The Transformation of the Five Points Intersection

The Transformation of the Five Points Intersection


On a cool Friday evening in November, community members from the Five Points area in Charlotte, North Carolina, gathered together on a corner of an intersection where just two weeks before someone had been shot, and they did The Wobble.

For three years, residents in Charlotte’s West End have been asked about their ideas to improve the Five Points intersection. They’ve been asked what changes they’d like to see, what investments in certain infrastructure, and what amenities they want in their community. But until the Five Points Better Block, those ideas were just on paper. Through the Better Block, those ideas were able to become a reality, if only for the weekend. Or, as Alysia Osborne, the Director of the Historic West End and a Block Captain put it, “The City’s been working for the better part of three years to engage the community. We haven’t started the design work. We have a concept plan. So we’re waiting to see how people use the space before we make the design proposals. The hope is that we discover new ideas that we can actually implement.”

Results of AECOM’s Visual Preference Survey of Community Members

 

West End in Charlotte is home to many of the City’s oldest African-American neighborhoods, as well as Johnson C. Smith University, an historically black college dating back to 1867. It is an area that has suffered from a historical lack of investment in public infrastructure. But with the new streetcar line coming to the area, the City has sought to change that. The City, in collaboration with Charlotte City Center, the Knight Foundation, the urban design firm Neighboring Concepts, and the planning and engineering firm AECOM, spent the past three years in a planning and community-engagement process to determine what public investments should be made in the intersection. The process produced a number of ideas from residents, many of which were compiled and studied with possible designs created in renderings and models.

A number of opinions were raised throughout the three-year planning process. Chief among them was that the intersection was seen as an unsafe place and a place where people pass through. As a result, the overwhelming preference of the residents in the community was to create a safe intersection with amenities that create a sense of place. They wanted public gathering places with infrastructure designed for people instead of cars.

Bringing the community’s ideas to life.

A number of opinions were raised throughout the three-year planning process. Chief among them was that the intersection was seen as an unsafe place and a place where people pass through. As a result, the overwhelming preference of the residents in the community was to create a safe intersection with amenities that create a sense of place. They wanted public gathering places with infrastructure designed for people instead of cars.

Community Members Painting the Bike Lanes

Creating a safer intersection based on human-centered design.

To create a more human-scale intersection, the Planning and Engineering Firm AECOM designed an intersection to accommodate the new streetcar line, automobile traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians. Better Block, working with the City, was able to design a temporary intersection that showcased much of AECOM’s proposed plan. Volunteers painted bike lanes, and students from JCSU set up hay bales and plants to create buffers for the protected bike lanes.

Despite the fears that narrowing the road and replacing car lanes with bike lanes, no accidents were reported and no plants or hay bales were run over. Traffic slowed and crossing the street became an easier proposition.

Creating an amphitheater in the heart of the community.

The community amphitheater was one of the most popular public amenities residents said the area needed. To create it for the Better Block, our designers designed a custom band shell, and we used Wikiblock furniture to create an amphitheater and public lawn. The community programmed the amphitheater with local spoken word and musical acts Friday night and during the day on Saturday.

Local Artist Performing on Stage

 

Creating a better public space along West Trade Street.

Another common refrain in the community engagement was that there was a need for a better public space on the dead-end street of West Trade. Working with a local artist, we designed a street mural to create a better sense of place. Working with volunteers, we painted the street and turned what had been a crumbling street into a welcoming place for the community and the public.

The Street Before

Overhead View of the Street After

Designing the public market and community gathering place.

With the street mural down and the area reclaimed for the public, the community held a public marketplace. Local artists and makers sold their work, a local food truck organized by the Black Businesses Owners of Charlotte came out, students from JCSU even came out with produce from their community garden and sold fresh vegetables and fruit in Five Points.

The market on Saturday.

Changing the perception of Five Points.

As part of the Five Points Better Block project, volunteers from JCSU’s Master’s of Social Work program gathered data on the perception of the public realm both before the Better Block event and during. They utilized the Gehl Institute’s 12 Quality Criteria for measuring public places. As the results below show, the perception of the area became more positive for all 12 metrics. The data show people felt that the area was more walkable, safer, more connected, and had a better sense of identity. In particular, people reported that the area was far better to sit and stay, that it was active, and that it was functioning better than before the Better Block.

 

 

 

 

Data showing the intersection before and after the Better Block interventions went up

 

The data proved that many of the community’s ideas about how to make the area better worked. However, one thing that the data fail to show was the Better Block’s ability to bring people together. Eric Orozco, a planner with Neighboring Concept who’s been working with the area for years, said, “We saw children sit together that never sat together before.” Or, as one self-described lifelong resident who went by only Tommy said, “This is great, everyone coming together. Five Points hasn’t seen something like this in a long while.” The way he figures it, “Our blood’s all the same color. We should be able to break bread among one another.”