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Looking Back - and Forward

by Patrick McCrory

May 4,2005

I am astounded at the number of people I meet who have moved to Charlotte without a job, no ties to the City, the Carolinas, or even the South. More impressive is that once people settle here, they then convince family and friends to also move here. Charlotte has a lot to offer from a vibrant center city and great neighborhoods, to a strong quality of life and many job opportunities. However, newcomers, as well as natives, don’t often realize what it has taken for Charlotte to evolve into such a dynamic city.

Just looking back 10 years:

o Charlotte Douglas International Airport was an international airport mostly in name only. Now, we have an international concourse that supports 1.3 million passengers and direct flights to 25 international destinations.

o Charlotte was not known as a Headquarters City and now we are in the Top 5 of cities with Headquarters operations for Fortune 500 companies. More impressive is that 100,000 jobs have been created over the past 10 years.

o Center City was a ghost town after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends. Now, Center City is thriving with 8,500 residents and more to come.

o Earl Village, Dalton Village, and Fairview Homes were havens for drugs and substandard housing. Now, they are neighborhoods where families can prosper.

o Billboards were placed in residential neighborhoods, brownfields added to the blight of industrial areas, sidewalks were not required, bikeways did not exist, and our tree canopy was not adequately protected. Now, we are recognized as one of the “Most Livable Cities” in America.

o Our murder rate in 1993 claimed 122 victims and now we have almost cut that in half to 66 homicides in 2003.

o The Charlotte Trolley was a small grass roots effort. Our bus system was haphazard and didn’t meet the transportation needs of our citizens. A 25-year transportation plan was only an unfunded dream, but now we are embarking on our first light rail line.

The rise of Charlotte has not been by accident, but by the hard work of thousands of Charlotteans.

Now we must look ahead to the next decade and beyond and engage even more people to be a part of Charlotte’s success story. There has been a lot of energy around attracting and engaging the 22 – 44 age group. I support those efforts and believe we have a vision that all age groups can endorse and build upon.

The vision is that Charlotte is a welcoming city and we embrace everyone, but with the opening of our arms, we have one expectation, and that is for every citizen (and business) to be involved in the community. Community involvement can include volunteering on a local neighborhood association, serving on a City Board, helping a favorite charity, or joining the Chamber of Commerce (for businesses). I believe this vision is timeless and the peer pressure it has instilled is healthy.

Looking forward, we must continue to think long-term and implement the vision to address such issues as:

o Gangs. They are now prevalent in Charlotte and we must address the need to find more positive role models for our youth.

o Corridor Revitalization. We must expand the success of South End farther down South Boulevard and to the North Tryon Street corridor. We also need to work to make Independence Boulevard a grand boulevard that not only moves traffic, but enhances the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.

o Environment, particularly given our recent non-attainment designation for air quality. We have to provide options for people to get around the region without always using a car. We also need to strengthen our efforts to protect open space and safeguard our drinking water.

o And lastly, we can never take for granted the needs of our citizens, particularly the need to maintain a solid job base in the City of Charlotte.

While there is still much work ahead, we can take pride in how far Charlotte has come in the past decade. By capitalizing on our progress and recruiting others to join in the future success of the City, Charlotte will appeal to more newcomers, but also remain the place natives are proud to call home.

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