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08   /   01   /   2018

The purpose of the North End Smart District is to design with the community, not for them. This sounds like an obvious statement for community engagement, but is quite difficult in reality. It takes a significant amount of time to build relationships and gain trust. As part of a joint grant supported by The Funders' Network and Knight Foundation, the City of Charlotte set out on a year long initiative to create a community engagement blueprint that empowered underserved neighborhoods and voices. Four sustainability-focused Kick Start projects were identified and we were brought in to help with the execution of each. 

While the first three Kick Start project topics were identified by City of Charlotte staff and partners, the remaining project was simply titled Build Your Own Kick Start (BYOKS). Rather than dictate to the residents what they needed, we asked them. Dozens of ideas were gathered through several brainstorming sessions and ultimately access to fresh foods was what was needed most. The North End is one of the main food deserts in Charlotte. Despite the proximity to Uptown Charlotte, there is no full grocery store nearby. Fresh produce is limited to a few corner or neighborhood stores. While the real need is a full-service grocer, residents knew they must take steps. 


Through trial and error, the team discovered that there were many challenges to providing access to fresh foods in this area. 

  1. Local farmers have developed a successful business strategy with existing farmers markets and don't have a reason to explore a new smaller market concept. 

  2. Transportation and community perception limits residents from gathering in a single location 

  3. Knowledge of how to use fresh foods can be intimidating and overwhelming.


In the end, we developed a mobile market solution with local nonprofit The Bulb. Each week, unused foods are donated from farmers and stores. These foods are given out through a mobile food market on a donation based platform across all eight neighborhoods. We are now working to create a long-term sustainable solution that is funded and allows for continuous communication with residents.