Class Act

It’s 2015. Charlotte is on top, and all signs tell us we will stay there. Our diversified economy is thriving; area hotels and tourist attractions are booming; our housing market soars; and our unemployment rate has dipped below 3%. Our Center City, which has become a 24-hour hub of activity, is now home to over 20,000 racially and economically diverse residents. Great restaurants, hotels, museums and other cultural facilities, along with our professional sports and entertainment venues, provide diverse choices for everyone who lives in or visits the Center City. In addition, popular Johnson and Wales University, which is fattening waistlines all over town, is attracting students from around the country, as are our new law school and the numerous doctoral programs that now exist in Charlotte area colleges and universities.

Efforts to revitalize our older inner and middle-ring neighborhoods and corridors, where many of our international residents have settled, have also met with success. Reduction in crime, increase in homeownership and new business investment have been significant in these areas. Charlotte’s Eastside, for example, has hit its stride with the successful transformation of the Central Avenue Multi-Cultural Corridor and the major redevelopment of the Eastland “Town Center”. And the long battling Westside has finally reaped the benefits of its economic revitalization efforts. The Wilkinson Boulevard, Freedom Drive and West Boulevard corridors have experienced dramatic turn-around. Success in these older areas would not have happened without local government and area lending institutions supporting African American, Latino and Asian business development.

On the suburban front, sprawl has been somewhat curbed as a result of new mixed-use, transit-oriented development along our flourishing transit corridors. While larger lot, suburban development continues to be a choice for many, these new mixed-use communities offer greater housing, transportation, employment and shopping choices for their residents. These communities also foster greater connections among Charlotteans with different incomes and from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Together, these successes have spawned a rising level of trust among racial, ethnic and economic groups in Charlotte. More African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and others from traditionally under-represented groups are actively involved in and influential with civic, corporate, and public sector organizations and activities. And people of color are being elected to local, at-large political offices in greater number. In turn, this has led to more equitable access to community resources.

Greater access to community resources and the community power structure is most apparent in our public education system, now one of the highest performing systems in the country. An achievement gap no longer exists between white students and students of color in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Our once poorly performing inner-city schools, populated with predominantly lower-income students of color, have come up to par with schools in the suburbs, and new schools have been built in suburban areas to deal with overcrowding.

Continued commitment by school and other community leaders to provide access to quality education for all students has been central to the system’s success over the last decade. As part of this leadership effort, area congregations have rallied together to provide needed resources for under-funded, quality after-school programs. Fewer children now roam the streets with this increased access to more structured and positive after-school activities. The focus on increasing parents’ involvement in their children’s education and on supporting efforts to retain experienced teachers and attract more young people to the fast thinning teaching field has also been crucial.

Much of the positive change in Charlotte has evolved as a result of more creative, authentic and inclusive citizen engagement and decision making, which is now the community norm. Inclusive engagement includes electronic town meetings that provide opportunities for authentic discussion and input on setting priorities for resource allocations. Using interactive technology in homes to inform citizens and gain input on important community issues is also becoming more common. This shift in how citizens are engaged in public priority setting and decision making processes has provided the opportunity for the voices of more people outside the traditional white corporate power structure to be genuinely heard and considered.

In A Class Act, Charlotte’s success and fine reputation have come to pass for many reasons. But it hasn’t happened without considerable commitment, understanding and patience on everyone’s part. It has required that our leaders and institutions be strong, visionary, cooperative and inclusive. Yes, after all the years of seeking the elusive status, we have finally figured it out. This is what it means to be “world class”.

What kind of community do you see?