Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Creating Places: Charlotte vs. Nashville

Given Charlotte and Nashville are peer cities that are waging a competition of sorts, I sometimes am asked which has the more impressive downtown. Obviously, there are many metrics on which to base an answer, including quality streetscapes, mixed-use buildings, civic buildings, water features, public spaces, number of residents, etc.

So, I decided to take a look at both cities, via Google Maps, and simply compare the sheer number of buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both) within Charlotte's Uptown and Nashville's downtown. Of note, the two areas are very similar in geographic size. From what I can determine, both are about 2.5 to 3.5 square miles.

Here is what I found. (Note: I have visited Uptown Charlotte three times and have a decent feel for it.)

Uptown Charlotte offers approximately 63 buildings of a minimum of 10 floors or of at least 100 feet (or both). Of this total, a mere three (from what I can determine) were built prior to 1950.

Downtown Nashville counters with about 43 buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both). Of this total, 11 were built prior to 1950. Of those 11, three — the Customs House, the Tennessee State Capitol and Union Station — derive about half their height from vertical elements (I did not count the First Baptist Church steeple or the Bridgestone Arena tower for this exercise).

Some other findings of note:

The overwhelming majority of Charlotte's tall buildings are located in Uptown (with a sprinkling outside that core). Conversely, Nashville has a noticeable number of structures 100 feet tall or taller in its Midtown and Vanderbilt/West End Corridor areas. Uptown Charlotte has twice as many buildings of 400 feet or taller (14 to seven) than does downtown Nashville. In contrast, Nashville has a significantly (I would almost say dramatically) better stock of vintage masonry buildings in the three- to seven-story range.

Admittedly, these numbers prove very little. But it was a fun exercise nonetheless. Now onto something more important — like, say, shopping for toiletries.


  1. Nashville and Charlotte are very similar in many ways. CLT has a more dynamic skyline because of the much taller buildings (Bank of America Tower, Duke Energy Tower, Hearst Tower). Nashville's skyline is also quite impressive with a good mix of height and types, but is more spread out across downtown to the Gulch and Midtown/West End areas.

    CLT has overbuilt and there is a glut of empty space there now. The Duke Energy Tower was built as the late Wachovia's headquarters building, but take over by the energy company mid-construction. The Vue condo was built as a high-end condo but had to be converted to rentals. CLT completed a light rail system a few years back that has proven to be very successful. The banking crisis badly hurt CLT because they had become so dependent on BofA and Wachovia.

    There is not a lot of new construction underway in Charlotte at the moment. Right now, I'd say Nashville definitely has the momentum for growth and development.

  2. AMous,

    A quality post. Very interesting. I've been spending some time studying the Charlotte built fabric and reading a bit about the city. Your info is helpful.



    1. Charlotte is a city still trying to find its niche. After a lot of years of rapid growth that were fueled by the banking industry, all that came to a halt around 2008. Wachovia's demise was a huge hit to Charlotte. Today there is still corporate growth and companies have relocated there (Chiquita Brands) but there is a lot of empty offices and housing, especially in the Uptown Dilworth areas. The Lynx Line light rail is nice, but somewhat limited in the areas it serves. The Charlotte Douglas Airport is the largest hub for USAirways and a real engine for the city and region and will certainly be fine after USAirways and American Airlines finally merge. My main dislike about Charlotte is that it seems to have no real soul, apart from perhaps NASCAR. There is certainly no lively entertainment district downtown and Nashville is a much larger convention and tourism center. The Democratic Convention was held at the Time Warner Arena this summer to try and keep NC in the Democratic column after 2008. The Bank of America NFL stadium is comparable to our LP Field, near downtown and has a nicer design I think. Charlotte and Nashville are quite similar. Charlotte has a slightly larger population I believe, due to the fact that many suburbs are in South Carolina, but they are roughly the same in most ways. I agree that Nashville today has a lot more construction and development going on.

  3. Erica,

    Excellent points. And yes, Charlotte's NFL stadium is vastly nicer than LP Field. I do like NoDa. Very cool. And Dilworth is big city.


  4. We visited Charlotte last spring. Nice city, but like every other place, it has some really bad neighborhoods. The downtown is nice, but really dead late in the evening. Charlotte is very suburban in many ways. I think it looks and feels very similar to Nashville except our downtown is far more active, especially at night.

  5. Indianapolis is another city that is very similar to Nashville.

  6. Does this subject has to do with your education or is it more about your hobbies and ways to spend your free time?