Playbook / Transit / Case Study

Rail Trail Symphony • Charlotte, NC

The launch of Charlotte's first light rail, LYNX Blue Line, served as a major connector for South End residents to their workplaces. This station is one of the busiest on the line, averaging about 2,000 passengers per day. The 4.5-mile Rail Trail along the LYNX has been crucial in providing space for small business development, as well as safe walking routes for kids, parents and the South End neighbors who frequent the light rail.

However, Erin Gillespie, planning and development associate from Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP), noted that community members didn't realize the trail was open for public use. A pulse survey on the trail showed many neighbors had never been on the trail before. They also wanted more than just a "space to ride a stroller up and down. They wanted to get out and play."

Project details
Charlotte Center City Partners
Project type
Project status
Playbook - Case Studies - Rail Trail 01

CCCP recognized this problem as an opportunity to build a playful space for community members. With a mission for increased equity, vision for added green space and passion for community engagement, CCCP and its community partners created Rail Trail Symphony.

The whimsical pit-stop offers a colorful beat to the nearby humdrum of Charlotte's LYNX Blue Line. Located at the New Bern Station, musical novices and geniuses alike can spontaneously create a tune, share a beat or join a jam session.

Mobilizing action

For CCCP, community outreach and business collaboration were critical to this project. Drum Strong worked with Gillespie's team to design the instruments, while also donating its time and services for site preparation. The CCCP team also paired up with the Bethlehem Center, which helped bring a different melody to the Rail Trail. The Center's continuum of child and adult care, combined with their proximity to the trail, made them the key stakeholders in not only determining what the Rail Trail Symphony could be, but what the Rail Trail could mean to the South End community.

This [project] really married urban design with community development. That intersection is really cool and really vital. As our urban areas become more popular, all of what intersects is the public realm.
Erin Gillespie

Gillespie and her team faced a few implementation challenges along the way, such as a lengthy review process and the need to coordinate between three installers. To overcome these hurdles, the team emphasized flexibility, worked with stakeholders and spread their work across different phases.

Community impact

The medley between urban design and community development was not only vital to the success of the Rail Trail Symphony, but helped to create a symphonic band trumpeting tunes of culture, community and play.

One of these band members was Hyde Brewing. A seemingly unlikely partner, they soon came on board to co-host a kid's musical band, which performed for more than 100 people. The brewery wants to open their patio for future sessions, and continue to work with CCCP to develop programming focused on the arts. For CCCP, these experiences confirmed that local businesses share the same vision for success.

Kids from a Charlotte Lab School field trip were sprinting to the instruments. There was one kid who would not leave. It's an instant attraction.
Erin Gillespie

Rail Trail Symphony now hosts free "Symphony Saturday" summer concerts from June to August led by the Jolly Lollies, rhythm events with Drum Strong to raise funds and awareness for Cancer research and of course, continues to provide the unexpected playful interlude to people along their way.


Bethlehem Center, CATS/City of Charlotte, Historic South End, Playmore Design Corporation, DRUM STRONG, ACSM, C3 Lab, CPCC Graphic Arts Program, Durban Group/Hyde Brewing