Little Sugar Creek Greenway: Charlotte, North Carolina
City Parks Forum Case Study
Like most Sunbelt cities, metropolitan Charlotte has experienced substantial growth during the past several decades. Between 1960 and 2005, the population of the four counties that compose the region exploded from just 615,000 to more than 1.5 million. While impressive in its own right, a quick demographic analysis of Charlotte's population growth reveals an even more interesting trend that is not common among Sunbelt cities: an increasing percentage of Charlotte's metropolitan residents are living in the central, or core, county (Mecklenburg) where Charlotte is located. Between 1960 and 2005, the proportion of total metropolitan population in Mecklenburg County increased from 44 percent to 52 percent. Compare these numbers with same-period change in core county percentage of metro population in other Sunbelt cities: Atlanta (40 percent to 19 percent), Orlando (67 percent to 53 percent), Nashville (62 percent to 40 percent), and Richmond-Petersburg (40 percent to 19 percent). The message is clear: central areas, more than peripheral areas, of metro Charlotte face tremendous growth pressure.
The intense growth at the core of metropolitan Charlotte has provided the impetus for preserving greenspace and building green infrastructure near the center of the region, not just on the fringe. The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department embarked on an ambitious update to its earlier 1980 and 1991 Greenways Plans to not only extend and create new greenway corridors, but also improve established corridors. The 2015 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Master Plan: Planning for Our Future made strong connections with the 1999-2009 Master Greenways Plan on the issues of accessibility and integration with neighborhoods and communities adjacent to the greenways.
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway includes a 12.5-mile trail that, once completed, will stretch from Cordelia Park just north of Charlotte's urban core to the southern, exurban end of the county near the border with South Carolina. The development of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway responds to the vital need for a more livable and sustainable community for all residents and businesses:
- Provides an amenity for recreation, culture, and history
- Protects and preserves the environment
- Provides an alternative mode of transportation
- Creates new opportunities for economic development
- Connects diverse neighborhoods of Charlotte with a central corridor of open space
- Improves a stream corridor with the worst water quality rating in North Carolina
However, visibility of the greenway is an issue, particularly since the Little Sugar Creek Greenway goes straight into the heart of Charlotte's business and commercial core. The greenway is supposed to link "uptown" Charlotte with a series of seven distinct communities or "reaches." Each reach of the greenway serves as an emerging or historic neighborhood, commercial, or retail area. Each community has its own distinct character and inherent attributes. The greenway was already established when Mayor Patrick McCrory participated in the American Planning Association's City Parks Forum. What the greenway needed, though, was a new master sign plan to inform, educate, and direct. Mayor McCrory and APA envisioned not only a new sign plan for Little Sugar Creek Greenway, but a model sign plan for all greenways in the Mecklenburg Park System.
APA, through its City Parks Forum, provided a Catalyst Grant for a Master Signage Package for the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. The plan will incorporate signs for every portion of the greenway, from the most urban core on the north end of the greenway to more exurban areas near the South Carolina border. Signs will include: neighborhood entrances, historical markers, directional signs, regulatory notices, trail head kiosks, environmental education tables, and mile markers. Signage is critical for information communication to help form the greenway's identity and critical for location identification as a safety measure. Through this grant, APA and Charlotte will help Little Sugar Creek visitors and neighbors find their way.
Dot Law, Interim Director
Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation
5841 Brookshire Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28216-2403
Images: Top — Aerial view. Source: City of Charlotte. Middle — Greenway. Source: American Planning Association. Bottom — Insert Sign rendering. Source: City of Charlotte.