Davidson - Homegrown Tools

Davidson, NC

Updated: 2022

Davidson preserves its small town character in the face of development pressure from nearby Charlotte.

Median Household Income2020$131,144
Poverty Rate 20206.0%
Proximity to Urban Center 20 miles to Charlotte, N.C.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 1 mile
Case Study Time Frame 1995-2007
Municipal Budget FY2022 recommended 16 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Over the last decade, Davidson has become known as the town that sprawl forgot. (2) Located approximately 20 miles north of Charlotte, Davidson is earning a national reputation for its commitment to new urbanist and smart growth principles. In 2004, Davidson won a National Award for Smart Growth Achievement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With a strategy of managed growth and regional industrial development, Davidson is charting territory into which few other small towns have ventured. As the announcement of EPA award said: “A small community, Davidson is setting the standard for creating healthy and vibrant neighborhoods in a historic setting. The town is revitalizing its existing buildings, and its new neighborhoods incorporate a variety of lot sizes and housing types, including affordable housing, and neighborhood parks within a five-minute walk.”(3)


What are the lessons learned from this story?


“Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?” This question, according to Mayor Kincaid, is the question that public officials in Davidson ask before every decision. In Davidson, the external pressure to make decisions based on the town’s short-term interests is tremendous. For example, during the search for a site to develop the North Mecklenburg Industrial Park, one of the early options was a site on the outskirts of Davidson town limits. The town, however, already had decided to save that particular plot of land for the next generation of Davidsonians to develop. So, even though the short-term tax benefits of developing the industrial park in Davidson would have been a huge benefit to the community, they opted to support a site in Huntersville. The mayor and town council have managed to maintain a futurist approach to local development. Further, the APFO and the process that Davidson put in place for permitting development are practical tools that help the community keep a balanced perspective on short- versus long-term outcomes. “Long-range planning is very important in sort of getting in front of the curve and making sure the vision is embraced as new development comes along,” Krider said.


“Kincaid’s Law:” According to the mayor, the most controversial thing in small town government is asphalt: who gets it; how much of it goes where; who pays for it; and where does it end? In Davidson, the lesson is to understand the long-term impacts of asphalt. Creating a four-lane road through town affects the walkability of a community and creates incentives to drive. On the other hand, narrow, curving streets with roundabouts encourage walking and create disincentives to car traffic.


Know your market. In Davidson, developers — not local government — pay for almost every penny of road and infrastructure to serve new developments. Not every community will have the leverage to force a developer’s hand on this issue. Davidson demonstrates that when the market conditions are right, developers will pay their share. The basis for negotiating with developers should be rooted in an assumption that developers ought to be responsible for providing adequate infrastructure for their development, not that the local government is entirely responsible. Communities need to understand their local market conditions and be prepared to take tough stands on issues of infrastructure provision.


Smart growth and economic development are complimentary approaches to advancing a community’s vision. The perception, whether warranted or not, is that smart growth principles constrain economic development. Davidson demonstrates that embracing smart growth principles as part of an economic development strategy can be a means of taking local control of economic development. Davidsonians — not forces outside the community — decide what their community will become. When done thoughtfully, and as part of a widely shared community vision, smart growth and economic development are complementary forces.