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Radical Reconstruction

by Mark Peres

March 5,2006

Charlotte is in overdrive. By every conceivable measure, the city is blowing the doors off its own expectations. A true tipping point has occurred – the city is closing the deal on everything it desires, from architecturally interesting high-rise residential towers to light rail and transit oriented development to professional sports arenas to urban universities and impressive inflows of talent. Old theatres are being restored. New cultural complexes are being planned. People who had sworn off Charlotte twenty years ago are returning in droves. New arrivals are astounded at the opportunity and manners and quality of life.

Within minutes of NASCAR announcing Charlotte as the winner of its HOF shoot out, ESPN began referring to Charlotte in the same breath as Cooperstown and Canton.

Over the last few months I’ve led a series of discussions about the growth and development of the city. I’ve showcased the outer game of Charlotte – highlighting projects coming out of ground – barely able to narrow the list – before turning to a discussion of the inner game of the city. In the latter part, I borrow the language of philosophy and developmental psychology – specifically the frameworks of Frederich Neitzsche and Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow – to analogize where the city is in its maturation. One thing is clear from the discussions, we are in an upward spiral – with all of the wonder and dislocation that it brings.

We talk about enhancing what we value most – whether its right brain creativity to ethnic diversity to civic engagement. Announcements of vertical gated communities invariably raise concerns about social equity and affordable housing. The economic divide grows. Convention presses itself down. And yet the tide of optimism rolls. Progress is manifest. Blessings for the elect – and those that will it so – are promised. We all want in.

A friend who has never been to Charlotte but who reads this magazine from afar, sent me a note saying that we are the newest exponents of the New South Creed, which first developed in the 19th century as the South emerged economically from Reconstruction. That creed was one of radical redefinition. After the Civil War, Southern cities had a choice: embrace the past or reject it – find identity in what was or find it in what can be. Those that chose the past have become known as Old South cities – Richmond, Charleston, Savannah – where nothing is done unless a landed grandparent provides his social approval. Those that chose the future became New South cities – Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte – where anything can get done when private and public interests deem it so.

Are we too ambitious? By sheer will evolving from a once midling town of rassling, racing and religion to something not quite yet cosmopolitan. Are we ambitious enough? Have we refrained from significance – still beholden to org charts and persona definitions of clean-shaven authority figures?

Pace brings its own complexity. Quickness brings its own light. In that spiral, the city shifts platelets and heaves into new paradigms – from dead sea scrolls to a brother with a pen – from foursight to foresight to wide angle lens. This city is so quintessentially American – so Southern and Northern, so Western and Eastern. It is eternal in its character – we can be better than we are. It is eternal in its destiny – hammering, reshaping, redefining – we could be swinging on a star.

In the few years that I have been here, I have been witness to an album of events. I’ve gone to announcements and unfurlings. I’ve snapped photographs of ribbon cuttings. I’ve considered panel discussions and watched votes taken. I’ve attended these events much as a friend attends a wedding – wanting to be there, lending support and sharing good wishes. The city is a partner in our lives. It is a living, breathing, organic thing. It is, sometimes, galloping in its youth. It is, always, tantalizingly unrealized.

It is, now, on a straight-away and accelerating. The radar gun is turning its way. Charlotte is happening. It is, as the Mayor says, a secret city that is not quite a secret anymore. The secret of this South – of these days of Reconstruction – is that the promise of our nation may yet be fulfilled here.

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