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The Inner Game

by Mark Peres

March 4,2005

Charlotte is rapidly barreling toward a dramatically different future. The skyline will change more in the next five years than it has in the past twenty. The Center City will see several remarkable high-rise condominiums that will bring thousands of new residents to the urban core. The arena will be a national showcase. Brand-name restaurants, live music and entertainment, museums and cultural events will jockey for patrons. Premier universities will gain a foothold, a national hall of fame may well draw great waves of tourists, and sleek new rapid transit will move citizens to and from what could be architecturally significant platforms and stations. Does Charlotte have the leadership in place to elevate to the next level?

I recently sat in on two presentations: one about the history of Charlotte, and the other about personal qualities of success. As we broach the political season, it would serve us well not only to consider the outer game of the issues and opportunities that Charlotte faces, but the inner game of what character and vision we want as a city.

What has led to Charlotte’s rise from a fairly insignificant post-war Southern town to a Sunbelt financial powerhouse on the verge of becoming one of the most enviable cities in the nation? At a Leadership Charlotte forum, former Mayor Harvey Gantt suggested that Charlotte has benefited from five structural advantages.

First, Charlotte has been a town where business is the dominant genetic strain. It is a corporate town that studies and respects money and management. The stepping stone to the city council has been the Chamber of Commerce. Civic deals were (and still are) done in boardrooms. The city is run by a City Manager. That tradition has resulted in clean, efficient government that values getting things done. Second, Charlotte has benefited from annexation laws that have allowed city borders to expand to broaden the tax base. The city has enjoyed decades of economic stability. Third, a consolidated school district has given citizens in every corner of the county a stake in public education throughout the county. CMS remains a test lab of stakeholder voices, struggle and progress, and it has been ahead of the national curve in integration and educational achievement. Fourth, the city surfed the tsunami wave of deregulation with perfect timing. The city brought on-line a gleaming new hub-and spoke airport bringing millions of people through Charlotte, and our local banks seized on new laws to become international financial institutions bringing billions of dollars through our vaults. Fifth, we changed to a blend of at-large and district representation that attends to neighborhood concerns and raises diverse leaders that still must balance what is best for all.

(I would add a sixth structural advantage, which is a spiritual base that in its best light has given Charlotte a moral ethic that demands good character in our civic conduct and that we serve for reasons greater than ourselves.)

Mayor Gantt noted these structural advantages as ones we must be conscious of managing, and as foundational resources for addressing two major issues that now loom: environmental degradation and the re-segregation of our public schools.

We know the outer game of issues and opportunities. They are explored everyday over breakfast tables and in editorial pages such as ours. All of which brings me to our civic leaders and the inner game. There is much hand-wringing that we no longer have a colossus striding the beltway. What we do have is a bench of leadership that is broadening and deepening, and is making its own mark (although one that may not be quite as singularly artistic and resourceful).

The inner game that we must demand of our leaders is a set of personal characteristics that elevates our notion of a great city. That means a level of motivation to take the stage, a level of optimism that is vibrant and inclusive, a level of courage that asks difficult questions and suggest answers founded on principle and purpose, a level of discipline in habits and work-ethic, and a level of belief in civic excellence and the positive power of change. How we score in the outer game is direct result of how we play the inner game.

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