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02/23/00 by Salisbury Post
By Steve Huffman, February 23, 2000, issue of the Salisbury Post
Nate Bowman told a group at Catawba College on February 23 that one of the secrets to successful neighborhood planning is making it convenient for residents to walk.
Not just walk for exercise, Bowman said, but walk to neighborhood stores, restaurants and parks. “I still walk to church,” Bowman said. “I even walk down to the graveyard.”
He paused momentarily before pondering what will ultimately be his final trip to the cemetery. “They’re going to have to walk me down there, too,” Bowman said, his comments drawing a chuckle from a crowd gathered at Catawba’s Center for the Environment.
Bowman is a developer who recently won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2004 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. Vermillion, a Huntersville development that Bowman designed, was named North Carolina’s Project of the Year for 2000 by the Sierra Club. It also won an American Institute of Architects Merit Award in 2001 for town planning.
In addition, Bowman’s Southside Neighborhood in Greensboro won the 2004 National Award for Smart Growth.
Bowman spoke at Catawba Tuesday as part of the college’s Clean Air/Sustainability Lecture Series. He spoke on the subject of Developing a Sustainable Rowan.
Bowman mixed a healthy dose of humor with plenty of common sense when it came to describing how neighborhoods should be planned.
In reference to walking, he noted that when he attended Davidson College, he didn’t even have a driver’s license, much less a car. Still, Bowman said, he survived quite well. “If kids go to a good college, they’ll start walking for the first time in their lives,” he said. “You’re walking and making the best friends of your life because they’re walking right along with you.”
He displayed for the group at Catawba the design of Vermillion, a 360-acre tract in the center of one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing communities. Bowman said that 30 or so years ago, Huntersville’s had about 3,000 residents. It’s now grown to 35,000, he said, and is expected to top 100,000 in the not-too-distant future.
Bowman said the beauty of Vermillion is in its sharply winding streets that assure slow traffic and plenty of pedestrian traffic. Green spaces are also important, he said, as well as shade trees and buildings constructed close to the streets.
Bowman said studies have indicated that people will usually walk to destinations within a five-minute stroll, which makes it important to situate shops close to neighborhoods rather than miles away. “I’m trying to create a better human habitat,” he said.
People of all ages thrive in such neighborhoods, and as an example, Bowman said his children frequent the same neighborhood restaurants favored by the senior citizens who live around them.
There, he said, individuals of all ages and backgrounds visit and develop friendships. “Neighborhoods should be diverse,” he said. “Neighborhoods should be designed for pedestrians as well as cars.”
Bowman then displayed pictures of Greensboro’s Southside Neighborhood, a part of the city that not many years ago was one of the worst. Bowman said the neighborhood of aged homes had turned into a haven for drug addicts and the homeless.
He said a recent rejuvenation of the 10-acre neighborhood included the restoration of about 15 houses and construction of another 30 designed to look like the 100-year-old structures beside them.
“There it is today,” Bowman said, displaying a slide of the beautifully restored homes. “It was a nightmare.”
Also as part of Tuesday’s presentation, a panel of local experts discussed Bowman’s development ideas and how they apply to Rowan County. Panelists were developers Jim Burgess and Rodney Queen; Jeff Smith, a Realtor; Mark Lewis, a Salisbury City councilman and banker; and architect Karen Alexander.
Burgess said he liked Bowman’s designs but also noted, “You have to have a market for it, or I can’t build it.” Referring to developments like Vermillion, Burgess said, “It’s educating the people, getting them on board.”
Smith spoke of developers like Bowman who aren’t afraid to break the cookie-cutter mold of many subdivisions. “It’s a huge risk in stepping out and being a pioneer.”
Alexander said Bowman’s work with the Southside Neighborhood interested her most. “It’s important culturally to save those buildings,” she said.
Robert “Nate” Bowman has been a local resident of the Huntersville/Davidson area since graduating from Davidson College with a BA degree in history in 1974. He has created a number of neighborhoods in the North Mecklenburg area and Greensboro. He has been awarded four professional designations in the real estate and land development fields: Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) Graduate of the Realtors Institute (GRI) and Certified Residential Specialist (CRS).
His vision in the planning and development of the area’s first neo-traditional neighborhood with the nation’s leading consultants and his open door policy to the citizens and government officials during these hands on planning charrettes, has been the catalyst for elevating the development standards in the area.
Vermillion, in Huntersville, was named North Carolina’s project of the year for 2000 by the Sierra Club and also won an American Institute of Architects Merit Award in 2001 for town planning. The Southside Neighborhood in Greensboro won the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2004 given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the built projects category.