Read full story | (Pleno español en los escenarios)Story Overview
In 10 short years, Charlotte's quality of life has changed — for the worse. We have become a community divided. The gap is widening between the "haves" and the "have-less" and tension is building between racial and ethnic groups. Everyone fears or blames everyone else, and folks have lost faith in leaders to find solutions. When you examine the situation, our community failed to recognize the significant demographic and economic changes, deepening hostilities and widening gaps that were happening — right under our noses.
It's 2015. Undoubtedly, Charlotte's quality of life has changed — for the worse. We have become a much more polarized community as the chasm between the economic "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen, and tension between racial and ethnic groups intensifies. Crime and gang violence are out of control creating fear throughout the city. Everyone is blaming everyone else, and faith in our leaders to bridge this growing divide dwindles every day. In truth, this situation did not occur over night. It's the cumulative effect of short-sighted planning and decision making, lackluster leadership and general apathy and disillusionment by citizens as our population has grown and become more racially, ethnically and economically diverse over time. We weren't paying attention.
The social and economic implications of our inattentiveness are evident throughout the community. New business growth has slowed to a trickle, and several major corporations have relocated, with others threatening to leave. And for the first time in many years, Charlotte's unemployment rate has shot up to nearly 10% due to the steady climb in corporate layoffs, continued losses in manufacturing and a downturn in our once thriving hospitality and tourist industry. As a consequence, too many working and middle class families are filing bankruptcy and foreclosing on their homes. Our homeless shelters, County Social Services, Crisis Assistance Ministry and other agencies report more families seeking help than ever before. To help pay for these services as well as for additional police protection and yes, more jail space, our elected officials have been forced to raise taxes again. It's no wonder we're seeing a surge in middle and upper class families escaping to more appealing outlying communities such as Mooresville, Weddington and Fort Mill. Or, they are leaving the area all together.
We're also seeing evidence of struggle in our once flourishing Center City where development has completely stalled. "Second tier" businesses are now being lured to lease empty office and retail spaces, and many of the high rent condominiums that were built in the early and mid-2000s are renting at sub-market rates. The Nascar Hall of Fame is drawing tourists, but with Charlotte's growing crime rate and declining reputation, the new attraction is not as popular as envisioned.
Inner city neighborhoods such as Myers Park, Dilworth and Plaza Midwood continue to thrive, along with Belmont, Wilmore and Cherry where working class African American families used to live before white professionals became the majority. Unfortunately, other inner city neighborhoods have suffered tremendously, as have our aging "middle ring", neighborhoods and corridors such as Albemarle Road, Statesville Avenue and North Tryon Street. Long standing businesses have closed, crime is rampant and other signs of blight exist. Working class people of color have gravitated to these marginalized areas in search of the only affordable housing in town, creating fear and resentment among long-time, middle income white residents who cannot afford to leave. The tension is mounting.
In the outlying areas of the county and region, sprawl continues. Residents' fear of "undesirables" moving into their part of town has spawned increased resistance to higher density, mixed-use and mixed-income development that would otherwise support transit and provide greater access to jobs, shopping and services for people of all income levels. The limited housing and lifestyle choices in the suburbs have further segregated the community by economic and social class.
But it's the disparity within our public education system that has driven the greatest wedge between people and groups in Charlotte. The community has failed to support and demand that all children, no matter what race, ethnicity or economic background, have access to an equal, high quality education. As a result, we have a segregated, inequitable school system and a widening achievement gap between the "haves" and "have-nots." Students of color from low income households populate underperforming schools, most of which are in the inner and middle ring areas of Charlotte. Experienced teachers have left these schools, and many middle and upper class white and minority parents now send their children to private schools.
Competition for public and private resources has also caused significant divisiveness. City and County budget hearings have become downright ugly as elected officials have cut funding for much needed social programs as well as community-based programs aimed at building bridges and increasing awareness of ethnic, cultural and social differences. They have become so tense that police officers now line the entrance to the meeting chamber. Disillusioned with politics and how resource allocation decisions are made, fewer people, particularly people of color, are willing to get involved.
In the final analysis, our leaders and our citizens have failed to recognize and address the social dynamics, tension and polarization that have occurred — right under our noses. The lack of trust between and among groups has been caused, to a large extent, by the limited opportunities for inclusion in public decision making and access to affordable housing, quality education and other critical resources.
In Fortress Charlotte, our community is in a genuine bind. Our once shining crown has been badly tarnished, and we may never fully recover. We simply weren't paying attention.
What Do You Think?View All
Crossroads Charlotte presents four stories based on real data about Charlotte's future and asks the community to Imagine Our Tomorrow and respond to the stories.Imagine
Crossroads Charlotte offers numerous ways for citizens to get involved in our community and help shape Charlotte's future. Act Today and make a difference.Act