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Paradoxes and Crossroads

by Winn Maddrey

May 7,2008

This morning I look out of my window, viewing the tall buildings in the Center City and reflect upon the litter of cranes erecting the new and ever-expanding skyline. At the same time, on the radio, the announcer states that there are a number of large animals on the road, as a truck carrying cattle has overturned in the city. Whoa.

To think that anything agrarian creeps into Charlotte is shocking. We as a community could not be more disconnected from the earth, delinked from growing produce and livestock to provide nourishment, rather moving ever skyward in an incessant climb. A service-based, fast growing city like Charlotte has only progress – building, expansion – in her future and there’s no looking back, right?

If that premise is true, what are we failing to embrace, to remember? What previous errors do we risk repeating? What voices are not part of the dialogue?

My wife often complains that teardowns – residential and commercial – with no embracing of previous structure, are so Charlotte. She, as a Charlotte native, has a unique perspective. I try to voice my opinion that many other places are as apt to put in a strip mall as here, but I do see places that embrace their warehouse districts, their downtrodden buildings, before constructing anew.

I was asked recently why I moved to Charlotte. I moved here from Washington, DC in 1995. Back then, I did not have a good reason; at the time, it seemed like a good idea. A convergence of issues filled my plate – my lease was up, my then-girlfriend was going to grad school, I was being transferred to Geneva for four years and I got held up at gunpoint – the combination of which told me it was time to move. So I came here, with no job, no prospects. I knew some people here, so I figured, why not?

In the time since I have arrived, many, many changes have occurred. This large town has morphed into a city and the change has been very positive. And there have been many whose lives have been profoundly changed – Earle Village residents, Johnson & Wales students, all our neighboring counties’ residents, etc. As I reflect on our fortune and our history, I try to not be so wrapped up in what’s next that I fail to recall and embrace our heritage and where this community came from.

I see many paradoxes that have arrived with the growth. Some who arrive here from distant lands are not interested in being part of the city, just their neighborhood. I hear anecdotes of people who will not drive to Center City Charlotte because they perceive that there is no place to park. I hear of others who serve in the public sector who strive to seek out and hear from the newer voices. Muffled perhaps, often muted and sometimes absent, those who have arrived, presumably with ideas and opinions from other locales, these voices are not being heard.

I have been privileged in that my choice to land in Charlotte has benefited me personally and professionally. I met my wife here, started two businesses, become involved in the community and have started to give back. And I like that this is still an approachable city, even with the growth. In my experience, if you want to reach someone, they are only 2-3 calls away. But hold on, those days are fleeting. Just like the economy of old, many of the traditions, the small town feel are being pushed aside, out to neighboring jurisdictions.

In a city founded at the crossroads of two trading paths, paradox and crossroads are part of our heritage. Cattle on the road today. What will be that shocking paradox in two years – that we have no more free parking? What will it be in five years – that affordable housing has left the county? What will it be in ten years – that we’re too big? With our pace of change accelerating, the challenge faces us everyday – how can each of us play a part to make this a vibrant community that cherished past, present and future?

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