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Nip and Tuck

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

November 4,2005

Recently, I went to the gym. The gym. That place, regardless of the specific location, is synonymous with human meat market. One…two…in between bicep curls…three…four…I asked my trainer…five…‘what would it take for me to look like that girl?’ referring to an impressively (impossibly) buff, brown, beautiful robo-Barbie. “Steroids and plastic surgery” he replied seriously. It’s no secret- in fact, it seems plastic surgery is not only accepted, it is all but expected. And the resident doesn’t fall far from the condo. Charlotte is a nipped, tucked, wrinkle-free home for the nipped, the tucked, and the botoxed. But while physical perfection and eternal youth may be increasing sought after by people here, these qualities are not as appealing in a cityscape.

A recent trip to Baltimore opened my eyes to just how much “character” a city can have. If I had a felt-tipped plastic surgeon’s marker, I would run out of ink before I was done circling and dotting. But, to many (including myself), Baltimore is incredibly attractive. My former roommate moved from our three-bedroom, all white, 5-year-old apartment in Huntersville to a one-bedroom, one-tiny-bathroom, one-closet-they-call-a-kitchen apartment on the third floor of a row house in Baltimore. Parking nearby is a nightmare, and broken sidewalks and chipping paint abound. But those “wrinkles” are outward signs of aging- a natural process, and a beautiful one when it comes to cities. My friend’s thimble of an apartment also has beautiful, creaky hardwood floors, four enormous windows looking out to the street, a marble fireplace with some chips missing, and a chandelier as its primary artificial light source. It is beautiful. It is livable. It is one-of-a-kind. It is not plastic.

Don’t get me wrong- I love my apartment. I love the amenities, the parking, and the space. I especially like the price. The housing options in and around Charlotte are very desirable. In fact, Charlotte consistently ranks high in surveys of “Quality of Life” and “affordability.” Condos and apartments are popping up faster than kudzu and competing to out-do each other, offering tenants amenities that extend way beyond a pool or a dishwasher. Walking trails, dog parks, tennis courts, reserved parking spaces, and movie rooms are just some of the things new developers bring to the table.

Charlotte as we know it is a product of post- Civil War reconstruction. The original developers of the city had a similar approach, even though they were building in a different time (1880-1930ish). Rapid economic development and extraordinary population growth transformed Charlotte from a farming environment to an industrial, urban “New South” city. Developers wanted to emulate the big industrial capitols of the North, and hired some of the most qualified and contemporary designers of their time.

Yet at the heart of the city today, the early New South heritage of Charlotte is nowhere to be found. The intersection of once-dirt-roads Trade and Tryon is now as paved and developed as the faces of its residents are deadened and resurfaced . Buildings have been demolished and now rest in peace under parking lots and expressways. Pavement, skyscrapers, and a ring of suburbs are all drops in Charlotte’s fountain of youth.

So where are Charlotte’s frown lines? Where are the crow’s feet? Do they even exist?  The answer is yes, but you have to know where to look. Neighborhoods such as Fourth Ward and Biddleville still maintain much of their rich historical origin. Surrounding suburbs still foster trees, parks, and older homes. But the options for Charlotte immigrants like me still seem to lie most readily in cookie-cutter condos and all-new apartments.

The main reasons a person has for electing plastic surgery are cosmetic ones. And, more often than not, the result is aesthetically pleasing- they get what they pay for. Similarly, the “era of wealth” from which Charlotte has grown has yielded an aesthetic, appealing place to call home. A recent article in Charlotte Magazine confirmed my suspicions about the ubiquity of silicon human additions and fatty human substractions in the greater Charlotte area. However, the lines and lumps of Charlotte’s rich history exist in the people who live here. Native Charlotteans of all ages have witnessed immense changes in the physical make up of the city. Although the physical appearance of many of the buildings and many of the people may be repaired, improved, or altered in many ways, the historical significance of those changes is constantly growing more wrinkled and more rich.

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