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Somethings Happening Here

by Dennis Marsoun

December 3,2004

A friend sent me excerpts from a book by Robert Florida entitled, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Two things immediately caught my attention. The first was the introduction to chapter 1, a quote from a Bob Dylan song, “Something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.”  The second thing was Florida’s view that the first half of the 20th Century was packed with huge technological changes, which led to a second half of incredible sociological changes.

The technological changes included the automobile, the airplane, radio, television, the telephone, elevators and air conditioning. Additionally, there were significant advancements in food handling, distribution, preparation, and sanitation that made eating less of an adventure.

The huge technological changes that took place allowed, actually demanded, that people travel and communicate with each other. This communication led to the understanding and acceptance of things that previously remained taboo. When someone hears the same thing over and over again, and never hears anything else, it soon becomes the truth. When someone is exposed to other ideas, it causes that person to consider, and accept or tolerate other thoughts.

Technological changes also led us to the acceleration of such sociological forces as consumerism. It is production, distribution, and consumption that positioned America to become the economic force of the 20th Century. The producer became the consumer, and markets demanded that changes were continually made to encourage the consumer to continue to consume, and to have long lives for the continuation of consumption. Changes in medicine allowed for the slowing of the aging process, shorter illnesses, longer lives, and in general, better health.

While we still have a way to go, over the past 50 years our society has become much better educated, women joined the work force, rose in political power, and took over the running of companies, minorities gained more opportunity for advancement and made quantum leaps in politics, sports, education, and in general every day acceptance.

Florida contends that changes in transportation and communication made all of these sociological changes possible, and helped give rise to the “Creative Class.”

Charlotte is in the early stages of building the type of infrastructure that will allow the “Creative Class” to flourish. The growth of UNCC, Queens University, Johnson & Wales University, Johnson C. Smith University, and CPCC is bringing energy to the region. This infrastructure will be enhanced by such technologies as light rail and the trolley system.

New evolving expressions of creativity in Charlotte include professional sports, best exemplified by the Panthers run to the Super Bowl this past January. Retail is beginning to rear it’s head on South Tryon Street. Bruce Julian’s offbeat brand of men’s clothing will be opening its door in the Center City. One store does not a mall make, but I believe over the next 5 years, there will be more retail space opening downtown than in any new mall in the area. Night life on College and Tryon Streets is alive and well. An audience for the Actors Theatre on Stonewall is slowly building, and with the impending opening of ImaginOn, we will see more live theatrical performances.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were asked to host a progressive dinner party in Uptown Charlotte as part of an American Heart Association fund raiser. One of the “waiters” was an accomplished singer, and sang at my condo. My wife played piano as accompaniment. As he sang, there were no other sounds in the room. Everyone was totally captivated by someone singing live for a small crowd.

The common denominator in all these activities is the Center City. It is a magnet for activity and energy, and it is where people want to be. These are the creative people - students, actors, clerks, bartenders, waitresses and even cab drivers! These people touch a lot of other people, like bee’s going from flower to flower, spreading energy and ideas everywhere they go.

It is this group, or “Creative Class,” that is finding a home in Charlotte.

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