A path forward for charlotte, with residents at the lead

Communities / Article

On Oct. 23, 2019, Knight announced nearly $700,000 in new investments to foster a more connected, vibrant and prosperous Historic West End. Charles Thomas, Knight director in Charlotte, shares more about our work in the area below. 

Charlotte is at a crossroads, or at several crossroads, really.  

As you walk past the cranes and construction and hear reports of 60 new people arriving daily, it’s easy to overlook our bustling city’s persistent challenges related to economic mobility and opportunity.

With Charlotte’s growing economy and rapid development, historic and underserved neighborhoods outside of center city are experiencing rapid transition. Residents in these communities — such as those in the Historic West End — are excited about the chance to reap the benefits of growth. However, they also fear being priced out and displaced because they won’t have a voice in the development process or decision-making.

At Knight, we feel this is a critical moment in Charlotte’s growth to invest in a more informed and engaged community by supporting an approach to development that puts residents at the center of the conversation in order to foster vibrant, inclusive places with high economic opportunity.  

Since 2015, Knight has focused our efforts in the Historic West End district at Five Points and the three neighborhoods adjacent to Johnson C. Smith University.  The goal is to take advantage of new, substantial public and private investments in the area to design and implement a vision that reflects the desires of its residents, students and businesses. Our investments focus on three areas:

  • Promoting community engagement and ensuring Historic West End residents are connected to and participating in the corridor’s growth.
  • Increasing the neighborhood’s capacity to develop and drive a community vision. 
  • Supporting the creation and programming of public spaces and hubs that foster interaction and connection among residents.

Our investments have included support for  Charlotte Center City Partners and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), coordinating community development, building neighborhood capacity and developing anti-displacement strategies; the Five Points Community Collaborative and Historic West End Partners’ efforts to engage residents and support small businesses in the corridor; capacity building for the West Side Land Trust; and the pilot of Urban Main Street with the City of Charlotte to revitalize commercial districts. We also supported Project LIFT’s work to engage parents and improve digital literacy and internet connectivity for West End families. Including nearly $700,000 in new funding announced today, Knight has invested more than $5 million in West Charlotte since 2015.

Charlotte is at a crossroads, facing tough decisions that require input from grassroots leaders, nonprofits and private businesses alike. To ensure our city’s growth supports all Charlotteans, it’s critical that residents have access to the tools and resources necessary to guide public and private investment to foster neighborhoods of high opportunity.

What narratives are we going to choose to shape our city? At Knight, we hope Charlotte’s story can be one of connected communities and economic opportunity for all.

Charles Thomas is Knight’s director in Charlotte. You can follow him on Twitter at @cthomasclt.


Photo (top): West Charlotte community residents and friends participating in the land trust’s second community charrette. Courtesy of West Side Community Land Trust.