CNIP could be mistaken for many-a-thing, and I won’t even go there. But in my neighborhood – the Central/Albemarle/Shamrock area of east Charlotte – and four other selected areas across the city, the Comprehensive Neighborhood Improvement Program was created to link corridor studies and small neighborhood maintenance into bigger, more connected projects for more visible enhancements to streets, sidewalks, beautification of rights of way, art installation for cultural preservation, etc. Basically, it’s the city’s way of giving neighborhoods more bang for our tax dollars spent.
The Central/Albemarle/Shamrock area is boomerang-shaped and includes everything from Eastway Drive to Albemarle Road at WT Harris (think the big Blue Wave Car Wash) and as far as Shamrock Drive to the north and Central Avenue to the south.
A friend recently told me developers are referring to this area as the “middle east” of Charlotte because the near east is Plaza Midwood (already developed), the far east being past Albemarle Road and Central (urban clutter) and our area, the “middle east” (a hot spot for renewal, development and innovation).
Call us what you will, but the first two CNIP meetings proved that Charlotte “middle easterners” are eager for conversation and input on the projected gentrification of our area. How do we preserve culture and also create a unified presence for our area, which still is desperate for a name? (Let’s face it – I’m not advocating for a certain title, and I certainly don’t believe “Charlotte’s Middle East” describes our area correctly, but I am grasping at straws because the only other name on the table I’ve heard is the International District and limiting a multicultural area in a city of our size to one area is lame.)
Pink-haired, tatted neighbors sat beside elderly couples and impeccably dressed men sat beside haggard looking young mothers. All of them had gathered at the Midwood International Cultural Center for a public forum.
I walked in with a few friends and was asked to sign in and watch a video. Then, we were corralled by city staff members to follow our guide, who explained the scope of CNIP projects – like bike and pedestrian networks, greenways or even a skate park.
The best part was when we were given colored dots. Who knew a sticker could bring me so much joy again, as Sofia the First stickers do with my 2-year-old? We placed our dots/cast our votes on the top priorities for the area showcased on foam board (think 5th grade science fair but with City of Charlotte logos).
Then, we were set free, sticky notes in hand for new ideas, dots and “thumbs up LIKE emoji stickers” to add to a map that scaled the entire width of the auditorium, or so it felt. People were laughing, dreaming up space-age luxuries to add, liking with their sticker thumbs and finding camaraderie in complaints about intersection safety and what was and used to be.
Never have I seen such candid public dialogue amongst neighbors, strangers all rallying for various cases and yet, finding joy in the conversation, memories and hopes for casting a vision for our shared space.
If the city was going for a vested interest feel, they succeeded as I spoke with at least five other people about how great pocket parks would be. It was almost as if each of us was transformed into mini-candidates advocating for our “big ideas” for more thumbs up stickers on our sticky notes. Needless to say, pocket parks made the top 26 list revealed at the next meeting, during which each attendee received a map of the 26 projects; this was determined by our sticker input, lobbying around the map (neighbor input, feasibility, scope and cost of the project and private sector land use agreements).
Tracy Newsome (Charlotte Department of Transportation, long-time Charlottean, graduate of West Charlotte High) gave an overarching presentation about how the map was made and the future timeline for the projects. Newsome and Mark Grimshaw of the city’s engineering and property management department will present the final list of recommended projects October 1 during the drop-in from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Midwood International & Cultural Center on Central Avenue.
Be there; show up; use your thumbs up or thumbs down; voice your opinion and even get crotchety/chummy with a neighbor or two. It’s fun, and you may even find “Charlotte middle easterners” finding themselves actually rooting together for a unified neighborhood or at least using their thumb stickers with gleeful giddiness.
More information about CNIP areas and funding here.
All CNIP relies on bonds, which are typically voted, even more reason to go to Thursday night’s forum. There is $20 million allotted in 2014, with an additional $100 million anticipated for the 2016, 2018 and 2020 bonds for the various CNIP areas, which include in addition to our neighborhood:
- Prosperity Village
- Sunset/Beatties Ford
- West Trade/Rozzelles Ferry