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Urban Living - Charlotte NC

Alive After Five
At the Epi-Centre in Charlotte, “Alive After Five” performances are met with great joie de vivre. It’s how Charlotte kickstarts the weekend every Thursday evening. One big happy hour with free concerts and really good times.
Photo Credit: CRVA/Visit Charlotte

Where people want to live is changing! And it has as much to do with Boomers and Millennials as it does with the emergence – and acceptance – of green echo-friendly living. The Great Recession? Long spoons have been stirring this percolating stew of urban living.

Housing values are stronger in centrally located urban areas where folks can walk to shop, dine, have fun and be entertained. Using the car less (or doing away with it altogether) is beginning to make sense to more people. Yard work and long commutes? Not so appealing!

Today, we're having fewer children. For many, that translates into rejecting massive yards and large homes.

The National Association of Realtors’ 2011 Community Preference Survey found that 58 percent of respondents shared a clear preference for neighborhoods with “a mix of homes, stores and other businesses within an easy walk.”

Don’t roll up the streets of suburbia just yet, because that still leaves a healthy number of families who want the lifestyle that comes with country club, amenity-rich communities and bright stars at night. But for the rest of us, there’s undeniable appeal in walking to dinner and the theatre, or biking to the neighbor’s for a barbecue.

William Frey, respected demographer of the Brookings Institute, recently made this observation:

“Last year, for the first time in more than nine decades, the major cities of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas grew faster than their combined suburbs. At least temporarily, this puts the brakes on a longstanding staple of American life – the pervasive suburbanization of its population – which began with widespread automobile use in the 1920s to the present day when more than half the U.S. population lives in the suburbs.”

Interesting stuff. But how does that translate into the Carolinas? We asked several experts for their take on the urban lifestyle.

Fred Delk, executive director of Columbia Development Corporation, is watching the growing shift in demographics. “Empty-nesters and vibrant young professionals are definitely moving into urban areas,” he says. “The younger crowd wants to live above the street, or perhaps in a downtown neighborhood, and the empty-nesters want sidewalks, walkability, entertainment, and more people around them.”

Folks want to get rid of yard work and be able to park the car for long periods of time. Mr. Delk says that he’s meeting couples who live downtown during the week and at their lake home on weekends. There are also young professors and graduate students who bike to the University from their downtown neighborhood homes.

“What has been amazing to me is how the downtown multi-family residential market has changed,” he explains. “Everything that was available is occupied now, and I am hearing talk about building more condominiums – 600-800 square feet, but high end, with granite, molding, super-easy parking and extra zing.”

And there’s more. Green is figuring more prominently into the equation. “In everything, you see a much higher level of green. People want to live and work in LEED-certified buildings,” he said. “New construction and rehab of older properties is focusing on green, with lower energy costs and better reclamation.”

In the upstate, Michael Kerski, economic development manager of the City of Greenville, shared his thoughts on the downtown growth of his vibrant city:

“People moving to downtown want easy access to walk – to grocery shopping, dining and recreation,” he explained. “Downtown Greenville offers more than 90 retailers and 90+ restaurants. It also has a pharmacy, grocery store, dentists’ offices and a new 24-hour fitness gym. The 18-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail runs through downtown and connects to Cleveland Park, Furman University and the town of Travelers Rest.”  Read more about the  Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Mr. Kerski says these downtown residents want outdoor recreation in addition to the above amenities. “If you are going to live downtown and limit use of your car, an active car-sharing program is also a piece of the overall puzzle and Greenville hosts the WeCar Program.*

*WeCar is a membership-based car-sharing program that lowers costs and reduces hassles of traditional transportation. Most cars are fuel efficient hybrids

What these experts are noting is evident throughout the Carolinas. Charlotte, with its new 9.6 miles of light rail connecting the vibrant urban scene, is attracting interest in high-end rental communities such as the one planned by Lomax Construction, which will offer granite counters, views and high ceilings.

And the most recent census shows the Carolinas claiming two of the top-ten hot spots for boomers – Raleigh and Charlotte. Add that to the young adults who are delaying marriage and children, and opting for short-term rentals close to public transit and downtown entertainment, and you have the confluence of two powerful demographics that will impact city planning for decades.

And for those who want urban living with outdoor recreation, Asheville, NC, is noted for its great urban vibe with the nearby mountains for hiking. Clearly there are choices, and for some, it’s not a question of either/or, but rather how to add a small downtown pied à terre to their lifestyle and real estate holdings.

So, let’s recap. Top conveniences for urban dwellers, in no particular order:

Walkability – to shopping, restaurants, entertainment, learning

Sidewalks – to get to those amenities

Public transport and bike-friendly corridors

Green space/LEED-certified architecture

Services – grocery stores, pharmacies, shops, health care, banks, yoga studios, fitness facilities, spas

Parking – easy in, easy out, plus car sharing

People – to talk with, make friends with, and sometimes, merely to watch

Residences that work – high-end, but smaller, with high ceilings, granite, moldings and more

Variety – lofts, infill neighborhoods, condominiums, deluxe rental units, live/work homes