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Editorial: Another view of growth

When Post photographer Jon Lakey flew above Rowan County in a helicopter for a recent assignment, he was struck by how that bird’s-eye view ó the “change in perspective,” as he put it ó gave him new appreciation for the scenes he previously had viewed and photographed from the ground.
Ideally, that’s what a change in perspective does. It opens new vistas into the seemingly familiar and increases our awareness of the world at our feet. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, you can gain a different perspective on Rowan County and take a fascinating look at the county’s developing topography without having to rent a helicopter or soar aloft in a hot-air balloon. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.
Satellite images of the Charlotte region, taken over the last 30 years, offer stunning visual documentation of how development is changing the land. Commissioned by the Open Space Protection Collaborative, a group that includes the Salisbury-based LandTrust for Central North Carolina, this new study provides a literal overview of growth by comparing three decades’ worth of satellite images of a 24-county region, including Rowan. At the study’s Web site (www.gis.uncc.edu/ospc/), you can examine static or animated maps of individual counties that illustrate how a region that was largely rural and undeveloped in 1976 has inexorably become more urbanized. For the area as a whole and Rowan in particular, the change arrives slowly at first before surging in the past decade or so.
Previously, you’ve heard the pace of development described through statistics ó and the statistics command attention. Since 1976, for instance, the 24-county area around Charlotte has seen about 2 million acres of farmland and other green space transformed into residential and commercial development. In 1976, only about 2 percent of Rowan County’s land was developed; by 2006, that number had increased 10 fold, to 20 percent; by 2030, it’s projected that 33 percent of the county will be developed, if current trends hold true.
Still, numbers and percentages don’t have the stark impact of satellite images that provide a visual timeline for the development rippling inexorably outward from Charlotte and Concord toward Kannapolis and Salisbury. This visual documentation provides a more powerful perspective than can be gained through numbers alone or through a groundlevel view of construction sites and road projects.
Growth can be good, creating jobs, homes and wealth, while expanding opportunities for education, entertainment and recreation. Rampant growth also can be bad, leading to congested roads, crowded schools, degraded natural resources and a general decline in that vague but no-less important characteristic we call “quality of life.” Like other counties in the region, Rowan is smack-dab in the path of this growth and trying to cope with its impact. In themselves, these satellite depictions don’t offer new strategies or draw new conclusions. But they should prove useful for planners, city and county officials, environmentalists, developers and just plain citizens who want to gain a different perspective on the changing landscape of the place we call home.

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