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One Charlotte

by Pat Mumford

December 4,2005

What defines a city, causing it to stand out amongst its peers, to be a place of attraction? Is it a strong school system, good roads, a vibrant downtown, overall affordability, safe neighborhoods or plentiful job opportunities? Or is it an overall quality of life that emanates from a broad park system, a clean environment or various arts and entertainment options? It is not any single attribute, but rather all of these, urban and suburban, that make a city desirable. Charlotte’s future viability is dependent on the successful and responsible balancing of these seemingly disparate areas of interest.

Advances in technology, cultural shifts and changing social norms are causing people to reconsider what they value. Young, single professionals are seeking to live in places that emphasize transportation choices, lifestyle options, and interactive amenities. Parents want a system of high quality education, well-maintained parks and good roads. Corporations, in an effort to attract and retain the best employees, desire cultural venues for the arts and entertainment. The working poor yearn for affordable housing options in safe neighborhoods. New arrivals from other countries hope to find an acceptance of cultural differences and opportunities that embrace diversity. Seniors, especially those on a fixed income, are concerned with overall affordability.

The manner in which each of these issues is addressed is of personal importance to those directly affected. Some are solely focused on downtown initiatives while others commit their energy to bettering the suburbs. However, no single want or desire from any particular group or segment of our population should establish the direction for our city. Charlotte is greater than the sum of the individual challenges it faces. Since our focus should be on the greater good of the community at large, the decisions that lie ahead should not be seen as “either/or” but rather “both/and” propositions. What’s good for downtown is good for the outer reaches of the city and vice versa. In this context, the real question becomes one of timing rather than need, particularly given the City’s current financial situation. We must wisely plan for our future and then be patient as we work to bring the strategy to reality.

The great cities of the world evolved organically at a steady, deliberate pace over many decades. The physical environment was built to answer the practical needs of the inhabitants. Charlotte’s Center City has matured to this state of organic development, thanks in large part to the thousands of new residents living in urban core. But because Charlotte’s Center City is the heart of our region’s economic, cultural, and entertainment activity, it must continue to reach out to citizens beyond I-277. People are naturally skeptical of narrowly-focused agendas and are generally reticent to quickly accept changes imposed upon them. As with individuals, decisions cannot be forced on an entire citizenry with the expectation of immediate, unilateral acceptance.

The days of a small group of business leaders or backroom politicians making the critical decisions for Charlotte are in the past. Therefore, we must establish a different type of decision-making process. We each have the responsibility to see that Charlotte grows as one unified city, not as a loose alliance of inward-looking neighborhoods. The goal need not and should not be absolute consensus but rather a thorough understanding, through honest dialogue, of the concerns and viewpoints of our diverse and ever-evolving population. The characteristics of each of us, our various cultural, political, geographic, racial, professional and educational backgrounds and experiences, capture who we are today as a city. We, as individuals give our city attitude and soul, something unique to Charlotte. Let us embrace and celebrate the potential of who we are collectively and continue to strive for excellence in Charlotte’s future.

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