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Learn More about MoRAby Faron Franks on January 28, 2019
This neighborhood profile was submitted by Faron Franks, a Principal at the firm Shook Kelley Architects and resident of MoRA.
It started with the house. A Realtor calling to say, “I think I found what you’re looking for.” Then a soggy, skeptical drive to McClintock Woods ended with that feeling you always hear about – when the house says “Yes!” and you say “Yes!”
After months of looking at every conceivable possibility, he did indeed show me what I asked for. But, was this really where I wanted to make my home?
Ultimately, I said yes to that, too. Five years later I still say it every time I open the door here.
“Here” is MoRA – the community of neighborhoods along Monroe Road, from Oakhurst to Matthews. What convinced me I was in the right place was, while working on a planning project in East Charlotte for the City of Charlotte, I saw that the Monroe Road and Central Avenue corridors have a unique DNA which resonated with me. Authenticity, diversity and affordability are the common phrases used by realtors and community activists and are true of both areas.
But there’s more to it than that. The people who live in MoRA celebrate the mix – working folks, creative spirits, family-oriented, welcoming. As a neighborhood, I value the blending of long-time and new residents that creates a sense of continuity without the chaos of buy-and-bulldoze that is occurring in many parts of Charlotte. Most people tend to move here and enjoy, not for the need to super-size it. At the same time, my architecture and urban design training tells me because of its established institutions, location, and unique relationship to major roadways, MoRA will be even more desirable in the future – if we’re smart about how it develops.
A Little History
McClintock Woods and other neighborhoods in MoRA were built primarily during the ‘60s and ’70s in a wave of optimism that offered an accessible path to home ownership with open space and privacy built in. Right now, we’re in the midst of a sort of second wave. Equally optimistic, but with somewhat different motivations. Now, we want space PLUS convenience, community and a sense of connection to something larger. MoRA has made the choice to embrace the opportunity to grow as a central hub between popular destinations: Center City and Matthews, SouthPark and UNCC. It’s early days, for sure, but the expansion of cultural, retail, entertainment, and recreation options are more evident every day.
Where to Gnosh
Deep Sea Seafood Market and New Zealand Café’ are long-time, go-to favorites and, more recently, Common Market Oakwold and Hawthorne’s NY Pizza were early to sense the direction this area is taking. Famous Toastery, at the other end of MoRA near Matthews, just opened. And, Aldi is in the final stages of building a store on Monroe Road at Idlewild. We’d welcome more of the coffee shops, breweries and grocery store options that seem to be everywhere else – but, time will bring those, too.
Green Space & Greenways
Our hidden gem is McAlpine Creek Park and Greenway. It’s one of the largest and best wildlife-rich recreation areas in the region. A three-acre fishing lake with a pier, a dog park, miles of hiking and biking trails, a 5K championship cross-country course and the greenway that connects it to James Boyce Park make it perfect for a day out in nature – in Charlotte!
There are also some great MoRA-area events: Thursdays Live monthly music festival at Embrace will be returning in April with free live music where we get a chance to relax and have a beer with our neighbors. Carolina Clay Matters has its twice-yearly pottery sale in May and October at “the barn” at McAlpine Business Park featuring works from over 50 artists. In early December, the season kicks off with MoRA’s Holiday Festival.
It’s an interesting fact that throughout the city, resident representative volunteer groups are becoming real forces in what gets built where. It’s been a welcome shift in the way development is approached in Charlotte. We’re seeing more and more land owners, developers, urban planners and architects add community groups to the team early in the process to get their buy-in. I know from my own experience, particularly with rezoning, substantive and early engagement with these groups is key to the progress of any project. Not to say everyone gets everything they want – it’s a two-way process of negotiation and compromise – but the result is always improved by the conversation and insights.
This is why Monroe Road Advocates is so important and integral to the exciting growth here. It’s an all-volunteer organization of neighbors, neighborhood leaders, businesses and interested others who have come together to support, guide, and advocate for the vitality of this area. MoRA is a voice at the table. Witness the 16’ sculpture “Embrace” at the corner of Monroe Road and Conference Drive. It was MoRA’s first big project – an ambitious year-long public art collaboration with the community – which has become an icon for the area.
There’s no substitute for engaged residents with a common goal and a stake in the future. They frame the issues and are the source of collective knowledge about the minutiae of a place that result in development that’s specific instead of generic. The proof of responsive development is pretty evident in some of the projects that are taking shape along Monroe Road. It will be even more important to guide development going forward, because there’s no doubt another wave will come. With vision and imagination, along with a strong sense of what makes MoRA special, we aim to ensure the new and the existing contribute equally to maximize the quality of life here. Ideally, the sense of commitment each resident brings to the process is another “yes” to add to the growing list of people who call MoRA home.