Strong and vibrant neighborhoods are key elements for a prosperous city. In the last decade of the 20th Century, the City of Charlotte initiated a proactive policy of neighborhood focused renewal and planning. This approach targets the social capital and physical infrastructure of neighborhoods and works to make strategic investments that build upon neighborhoods assets while addressing shortcomings. As part of this framework, the City of Charlotte has pioneered a policy of monitoring neighborhood level quality of life and taking proactive actions to protect and improve these basic building blocks of the city. Starting with the publication of the City Within A City (CWAC) Neighborhood Assessment in 1993, city leaders and policy makers have had a mechanism that enabled them to take a detailed look at the issues that need to be addressed in order to maintain and improve neighborhood vitality. Over time, the ‘Charlotte Model’ for assessing community change has earned national and international recognition and been used as a prototype for numerous cities.
In 1997, the CWAC Neighborhood Quality of Life Index was developed and carried out. This study evaluated the quality of life in 73 inner city neighborhoods through an analysis of a wide ranging set of locally derived variables. In turn, these variables were aggregated into social, physical, crime, and economic dimensions that combined to create a quality of life index or score for each neighborhood. Individual neighborhoods were labeled Stable, Threatened, or Fragile, based upon the cumulative variable scores. The data presented in that study offered a baseline of information that enabled the city to carry out an ongoing review of neighborhood level quality of life. The index study was intended to serve as a benchmark, a first step in an ongoing program to monitor progress toward the goals of sustaining and renewing the CWAC neighborhoods.
In 2000, the Charlotte Neighborhood Quality of Life Study expanded the geographical scope of the earlier inner city analysis. This study evaluated the quality of life in 173 neighborhood statistical areas (NSAs) covering the entire city and Charlotte’s Sphere of Influence. The 2000 study constructed an index measurement using 19 locally based variables. The factors included in the analysis mirrored the earlier studies. The most important improvement of this report was that it offered a citywide baseline for measuring cumulative and individual changes in NSAs in the future.
The Charlotte Neighborhood Quality of Life studies in 2002 and 2004 closely followed the framework and format of the 2000 report. The composition of study variables changed slightly in order to strengthen the rigor of the statistical analysis. In 2006, the Charlotte Neighborhood Quality of Life study, changed the nomenclature for classifying NSAs. The terms Stable, Threatened, and Fragile, used in every report since 1993, were changed to Stable, Transitioning, and Challenged. The research methodology used to classify NSAs did not, however, change. The shift in classification was made in order to better describe the research findings and the impacts on individual neighborhoods.
The 2008 report replicated and built upon the research framework established in the three previous iterations of this process. This study continued the evaluation of neighborhoods through measurement of a set of community-centered variables. These variables are generally locally based and have remained unchanged in the way they are measured. This allows for longitudinal analyses of a NSA growth and change.
For 2010, the Charlotte Neighborhood Quality of Life process has evolved further. Earlier studies were exclusively focused on residential areas; and the opportunities and challenges that face individual residential communities. Another critical component of city life is the business districts. The economic health and functionality of retail, service, and commercial nodes not only affect citywide conditions, but spillover into nearby neighborhoods. So that, planning and community development programs need to connect and create mutually benefiting synergies between the areas where people live and areas where people shop, work and access services. The City of Charlotte has identified 11 Business Corridors. The 2010 Quality of Life process introduces the Business Corridor Benchmarking Analysis. The analytical framework follows the template used to assess neighborhood conditions. Thirty-eight locally sourced variables representing physical, crime, and economic conditions are identified and presented.