Friday, April 26, 2013

Old Charlotte, meet New Charlotte

Old Charlotte met new Charlotte Thursday night. And in this case, "old" doesn't necessarily refer to people's ages.

Thursday night, I sat in on WFAE's latest public conversation, this one on "One Charlotte or Many? A Neighborhood Perspective."

Among the panelists was Tim Timmerman, a south Charlotte resident and founder of a group called South Mecklenburg Alliance for Responsible Taxpayers (SMART). He's of the opinion that south Charlotte the wedge-shaped pie slice with the city's least crime, highest incomes, highest property values, highest education levels, etc. is not getting its share of city resources while its property owners pay the lion's share in property taxes. His part of the city would end up paying for a streetcar nobody wants, he said, and he's tired of so much city money going to center city. South Charlotte has no voice, he said.

The other panelists Diane Langevin, president of the Winterfield Neighborhood Association in east Charlotte, Vee Veca Torrence, president of the Thomasboro Neighborhood Association in west Charlotte, and City Manager Ron Carlee, only three weeks into the job didn't loudly denounce Timmerman.

But the audience sure did. Several audience members drew applause when they said Timmerman was being divisive. We are one city, they said. Stop being adversarial. We need a strong downtown and strong neighborhoods. We need not only a streetcar but a "spider web" of transit connections throughout the city. Two who drew applause were long-time Charlotte residents, one in her late 60s and a Charlotte native, the other a man who said he, too, lived in "the wedge," yet he was delighted the city had spent time and attention on uptown. He recalled uptown Charlotte in the 1970s. It was dead, he said, and so much livelier now.

Several 20- and 30-something audience members rose to describe how much they value living in or near uptown and being able to walk and bicycle around the city. They urged better bicycle amenities. One young man said he had moved from Buffalo to Pineville and that he came to Charlotte because it had a transit line (and less snow). He's looking to move closer to uptown. They talked about living in Villa Heights, Grier Heights, Echo Hills and Shamrock Gardens. Note: Those particular speakers were white, and the first two neighborhoods have been predominantly black for decades.

They don't want to live in suburban south Charlotte, they said. "I would consider that a step down," said one.

To a longtime Charlotte resident, this is an amazing sea change. For years, opinions such as Timmerman's dominated the city's discourse. And those neighborhoods of little houses and even less  cachet were where you lived until you could afford a new subdivision in south Charlotte.

Obviously, it's not as though south Charlotte today lacks for people who want to live there. But the enthusiasm of the crowd for living as close to uptown as they could afford was inspiring. They want to live in "the city." They want to bicycle and walk and take transit. This is a whole new interest group being added to the city conversation, alongside voices like Timmerman's.

This is not the Charlotte I moved to 30-some years ago. And that, I think, is a wonderful thing.  


Anonymous said...

Mary, I remember when you wrote for the Observer that you often contended that the suburban Charlotte did not pay for itself--that sewer and water lines and police having to patrol over a wide area cost the city more than the suburban taxes brought in (although the truth of that is highly doubtful considering what has been said by city officials about the taxes wedge residents pay). I believe you also thought suburban schools were more highly funded than inner city schools (which we all know now is not true). I would hope that as a city we are mature enough now to accept all types of lifestyles. Not everyone wants to be urban; not everyone wants to be suburban. Neither choice is "bad" and having choices makes for a more interesting metropolitan area. There shouldn't be an "us against them" mentality. A decade or so of demonizing suburbanites has not served our city well.

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