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Charlotte is on top, and all signs tell us we will stay there. Our economy is thriving. Jobs are abundant. Our housing market soars, and tourist attractions are booming. Much of the positive change in Charlotte is because diverse people – outside the traditional white corporate powerbase – are becoming involved and being taken more seriously. Charlotte's success and fine reputation have been built with considerable commitment from our leaders and influential institutions, which have been strong, visionary, cooperative and inclusive.
It's 2015. Charlotte is on top, and all signs tell us we will stay there. Our economy is diverse and thriving; area hotels and tourist attractions are booming; our housing market soars; and our unemployment rate has dipped below 3%. We continue to rank in the top ten places to live and do business and are now considered one of the hottest retirement destinations in the southeast.
Our Center City has become a 24-hour hub of activity. It's now home to over 20,000 racially and economically diverse residents. Great restaurants, hotels, cultural facilities and professional sports and entertainment venues provide diverse choices for everyone who lives in or visits the Center City. The Nascar Hall of Fame and new Museum of Craft and Design draw hundreds of thousand people to Charlotte each year. 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 schools 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 now vibrant Eastland "Town Center." And the long battling Westside has finally reaped the benefits of its economic revitalization efforts. The Wilkinson Boulevard, Freedom Drive, Beatties Ford 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.
Elsewhere, sprawl has been somewhat curbed as a result of new, compact mixed-use, development along our flourishing transit corridors. For example, with light rail operating along the North Tryon Corridor, University City has come alive, and the once vacant shopping centers along the Independence Boulevard Corridor have redeveloped to create a thriving gateway to Uptown Charlotte.
While larger lot, suburban development continues to be a choice for many, new mixed-use communities offer greater housing, transportation, employment and shopping choices for their residents in all parts of the county. These communities also foster greater social capital 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. The achievement gap between white students and students of color in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has narrowed considerably. 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 community and business leaders to provide access to quality education for all students has been central to the school system's success over the last decade. As part of this leadership effort, a consortium of major corporations and area businesses has created a funding pool to help leverage public education dollars. Area congregations have rallied together to provide much needed resources for under-funded, quality after-school programs, hence fewer children now roam the streets. Also crucial has been the school system's focus on increasing parents' involvement in their children's education and on supporting efforts to retain experienced teachers and attract more bright, young people to the fast thinning teaching field.
Much of the positive change in Charlotte has evolved as a result of more creative, authentic and inclusive citizen engagement and decision making that 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".
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