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CNU31: Charlotte, NC. The Elizabeth Historic District

Over the next week, we intend to publish a few quick notes on our experiences at CNU31 in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the conference we explored the various places in and around the Queen City, logging many miles of urban (and natural) exploration and analysis. The city has a beautiful greenway trail, superb light rail, verdant street tree canopies, and many great neighborhoods surrounding downtown (referred to locally as Uptown).

Today, a quick note on the Elizabeth Historic District. Sitting just southeast of Uptown, the city's second-oldest streetcar suburb is bisected by a highway but still retains much of its historic and urban charm. Strolling through the neighborhood revealed many good examples of urban livability, walkability, and even a small collection of missing middle housing - including accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes, and apartments of various sizes. The neighborhood is connected to Uptown via a light rail line and is also a relatively short walk to Uptown (although admittedly this walk is sometimes through stroads and auto-centric development).

During the conference, architect and urbanist Steve Mouzon talked about "gifts to the street". These "gifts" are little interventions that bring humanism and delight to the passersby. These can be simple human-scaled landscaping, front porches, quirky peek-a-boo trees that hang over the sidewalk, a bench, street seating, hand-built fences, and short walls, or secluded passages. The Elizabeth neighborhood exhibited many of these - including a drinking fountain that was integrated into a short edge wall at a corner residence (the fountain even had a dog bowl) and a landscaping tunnel that was created as the private plantings grew over the public sidewalk.

A street tree in the middle of the street calms traffic and provides a place for artwork to bloom. This tree is also used by locals to give directions to people visiting their neighborhood - for example: "head to the tree in the middle of the street and hang a left".

Stone steps go down into a remnant parcel that was the result of the highway insertion into the neighborhood. Residents reclaimed this lost space and turned it into an asset for both residents and visitors. A gift to the street, a gift to strangers.

A drinking fountain at a corner, integrated into the private wall of a residence in the Elizabeth neighborhood. Another gift to the street that makes all feel welcome. It also adds a human touch to the streetspace.

Landscaping that grows over and into the sidewalk. It provides a charming and unique place to walk as you admire the front porch and the "messy" urbanism of this neighborhood.

An Accessory Dwelling Unit, one of three on this lot. The ADU is right at the sidewalk and provides an interesting disruption to the pattern of single-family homes and front yards. The entire assemblage of walls, materials, windows, and landscaping - added incrementally, provide a human scale to the historic urbanism and a pleasurable walking experience.

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