marshall Park in the first place. Criticisms of the project are warranted, and one should always be wary of the prospect of development on the site of a public park. Still, the planned 1,070 residential units will bring opportunities to those seeking to live in an urban environment. It will bring life into an otherwise unremarkable part of Uptown, and I am especially interested in seeing the interplay between the pedestrians and the street level retail. As the door closes on the park, a new door opens for the city.
Editor’s note: This article originally quotes Pat Cotham as to say: “We should cherish parkland; that’s our debt to the future.” Cotham actually said: “We should cherish parkland; that’s our gift to the future.”