NEWS | August 3, 2018

Bringing the Soul of a City to the Heart of Nature

Just west of uptown Charlotte, something special is coming to life.

Here, on 1,400 acres bordered by the Catawba River, The River District will crystallize as a master-planned community unlike anywhere else in the region, distinguished by natural features that heavily influence the landscape just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Uptown's kinetic energy. 

"For a long time, particularly here in the United States, most people assumed city life and Mother Nature were mutually exclusive, as if we couldn't have the best of both in one place," said Brian Leary, president of commercial & mixed use at Crescent Communities. "But with The River District, we felt obliged to realize just that."

Leary and his team feel we're in the midst of a renaissance in urban living, with a renewed focus on close-knit, walkable neighborhoods that place residents in close proximity to arts and culture, food and beverage, schools and transportation. In this era of rapid growth and technical innovation, people are craving a stronger connection to the outdoors and are more aware of their impact on the world around them — a sentiment Leary says was largely absent in what was built in much of the 20th century.

"We believe that a connection between neighbors and nature drives significant value for those who live, work and play in a place like The River District," Leary said.

"There are rock outcroppings, beautiful streams and deep-rooted trees throughout The River District — features that have been preserved since the early 1900s," said Hank Higgins, vice president, land management, who first walked this land when his father, also a forester, managed it for the old Duke Power Company and Crescent Land and Timber Corporation between the 1940s and 1970s.

Twelve minutes east, Charlotte's thriving city center brims with commerce, entertainment, professional sports and world-class dining. "Those that call The River District home will be able to get to the office or hop on an international flight within minutes, without having to travel across the region or sit in traffic," Leary said. "On the other hand, The River District includes hundreds of acres of land that will always be held for conservation in perpetuity. That represents a real break from development norms of the past."

"From the window of a high-rise, Charlotte looks like a tree city," he said. "But consider that most of those trees are on private property and in people's yards. Charlotte is underparked and, with thousands moving here annually, it can't keep up with maintaining a healthy ratio of parks and green space acreage per capita. In The River District, you will be able to walk out the door and be on a trail in seconds."

The Making of a Great Place to Live, Work and Play

Plans for The River District encompass a grander vision of a place where trails and riverways intersect with a full spectrum of residential and commercial offerings, all shaped by innovative thinking in respect to live, work and play ideals: 

  • Live: The River District will include a broad spectrum of housing available for ownership or rent across many price points, from starter homes and mixed-income housing to move-up homes and senior living options.
  • Work: A nature-focused environment will create opportunities for more traditional buildings and spaces. Picture offices above shops or restaurants, as well as traditional wood-frame construction nestled in the woods.
  • Play: With miles of trails, an on-site farm providing fresh produce, public art and water access, people can come together and make rich memories that engage the senses.

"For a few thousand years, we understood the benefit of cities and placemaking," Leary said. "There's a reason why the butcher and baker lived close together."

"We're starting to get back to that way of life, and it's exciting to be part of it."

The Importance of Nature

Trails — for hiking, nature walks and mountain biking — lie at the heart of plans for The River District. These trails, in turn, will provide recreation activities, increased mobility and greater individual health. A one-acre farm will also produce some of the food served on tables in homes and restaurants here.

"Think of it as a mind, body, spirit approach," Leary said. "When you're in nature, you commune with nature. You gain perspective outside the rat race of going to the office, paying the bills and raising the kids."

For Higgins, Crescent Communities' vision for The River District conjures up memories from his childhood. "I was fortunate to grow up on a farm, where we had plenty of room," he said. "Because of that, I'm constantly aware of my surroundings. I notice nature. I think about how it functions. I see how plants and animals change with the seasons and interact with each other."

"If you really experience nature, you will have a better quality of life."

A Commitment to the Land

Higgins grew up with an intimate knowledge of this land, and for nearly 50 years, he's watched it grow and change, though not nearly as much as some of the Charlotte area's other natural resources.

"Crescent realized, even before the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act of the 1970s, how important it is to treat the land with respect," he said. "In fact, today a lot of laws developed by the state emulate what Crescent has done since the beginning."

Though not raised here, Leary also feels a deep connection to the land. "It starts with our roots," he said. "Our founders built this company on the basis of responsible land management. Now, we see this as an opportunity to take fairly productive timberland and turn it into highly productive, connected, mixed-income communities that will deliver superb civic value by creating new housing and jobs and increasing the tax base."

"We believe in building communities and bettering lives. We're committed to those things," he said. "The protection of such a large percentage of our land didn't happen by chance. It's in our DNA. And this level of conservation across such a huge area is simply unprecedented in Charlotte."

A Vision for the Future

As excited as they are to begin transforming a raw, beautiful landscape into a thriving community, Leary and his team know this opportunity comes with great responsibility and that it won't happen overnight. 

"This is our hometown," he said. "We know this is a huge undertaking, and we take that knowledge to heart. As we continue to explore what The River District could become, we're intent on adding other voices to the conversation around how to make it a place that fosters curiosity and delivers innovative spaces for people from all walks of life to live, work and play."