And the Beat Goes On

It’s 2015. Charlotte-Mecklenburg continues to seek the elusive “world class” status it has chased for years. Professional sports teams, first-rate cultural facilities, our reputation as the queen of the banking world and a major airline hub keep Charlotte in the running. On the business front, the banking and finance sector continues to anchor our economy, while cutting- edge technology-based companies and enterprises run by young, creative entrepreneurs still bypass Charlotte for more creative, progressive markets.

While business and job growth has been somewhat steady in some sectors of the economy, it has been stagnant in others. Unemployment is highest among people of color who live in urban areas. Many of the lost manufacturing jobs of the last decade have been replaced by relatively low paying service and call center jobs, most of which are in suburban office and business parks. Our overrun homeless shelters continue to turn people away most nights.

New development plugs along, continuing to fill in the remaining empty spaces in the county. Efforts to curb suburban sprawl have worked in some areas but failed in others. Traffic congestion along the interstates, around the I-485 interchanges and along other major arterials remains thick. Light rail is operating along the South Boulevard Corridor and has been fairly successful in its first years of operation. However, continued pressure by residents who have pushed for limiting densities along the corridor has made it challenging for City Council to approve development plans for more urban scale, mixed-use/mixed-income communities that would have fostered greater transit ridership.

Charlotte’s inner city has witnessed success with many of its revitalization efforts through the years. A negative consequence, however, has been inflated housing costs and gentrification of an increasing number of neighborhoods. Many lower income residents, particularly people of color, are being pushed out and are seeking affordable housing in the older, declining suburban middle ring, where the only remaining affordable housing exists in Charlotte. This is also where many of the new ethnic groups moving into the area are locating. Businesses continue to leave this middle ring for locations further out in the suburbs, leaving area residents without convenient services, shopping and jobs. New businesses run by entrepreneurs from some of the incoming ethnic groups have opened where some of the old businesses have closed, but the loss of large grocery stores and other mainstream retail, along with manufacturing and warehousing jobs, has left a major void.

For many people of color, being pushed out and marginalized seems like history repeating itself in Charlotte. Resentment, anger and frustration are building because of it, not only between people of color and whites, but between African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and other people of color as well.

Ongoing debate over our public school system stokes the fire of distrust. We continue to talk about the need to ensure that all children have access to an equal education, no matter what school they attend. While some progress has been made toward this end, many schools in the suburban areas remain overcrowded, and many of the inner city, urban schools continue to fall behind academically. Each year we continue to see our more experienced teachers leave these under-performing schools. Tragically, a high percentage of our students are still graduating from high school reading at a 6th grade level and unprepared for the world of work. Because of continuing discipline and academic problems in many of the schools, an increasing number of middle and upper class white, black and Latino parents are sending their children to private schools. Thus, the trend continues for the public school system to increasingly be dominated by low- income students of color.

Growing competition for increasingly limited public and private sector resources is also fanning the flames of discontent and distrust. In an effort to keep taxes low and provide basic services to the community, elected officials have cut or significantly reduced funding for many programs and services. The annual City and County budget hearings have become more heated and frustrating to those involved. Citizens are growing more disillusioned with the stale public input processes we continue to use. And distrust is mounting among the predominantly white, corporate power structure that tends to influence priority setting and resource allocation in the community.

In the final analysis, Charlotte merrily continues on its path to greatness and world renown. However, simmering just below the surface is the growing anger, resentment and distrust between and among the different ethnic groups and between the economic “haves” and “have-nots” in Charlotte. The economic engine continues to run, but fewer people have access to it.

In The Beat Goes On, we remain fairly cordial, and some of us from differing cultures and backgrounds remain friends outside the workplace. But in the process of stepping over the “unspoken”, we slowly, but surely, are becoming more separate and alienated from one another. Our “us and them” mentality remains firmly entrenched and fuels this polarization. It limits our ability to fully, and positively, embrace our growing diversity and to stop the insidious and unproductive blaming of each other for why things are the way they are----or why they aren’t.

What kind of community do you see?