To the untrained eye, the North End neighborhood is unassuming. Head out of the city on North Graham Street, skyline at your back, and follow it to the fork at Statesville and Dalton. Driving past old buildings, neighborhoods and industrial vestiges along Statesville Avenue, it is easy to miss the rich history there.
To the right is Alexander Funeral Home, the oldest African-American-owned business in Mecklenburg County. A little further up is the Hercules Industrial Park, which used to be a Ford Assembly Plant (yes, as in Henry Ford and the Model T), later becoming a missile plant during World War II. Across from it is the Hebrew Cemetery, purchased in 1867 by the Hebrew Benevolent Society and the resting place of Charlotte journalist Harry Golden, founder of the Carolina Israelite, a political newspaper.
Adjacent to the cemetery, next to residents of Charlotte past, a new neighborhood is emerging. A freshly laid stone wall marks the entrance to Brightwalk, a 98-acre mixed-income development that sits squarely between Charlotte's historical landmarks and some of its oldest neighborhoods. The mix of the old with the new — historical landmarks next to contemporary buildings, established residents among newcomers — is transforming North End into what some are calling a new urban community.
Lois Vaughter has called the Druid Hills neighborhood home since 1965. For the last 30 years, Vaughter has owned and operated a tiny flower shop, Flowers by Lois, in the same corner lot of a small strip mall she shares with two barber shops. Across the way, Vaughter can see the Double Oaks community pool, where kids flock every summer, and now, the gleaming white rooftops of the new homes at Brightwalk, which came under construction by Standard Pacific Homes last year, in conjunction with plans by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, who acquired the land in 2007.
"I'm looking forward to seeing it all come together," Vaughter says. "It's bright, the streets are better and there will be more businesses to enhance our city."
Today, Brightwalk, with the help of multiple funding sources (including a recent $400,000 grant from ArtPlace America in partnership with the McColl Center for Visual Art) is the largest and most ambitious development project in the North End area since revitalization began decades ago. It has already captured the support of the LGBT community. Rumors of Brightwalk being the next new "gay-borhood" are surfacing.
Ross Taylor, buyer's agent for Conrad Klein Real Estate and new Brightwalk resident, says many gay and lesbian residents have been drawn to the North End's accessibility to downtown and the environmentally friendly concept of Brightwalk with its future parks, trails and nods to sustainable practices.
"I personally enjoy the risk and rewards of starting something new, being part of a community built from the ground up, and the closeness of neighbors formed from sharing a similar experience," says Taylor. "My friends and I joke that it will be just like college, only now we have jobs and a little bit of money."
"Brightwalk is one neighborhood in a mosaic of neighborhoods and it's the mosaic that creates the fabric of an urban community," says N.C. State Representative Kelly Alexander Jr., a Charlotte native and vice president of the aforementioned Alexander Funeral Home. Alexander comes from a long line of Alexanders who paved the way for the advancement of African Americans in Charlotte through political and civic action. He has watched the development and redevelopment of neighborhoods in the area, including Double Oaks, where Brightwalk is now being constructed. His uncle, Fred Alexander, managed the Double Oaks community in the 1950s.
Although he views the mixed-income development as a gamble, Alexander sees a pride of place emerging similar to what he witnessed in the early days of Double Oaks.
"What you have here is a renaissance," says Alexander.
If the history remains intact and the surrounding neighborhoods are well-incorporated into the future vision, along with new and diverse residents, North End just might have something.
Editor's Note: In the print edition of this story, Harry Golden's name was misspelled. We apologize for the error.