Rarely are the evils of McMansions and apartment complexes joined together but one observer in Charlotte suggests this is exactly the case:
As a 20-year resident of Charlotte, I’ve long observed that shoehorning apartment complexes and oversized homes in and around uptown does not prevent sprawl. Apartment complexes and McMansions are popping up like mushrooms in our historic uptown neighborhoods, yet sprawl has accelerated.
I strongly suspect we’re being sold a bill of goods by elected officials who are firmly under the thumbs of developers. Developers need us to believe they’re doing something for the greater good so we’ll allow them to destroy the character and design of our historic neighborhoods.
At first glance, these are two very different kinds of development. Apartments bring density and certain kinds of residents (whether lower-status residents in the eyes of neighbors or wealthy renters who are gentrifying places). They may include tall buildings or a lot of buildings. In contrast, McMansions are large ostentatious homes that may be teardowns (replacing smaller, older homes). They may not loom over surrounding area like apartments and generally McMansion residents are well off but the change in housing unit may be just as stark.
What appears to be the common thread of concern from this one resident is that both kinds of development are different than what is currently there. If I had to guess, these “historic uptown neighborhoods” are filled with well-kept, single-family homes with decent sized lots built decades ago. Both the McMansions and apartments, in their own ways, present very different kinds of structures. The same concerns might be leveled against an ultra-modernist home or a block of row houses: they are not like what is already in the neighborhood.
Often, McMansions or apartments are restricted to areas of similar structures. This is typically the purpose of zoning: keeping single-family homes away from land uses that residents fear might disturb the neighborhood’s character, and, ultimately, their property values. When developers or local officials start mixing uses, particularly in established areas, this may not go well at the beginning.
Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts discusses the relationship between state legislators and big cities:
ROBERTS: Remember, this is Charlotte. There’s always a way out of the impasse. This is absolutely not something that just Charlotte is facing. I talk to mayors: In Seattle, they have rural areas that often don’t understand what they’re doing—Phoenix, Atlanta, so many other cities have this challenge. And this is a critical issue in America because we have many states that are still controlled largely by rural legislators. And there are different needs. We’re not a one-size-fits-all country. So if you are in a rural area, you’re thinking about things differently. If you’re in a densely developed, urban center that’s dynamic, where change happens every day, you’re looking at things differently than if you’re in a town or rural community where things haven’t changed in decades. And so, my worry for America is that we have states that are holding our cities back.
We have read that cities are the center of innovation. They are laboratories for how we face the 21st century, how we solve the energy crisis, how we work on climate change, how we make sure people are included, how we work on public safety in an increasingly diverse universe of people who are moving, are transient, are mingling, and are living close together. And how do we solve all those issues if we have a rural mentality where things are static? We don’t have the tools. This is a great challenge in America: How do we convey that it’s okay to be different? I love our rural areas. I spend time in the mountains, in small cities, and small towns. We have wonderful people in North Carolina. But, how do we show them that we’re not competing with them in our cities, that it’s not diminishing them? That we are actually providing sales tax for them? Just let Charlotte be Charlotte. Let Charlotte work.
On the one hand, this could be a very real issue: leaders in Charlotte likely want very different things from leaders in small towns and rural counties. This urban-rural dynamic happens in many states, including Illinois where it is Chicago vs. downstate.
On the other hand, I’m guessing states also provide some benefits for cities. Does Charlotte receive a lot of state funding? Are there certain programs or initiatives that it would be hard even for a large city to put together themselves? Think of things like entitlement programs or the DMV or state roads.
I imagine relationships between city and rural leaders could be more beneficial to both in numerous states if they sought to maximize each other’s advantages…but this is unlikely to happen. The urban-rural divide has a long history in the United States going back to an urban North and agrarian South as well as competing visions of idyllic small town life versus the bustling, innovative metropolis.
A book review of a new novel about an old money family in Charlotte, North Carolina suggests the city is known for its McMansions:
The city of Charlotte, with its social-climbing bankers and developers, its flock of mega-churches and its McMansions – where, as the old saying goes, folks believe in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Myers Park – has always made an inviting target.
And now, with “Lookaway, Lookaway,” Wilton Barnhardt has scored a palpable hit. With his first novel since 1998’s “Emma Who Saved My Lie,” Barnhardt delivers a knowing, wry and delightfully catty satire, an acid-etched portrait of one of the Queen City’s downwardly mobile Old Families.
This review hints at one reason for the abundance of McMansions in Charlotte and I think this is related to another reason:
1. McMansion here might be shorthand for new-money families as contrasted with old-money families. This is more noteworthy in the South with its emphasis on tradition and honor. Established families live in more established homes in older neighborhoods while those with new money live in big subdivision houses.
2. Related to the new money in the city is its Sunbelt population growth after World War II. In 1940, the city had just over 100,000 residents and today the city has over 731,000 and the metropolitan area has around 2.3 million residents. In other words, one of the notable traits of Charlotte in recent decades is its growth which then includes new houses and new residents.
At the same time, I haven’t yet run into any news stories about teardown issues in Charlotte or too many concerns about sprawl.