Can Planner Alysia Osborne Inject Soul Into Uptown?

By Tonya Jameson

Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) is known for planning growth in Charlotte’s city inner ring, and over the last decade, the organization has expanded its footprint to surrounding areas such as South End. In 2015, the group lured Alysia Osborne away from the city’s planning department to help the CCCP plan development in the historic west end.

It was a new opportunity for Osborne, who spent the early part of her career in Charlotte as a city planner, and for a community that has undergone rapid growth in recent years. Osborne understood that policies impact people, and she wanted to make sure that those policies helped, not harmed, people’s lives.

On the west side, harm looked like displaced residents and forgotten history. It was boarded-up small businesses and an underutilized intersection (Beatties Ford Road, West Trade Street, Rozzelles Ferry Road and West 5th Street) that could serve as a gathering place for the community. Osborne worked with the community to address some of these issues, but her time focusing on the west side ended last fall.

Osborne, 42, has a new opportunity to make an even larger impact on the city as the vice president of planning and development for CCCP. Her mission this time is to plan how the center city will grow over the next 20 years.

In a way, Osborne’s work on the west side prepared her for her latest challenge. For years, Osborne spent most of her more time planning growth and development with other planners at the city. The west side corridor required a different approach. The community members there demanded a say in how their neighborhoods grew, and how they would be branded. The neighborhood leaders didn’t want to see the character and the culture of historic west end erased for shiny new things.

Osborne listened to the priorities of the people there, and learned the importance of preserving the history and the culture. Osborne worked with community leaders to determine how to make sure that the opportunities and investments happening in the corridor could be shared with new, current and longtime residents. She learned the importance of informing residents that change was coming and what type of change they could expect. Transparency was critical, she said, and so was letting go of assumptions about what’s best.

It’s not that people don’t know how to do things, Osborne said. They need resources so that they can do the work that they want to do in their neighborhoods.

“You don’t have to do it all. You have to tap into the talent that’s in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s about empowerment.”

Osborne worked with the community to combine about a dozen different documents about the vision for the area to create one tactical plan. She also helped create branding and marketing, and a small business development toolbox series for the corridor.

J’Tanya Adams, program director of Historic West End Partners, watched Osborne grow in the role and looks forward to seeing how she uses the experience to impact her current work planning the center city’s future.

“She had to go through this experience to get to where her gift will serve her and serve all of us best,” Adams said. “It’s all about relationships and trust. She met new stakeholders, who were very engaged and very invested.”

Working with engaged and vocal stakeholders will serve Osborne well as she works on the Center City 2040 plan. She employed a similar strategy of listening to stakeholders, being transparent and empowering the leaders. She’s planning for a larger geographic area and a wider range of stakeholders, since CCCP is responsible for the city’s core and the neighborhoods within about three miles of it.

“It’s different, but I still like it,” she said. “I’ve never done a downtown plan before. It’s the base of my skill set and the work I’ve been doing for almost 20 years.”

Osborne and her team work closely with the city’s planning department, which is currently working on the city’s 2040 plan. The key is to make sure both organizations are on the same page with the message and the blueprint for how the area grows over time.

Osborne joined CCCP from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department, where she worked for eight years as a planning coordinator. Before that, she was transportation planner for the city’s department of transportation. She’s a Mississippi native, who came here 15 years ago after serving as a planner for the city of Jackson, Miss.

Adams said Osborne loves planning. “She lights up,” she said.

Osborne’s love of planning started when she was a pre-law and political science undergrad at Tugaloo College in Mississippi. At a job fair, she met representatives from Jackson State University’s Urban and Regional Planning program. They talked with her about the intersection of policy, law and community, and Osborne was hooked.

Let’s hope that Osborne’s passion for community building, combined with her appreciation for the west side’s emphasis on culture, history and character, will help her and her team create a 2040 plan that injects a little soul among the shiny new things popping up in the center city.