Connecting people to place: Creating programs for Charlotte’s Five Points Plaza to enhance community engagement and celebrate history – Knight Foundation

Connecting people to place: Creating programs for Charlotte’s Five Points Plaza to enhance community engagement and celebrate history

On February 11, 2020, Knight announced $394,200 in new funding to help create the Five Points Plaza in Charlotte’s West End. See the press release for the announcement here

In the heart of Charlotte’s Historic West End – where rapid growth and development is changing the cityscape – there will soon be a public space designed to engage the community and connect people to each other and their iconic neighborhood.

The Five Points Plaza – the first new city-owned public space in over 25 years– will serve as hub for community life, a place where residents will have access to amenities such as a splash pad, amphitheater, public art, food trucks, concerts and WiFi among other things. More importantly, it will be a signature place where residents, working in partnership with the city, will determine what kind of public programming would best reflect the area’s culture, identity and history.

This week, Knight Foundation invested $394,200 into the Five Points Plaza project to support planning and programming in the plaza, allowing residents to put their stamp on plaza activities. In order for this effort to bear fruit, it’s essential that the city is engaged with the residents to successfully design and coordinate programs that are authentic to the Historic West End. This project reflects Knight’s focus to elevate community voices and support greater economic opportunity for all in West End.

Leaders of the Historic West End neighborhood have told us they are “excited to see the Five Points intersection activated into a space” that their community “will enjoy for years to come.” They have also said their sustainable programming solutions for the Five Points “will benefit the neighborhood residents of every generation and ethnicity, while complimenting the various businesses along this historic African American corridor.”

Located near Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte’s own historically black university, Five Points Plaza is surrounded by history. The West End is a center of African American life in Charlotte, a place where residents mix easily with college presidents, civil rights leaders and other black community leaders.

Knight’s investment will help city staff and community members work together to imagine and activate the plaza. Setting up a programming committee, management organization and sponsorships will be a co-creation process between the Historic West End residents and the city designed to meet everyone’s public space goals. Programming public space is a new and exciting challenge for city staff, one that will study management practices from other successful projects across the country.

West End leaders have also told us they are determined to “perpetually guide the level of community engagement,” inclusiveness and “infuse the artistic and historical expertise for which” West End residents are known during the planning process with the city.

City staff and neighborhood leaders will also work to ensure the programming and management structure includes every voice. The Historic West End is facing rapid development, which will be enhanced by the future addition of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar. Ensuring Five Points Plaza, which will serve as a huge community asset for the west side, is managed in a way that reflects the Historic West End’s rich African American heritage is essential.

Five Points Plaza will open in late 2020. In the meantime, city staff and neighborhood leaders will start a community engagement process beginning this summer. Determining parameters around the use of the plaza, sponsorship and type of events will be the first step to ensuring that the plaza is a vibrant and exciting public space that truly honors an important part of Charlotte’s history. 

Erin Chantry is a senior urban designer and planning project coordinator at the City of Charlotte’s Urban Designer Center in Planning, Design, and Development. Charles Thomas is the Knight Foundation’s Charlotte program director.

Image (top): Courtesy of the City of Charlotte

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