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Underlying Truths

by Winn Maddrey

December 6,2007

In the past few weeks, I have had a pleasant citizen feeling. The school bonds passed, the transit tax was maintained, fall arrived and the shiny, new light rail system opened. With the change of seasons, the altering of the clock and subsequent loss of daylight, I felt that Charlotte was pulling it all together, avoiding most of the financial challenges we read about around the US with dissolving housing markets. We were tougher than that, more resilient, I thought.


Then last week, before I scooted out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday, I drove past a street sign two doors down from my house. This sign, which normally reads “Right Way,” with an arrow pointing to the right, was now emblazoned with black and blue spray paint, the result a mess of graffiti. Whether code or simply urban art, it made me realize that in my overly confident thoughts, I had swept under the rug many of the issues that we as a community face but do not address.

What are the potential landmines, problems and/or nightmares that need our attention I thought? Homelessness, if you stroll Tryon Street, the neighborhoods surrounding the center city, is not apparent to me; rarely are homeless people seen. But they are there. When I run through our community I interact and/or witness their presence. Gangs, which have been elevated in terms of having a growing impact on the community seemed more theory than reality. I am sure that I am ignorant as to their role and the breadth of their reach.

With Earle Village and now Piedmont Courts part of an innovative Hope VI grant program to inject new, mixed-income housing in the urban core, this displaced both citizens and a broken model for housing. A partial victory, perhaps. But I wonder, as Charlotte grows and housing prices near Center City escalate, if we will be able to provide access to housing stock for residents, including newly relocated professionals and recent college graduates, which are critical to the growth of this community?

I read recently that Classroom Central, which provides school supplies to teachers and students, is running at a dangerously low inventory level. The interesting aspect in what I read was that donations have remained steady over time, but the needs of teachers and students have continued to climb. So we just passed $500+ million in school bonds, but we are not equipping effectively those who are learning and their instructors.

The Charlotte community continues to make great strides and to overcome roadblocks, converting them to bumps in the road. There are many of these opportunities, mostly social issues, which could use the attention of community leaders. Attention like the kind showered upon Johnson & Wales University, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the light rail effort, RISD, the third runway at Charlotte-Douglas International, I-485, the US National Whitewater Center, CPCC, CMS bonds, the Bobcats Arena and many, many others.

If a fraction of the time and dollars that went into these civic pursuits were invested in underlying social issues, we might be closer to being a complete city. A city a little further on its path towards world-class, perhaps?

What can each of us do, daily perhaps, to address some of the clouds on the horizon? Clouds that we may not even see unless we look hard, ask tougher questions and seek answers. What effect can individuals, groups, neighborhoods, communities, businesses and government have in continuing our path of progress? I learned once in a seminar that knowledge falls into four categories: (1) what you know, (2) what you don’t know, (3) what you think you know, and (4) what you don’t know you don’t know. The next chapter for Charlotte involves rooting out challenges in the last category.

With our recent victories and successes, now seems like a logical time to determine what are the neglected – buried, boiling – issues that need addressing so that they do not derail our community. With an effort, focused on raising the entire community, it would be something that we would all be proud of – proud to read about – whether on paper or even graffiti on the wall.

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