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Knight Cities Challenge funds Rail Trail Grove & Field project
Jill Odom | June 28, 2017
charlotte's rail trail

Photo: Charlotte Rail Trail

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced the 2017 winners of the Knight Cities Challenge, which will share $5 million among 33 different projects.

“These Knight Cities Challenge winners will help to create avenues for people to contribute to their community,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives. “Their ideas propose to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives and connect people to place, giving them a stake in city-building.”

Among the winners is the Rail Trail Grove & Field project in Charlotte, North Carolina. The project has been awarded $150,200 and will allow the Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) to provide a functional connection for the missing portions of the Rail Trail, which include a field and a grove.

“We’ve been working for over four years now to create an urban greenway for all the neighbors that live along it,” said Erin Gillespie, a planning and development associate with CCCP. “These two spots are the two remaining gaps. We see this as a temporary tactical functional pathway to connect folks to all of the trail.”

mural on charlotte, north carolina's rail trail

Other portions of the Rail Trail feature art installations like the Magic Carpet murals.
Photo: Charlotte Rail Trail

The Rail Trail is a 4.5-mile trail that serves as a linear park that runs along the LYNX Blue Line, a light rail line. Because the Rail Trail has multiple property owners, the two gaps are private properties that are not walkable, being surrounded by barbed wire fences and overgrown greenery.

Despite these hindrances, people have opted to walk along the rail tracks in this area, which is extremely dangerous.

“People are trying to get over the tracks quickly,” Gillespie said. “Aside from being a safe connection, it will give them somewhere to pause and linger. What we’ve been interested in is creating sticky spaces. Each of these sites will give them a place to come hangout or see some cool artwork and build community.”

The current Rail Trail doesn’t have trees and so Gillespie hopes they will be able to incorporate the plant life that is already present in the space.

“We’re working with a local landscape architect on how we can actually build the path with the lightest touch possible to the environment,” she said. “We don’t want to tear down trees if they don’t need to.”

The Rail Trail Grove & Field has an 18-month grant period and construction is planned to start this fall and be complete by next spring.

“Charlotte is really thirsty for spaces like this,” Gillespie said. “The community will really appreciate this.”

Other Knight Cities winners working involving green spaces include the Innerbelt National Forest, in Akron, Ohio, which will connect two neighborhoods by replacing a closed freeway with a lush forest and public space.

Plant&Play in Lexington, Kentucky, will create a large natural playscape for all ages and a working urban farm. There will be a focus on both native and edible plants and help a food insecure neighborhood access affordable nutrition.

The City Church Ruins Garden in Gary, Indiana, will transform an abandoned Gothic church into a ruins garden and event space while in Macon, Georgia, an abandoned parking garage will be transformed into an environmentally-friendly green space.

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