Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Do you live in the 'real' Charlotte?

Plaza Midwood, a neighborhood that is not south of Fairview. Photo: Nancy Pierce

Do you live in “the real Charlotte”? I was chatting with a guy at a recent party who opined that only the part of the city inside Route 4 is “the real Charlotte.” (Route 4 is the Woodlawn-Runnymede-Wendover-Eastway thoroughfare that’s approximately 4 miles from uptown Charlotte.)

Au contraire, I said, or words to that effect. Actually, I said, a more accurate boundary would be Fairview Road, as in “I try never to go south of Fairview,” an expression I hear now and again from certain friends and acquaintances whose lives, like that of the aforesaid guy at the party, focus more on the center of the city than the far-flung edges. (Happily, the shopping mecca of SouthPark perches on the north side of Fairview Road.)

But more to the point, huge expanses of this city are outside Route 4. A circle with a 4-mile radius covers about 50 square miles. The 2010 Census tells us Charlotte covers almost 298 square miles. So the “real Charlotte” would be one-sixth of the actual city. I don’t think that makes it real, although most of the city inside Route 4 dates to the era preceding the overwhelming suburban-style growth that started in the 1950s and exploded by the mid-1960s.

But he also had put his finger on a cultural/social reality that’s been building here over the past 15 or 20 years: A lot of residents in the older, inner neighborhoods have a completely different view of their city than people who live in the far-flung, newer
areas. But which is the “real” view? Is this a city of horrific traffic, found in south-of-Fairview land? Or is it a pleasant and easy-to-manage city of cohesive and distinct neighborhoods where you tend to run into people you know all over the place – especially if you try never to go south of Fairview?

I think both are the real Charlotte, but I am not sure they are always on good speaking terms.

Symptom No. 1: Occasional talk in the far south neighborhoods – I’m talking to you, Ballantyne – about seceding from Charlotte and becoming a new town. Because they don't like the rest of us very much, apparently.

Symptom No. 2: The not uncommon terminology, from people who do not live south of Fairview, that uses “Ballantyne” as short-hand for “way too far from the places I like to hang out.” As in, “I really want to live in an older, walkable neighborhood near transit but I can’t afford it, and I don’t want to have to go live in Ballantyne.”

I am not sure what that says about Ballantyne, other than it’s a very well-branded place and a large place and so it pops to mind in a way that, say, Piper Glen doesn’t.

The iconic gateways at Ballantyne. Photo: Nancy Pierce
But it clearly says something about Charlotte – that this is a geographically spread out city with a lot of places where people may not feel they have much in common with people 24 miles away. It’s 24 miles, by the way, from the Ballantyne area in south Charlotte to the Highland Creek subdivision in the far northeast corner.

Maybe Ballantyne, in fact, is the “real” Charlotte, and people who live north of Fairview are just wrong. Or is NoDa the “real” Charlotte? It didn’t even exist, by that name, until about 20 years ago. Before that it was North Charlotte. Maybe we’re all wrong and McCrorey Heights and Hyde Park are the “real” Charlotte.

I think the “real” Charlotte is elusive, and changes over time. Or is it that, as Einstein is reported to have said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”