DAVIDSON – Having greater connectivity in urban development makes for increased personal choice for residents, according to Architect and Urban Designer David Walters.
Walters led a community presentation June 30 about the thought process behind how Davidson was laid out.
He was a member of an 18-member taskforce in 1994 to help establish the Davidson Land Plan and form-based code – the second in the state and one of the first in the nation. As staff works to update the planning ordinance while preparing for the future, Walters was invited to make sure they understand the original goals.
“The foundations we laid in the land plan, their imprint has been on everything,” Walters said, joking some things like the roundabouts weren’t on the original document and he won’t take credit for them. “You’ve got to have standards and hold to them, but you have to be patient. The market will throw a lot of stuff at you – some good, some middle and some trash. It’s not a generator of quality – that’s your job.”
In the early 1990s, Davidson was the largest town when compared to Cornelius or Huntersville, according to Mayor John Woods. It is now the smallest.
“We face another wave of growth in the next 20 years similar to the growth we saw prior to the recession,” Woods said. “Are we ready for it? Were we ready for it in 1990?”
Walters said the focus should be more on how land is designed rather than obsessing about a specific use. Individual businesses on Main Street will come and go, but the overall space will most likely always be Main Street with the same character and feel. Planning ordinances regulate development and design from building size, to width of sidewalks and open space and the overall character of an area as well as potential uses.
He chastised the American way of dividing land into designated boundaries for schools, businesses and homes, a practice, which has been picked up internationally.
“It’s dumb and abhorrent to separate everything out,” he said, showing how people have to all travel the same major road to get to each place rather than having multiple ways to get there if they were all closer together in mixed-use areas.
In the original land-use plan, the taskforce divided Davidson by location, like village infill or lake shore, so everything is together and people would be able to have that connectivity, walking to schools and shops from their home.
Showing pictures of Atlanta with long shopping centers, Walters showed the amount of wasted space, forcing people to use cars and taking away personal choice to walk or bike, hurting the environment “and in many ways making everything less pleasant.”
To him, better designs are higher density, fewer lanes, slower speeds and more route options like Davidson. To keep it that way, he said, the keys are sticking to the vision, principles and tools.
“Changing case-by-case establishes bad precedents,” he said. “It weakens the code and erodes the vision. It might be OK in one instance, but then everyone thinks it’s OK. The whole thing begins to drift.”
That includes not giving in to big-box store demands. Walters said they don’t really fit in with the character of Davidson and aren’t necessary since nearby locations have them. Having a plan will help prepare for the future and growth that's coming.
“The way we build the public realm – the streets, parks, alleys, playgrounds – is the most important factor in the long-term health of our community,” he said. “No place is as good and wonderful as Davidson, but it's not an accident. It’s because you made it that way. Don’t mess it up. Please.”