A challenge fit for a Queen

If green can make it here, it can make it anywhere (and we’re not referring to the Sinatra city you’re probably thinking)

By Richard Cuebas, AIA, LEED-AP

Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of America’s fastest growing cities. In fact, there are exactly 10 U.S. cities with one-to-three million people that grew in population more than 2% between 2014-2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Queen City is smack in the middle of the list—clearly the country’s 10 new centers of finance, commerce and city living.

My Integra Architecture partners and I toured the city last week as part of our firm’s market entry and witnessed the bustling activity, the construction cranes spotting the expanding skyline, and the sense of emergence palpable throughout, consistent with this CNBC story that ranks CLT 5th among the best cities in America to start a business.

We came away absolutely excited about the possibilities. But as a firm with sustainable design at the heart of what we do, we also came away with something else.

If sustainability is to become mainstream and secure a future of growth and development free of the menacing risks associated with climate change, this is ground zero.

Charlotte and its fast-growing peer cities, in America and everywhere on Earth, is where green must take hold—not just to make sure growth continues uninterrupted, but just as importantly because sustainable practices enhance the profitability of companies and the quality of life of residents and visitors.


But here’s the thing: not every city legislates its way to that green future. In fact, few do! There are standouts like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland. The rest are making progress at varying levels.

We find Charlotte to be singularly fascinating because of something Rob Phocas told us. The city’s Energy & Sustainability Manager said that Charlotte does not have a regulatory ethos, being a decidedly private-sector-driven city.

“We work with alliances and partnerships to build the business case and implement sustainable practices.” In the short term, he explained, the laws are not gonna happen, at least not to the extent seen in cities far more open to that path. “We must find other ways.”

It dawned on us, as we met with a slew of private-sector leaders driving the city’s change toward sustainability, that since this is precisely the environment found in most cities across the United States and indeed the entire world, it is one we must embrace with the greatest passion, excitement and commitment.

As I say above: If green can make it here, it can make it anywhere. If humanity is to go from crisis to opportunity, and given that we must do so at an unprecedented pace, this is where and how it must happen. At Integra, we’re calling it the Queen City Challenge.

For us at the firm, it begins with design, and it begins in Charlotte. That’s our role, the design of architecture and engineering solutions to green the built environment, and we’re in the process of setting up our U.S. office in CLT to join the amazing team there and do our part in making Charlotte’s fast growth as sustainable (read: as high-profitability, as high-quality-of-life, AND as planet-saving) as possible.

To that end, we are excited to work with Rob in the city and support Mayor Jennifer Roberts in her efforts. It’s also thrilling to collaborate with Amy Aussieker of Envision Charlotte and Envision America to spread the magic of smart-building tech in energy, water, waste and air quality in Charlotte and way beyond. We’ll be joining the CLT Chamber of Commerce’s fantastic GreenWorks Council to reach deep into the city’s business community, as well as Shannon Binns and the team at Sustain Charlotte in transportation and neighborhood initiatives impacting buildings and urbanism throughout. David McConnell and the folks at Charlotte Center City are doing a phenomenal job bringing density and vibrancy to Uptown (Charlotte’s downtown), while the University of North Carolina at Charlotte teams up to provide vital thinking, research and support. And then there’s the Sustainability Lunch Bunch, the glue that keeps everyone connected and on mission, led by the dynamic Hilary Davidson at Duke Energy.

It is a non-regulatory partnership model we’re not just excited to join, but to help expand to other cities, as well. Stay tuned as we do. We’ll be bringing you regular updates here on our Better Way Blog.


Posted on August 15, 2016 in Architecture, Urbanism

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About the Author

Richard Cuebas is co-founder and Vice-President of Integra Design Group, Managing Member of our Charlotte office, and leader of the firm's Sustainability and Interior Architecture practices.
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