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Andyc545

Finding Charlotte's Identity

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I sat down reading Creative Loafing today and the headline had to do with an issue that has been sprinkled throughout here on UP and is something that is going to worsen as we grow until something is done about it; that is dealing with the issue of the lack of presence if an identity for Charlotte, the Queen City. I thought it would be interesting to challenge those on UP to a growing "non-issued" issue, or an issue for the city that really isn't a tragedy or one that is dismantling on the city and citizens of it.

I raise a few questions with a goal of at least trying to find the root of the problems, trying solve them, or just trying to recognize them.

First- creating an identity. How do you create an identiy? Is it something that is inherited, is it something that is set in stone from the past, or is it something that can be created in a contemporary day and age by people, like us, that recognize the absence and would like to do something about it?

Second- The Who. Charlotte does have a recent background of being build much based on the corporate and banking worlds. It continues to stem as a debate of corporate vs. non-corporate world and what should have more power, but that is left for a different argument. So, is Charlotte's image going to be something that is seeded by us citizens, leaders, universities and educational systems, or is it something that is destined to be established by what the city has had many things established from- the corporate world. Could it be something that will only be through individual communities- like South End and NoDa for its arts, or uptown for its Battle of the Banks, or is it something that can rise above and focus on Charlotte as one.

Third- The Solution. This "problem" really isn't much a problem at all. Maybe to a few exceptional industries, such as the tourism industry, an identity could be more beneficial, but honestly is this issue that big of a deal? Is it something that we should leave out of our hands and continue allowing the city to go day-by-day and see what is made, or is it something that we should bring up to local governement to help establish? Is it something that groups, such as those on these very own forums should work (or not) work for, or is this just an issue that would cost too much pain, labor, and money over for such a petty issue?

Fourth- The What. After all, what is an identity. I know we can catagorize humans in many ways, but when it comes to a city, a metropolitian, what makes a city have its own identity? Is it a symbol or a building, is it something historic, is it something futuristic? Can it be a food or an event, or something total else? What do you perceive Charlotte as, or envision for an identity? Can we learn to all cherish a single symbol, or is this something that is just lost in the past?

Last- The Perception. This goes hand-in-hand with the Charlotte Perception topic in the Coffeehouse. If we were to change our image, or just add a symbol of recognition, how do you think it would be perceived? Do you think other cities would look down on us by trying to be something that we're not, or maybe by trying to force something that didn't need such impression in other cities like NYC? Would it be taken and other cities would catch on? Would it be a failure, a waste of the taxpayers money? Could it one day be so credible that we are looked upon on a national, worldly basis?

I leave this forum open ended, but figured that it may be something that us Urban Planteers could take on or try to impact, if you believe it's something that should. Like said earlier, this is an issue for the city as it grows everyday, and continually adopts more and more people from areas all over, different races, ages, income levels, etc. The bigger question are those that have been addressed above. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the topic, it's not a tragedy opposed to an opportunity.

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The root of the issue is that you don't create and identity. An identity creates itself. Its not something you can pay a marketing company to come up with (eg: Charlotte). It comes from generations of people living and growing up in the same city, and more importantly, not moving away. Thats how traditions are made, and how they survive. Wasn't there an article in the Observer a few months ago about how 60% of the city is from somewhere else? Most of these people (especially if they are from Ohio) may love it here, but they always remember where they are from and for most of them, they will never be "from" Charlotte even though they may live here.

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Charlotte has no identity because it constantly severs all it's ties to its past and replaces them with the fads and gimmick of the day. Prime example, North Charlotte was renamed NoDa because it sounded trendy. I won't get into the gentrification that is taking place there as that speaks for itself. In the last 5 years it's basically lost all of it's eclectic quirkiness and it headed towards being another bland neighborhood.

There are endless other examples of this, but that, IMO, is the core of the problem.

I would also contend that for most people, (not in Charlotte) this city isn't even identified with banking.

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Charlotte's lack of identity has a lot to do with the dominance of The Banks . Although the growth of the banks has been great for the city economically, it has supported a culture of gentrification that places no value on character, history, or sentiment, especially if it is not considered mainstream. Order and cleanliness are paramount. As a result, we have too few public spaces, limited parks, and nowhere (other than the light rail) that people from different socioeconomic strata can co-mingle.

Much of the reason that newcomers never really become Charlotteans is that to us, the Charlotte experience is generic and largely suburban. When I leave uptown, I only know I'm in Charlotte because of the center medians at each intersection and the crowns on the street signs. The city, which I see as in its teenage years, is torn between its small-town roots and its metropolitan future and has made many compromises that have satisfied neither urge. Charlotte has become more urban physically than it is prepared to be mentally.

Finally, everyone here has come from somewhere else's suburb. The generic, soul-less suburban culture here is the same generic, soul-less suburban culture everywhere else but without the established city in the center. It is the city created by people who have never really lived in a city. It will take at least 25 years for Charlotte to even start to incubate a distinct culture. Atlanta in 1980s was the same way and it is only now beginning to assume an identity as (arguably) the capital of The South and capital of Black culture in the US...and even it has a long way to go. The question that should be asked and is more difficult to answer is whether or not Charlotte's culture is indicative of what modern American culture has become and are we now realizing that we really don't like it?

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I feel that Charlotte's identity is years off but quickly forming too. We are currently experiencing what N.Y., Chicago, L.A., Seattle, and other cities experienced as they started to become cities. Different people moving in to find the spot on this "green" planet. A place that they can call home and help to become there home. Does Charlotte have an identity? Once yes, now no. I say this because of the reason stated above. A transisition is taking place that is affecting the community at large and this cause has been started by the banks. They were looking for a play ground, I guess, and found the Queen City. In return, the effect is how the people and new people of Charlotte feel about it and what they will do about it to make Charlotte, Charlotte.

Charlotte will lose that southern town feel and replace it with a strong urban feel that will probably be backed with the hospitality of the south. However I feel that Charlotte's identity will be made on how the people of Charlotte come together to build that identity through their belief's and culture. Being generic is one thing but a generic thing came from one persons belief then transformed into someone else wanting to do the samething. Then being capitolize by marketing and big buisness. I feel like I am getting off topic but IMO Charlotte is building its identitiy now. Is the city boader line being generic yes but it is also a new city finding its way.

I honestly love Charlotte and is glad to see the way it is heading. I feel like it is on its way to being larger than Atlanta and possibly being one of the largest cities in the world. The only sad thing is that it is stripping away its old identity, historic buildings and homes, to build this new one. But, the old dies away to make room for the new.

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Hello UP'ers. I've been reading for more than a year and finally couldn't resist chiming in.

Instead of "Charlotte's Got a (surface parking) Lot," I'd prefer a slogan like "Gracious and Spacious." Not only is "graciousness" true to the city's survivng smalltown roots and traditionalism, it can also apply to things we'd like to see develop, like pedestrian-friendliness and the welcoming nature of street-level retail. Meanwhile, "graciousness" also suggests a happy, cultivated, green-spaced, medium between the claustrophobic press of extreme density on the one hand, and the tree-devouring blight of suburban sprawl on the other. Precisely because of Charlotte's abundant infill space, most of it still tree-covered, this city has the chance to create that happy medium, and a long way to go before we're in danger of losing our spaciousness! Last but not least, "spaciousness" implies opportunity along with an openness to new people, new ideas, and new development (as long as it's gracious, lol). It acknowledges what the city is, while helping to guide us in a good (I think) direction. What do you think?

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Let's not do "one of the world's largest cities". I would be happy with "the world's best large city."

Now to the reason for my post:

Charlotte's leaders need to find a way to make the residents of the towns and burbs 25 miles beyond Mecklenburg's borders consider themselves part of "Charlotte," not Mooresville, Monroe, or Bessemer City, etc.

Sports teams go a long way towards this end, but our leaders need to find a way to facilitate this change of thinking. There may be no way to do this, but it might be possible. Newcomers from outside the Carolinas seem to do this naturally, as in a couple from Jersey may relocate to Fort Mill, but tell their friends back home they have moved to Charlotte.

Enlarging the base population from the 650k in the city limits to encompass the roughly 2 million in the uban area would be essential, for if only true citizens of Charlotte proper come up with a way to identify the city, the message is essentially lost in the crowd.

I don't advocate spending any of the city's dough on such a campaign. If it feels right, the private sector will incorporate the image in their advertising. The hotel people, the airlines, and any future private convention halls will do the work for us, assuming an identity is forged inherintly.

Personally, I think a lot more could be done with the Queen City theme. We need to differentiate Charlotte from Cincinnati and Buffalo and the other pretenders to the name. We had it first, it's ours, case closed. The QC thing would be a natural draw to Europeans and Asians. Commuter rail will help in the future. Great architecture would be a true I.D. builder (look at Chicago and the Art Deco of NYC or Miami Beach). Portman helped make ATL "the world's next great city" in the late 60's and 70's. We have traditionally been too conservative to capture the imagination of anyone, let alone the planet's. It's changing. I think we're "not too trifling" anymore (Sorry President Washington). How about a great park called "A Trifling Place?"

I just don't think a "packaged" slogan will endure.

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Hello UP'ers. I've been reading for more than a year and finally couldn't resist chiming in.

Instead of "Charlotte's Got a (surface parking) Lot," I'd prefer a slogan like "Gracious and Spacious." Not only is "graciousness" true to the city's survivng smalltown roots and traditionalism, it can also apply to things we'd like to see develop, like pedestrian-friendliness and the welcoming nature of street-level retail. Meanwhile, "graciousness" also suggests a happy, cultivated, green-spaced, medium between the claustrophobic press of extreme density on the one hand, and the tree-devouring blight of suburban sprawl on the other. Precisely because of Charlotte's abundant infill space, most of it still tree-covered, this city has the chance to create that happy medium, and a long way to go before we're in danger of losing our spaciousness! Last but not least, "spaciousness" implies opportunity along with an openness to new people, new ideas, and new development (as long as it's gracious, lol). It acknowledges what the city is, while helping to guide us in a good (I think) direction. What do you think?

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I'm thinking it sounds more like Charleston, Savannah, or any laid back place...nothing uniquely Charlotte. Could be anywhere, any country or state. Great qualities, though. Just nothing to make me want to go there, unless I'm retiring to the manor life.

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Charlotte's lack of identity has a lot to do with the dominance of The Banks . Although the growth of the banks has been great for the city economically, it has supported a culture of gentrification that places no value on character, history, or sentiment, especially if it is not considered mainstream. Order and cleanliness are paramount. As a result, we have too few public spaces, limited parks, and nowhere (other than the light rail) that people from different socioeconomic strata can co-mingle.

Much of the reason that newcomers never really become Charlotteans is that to us, the Charlotte experience is generic and largely suburban. When I leave uptown, I only know I'm in Charlotte because of the center medians at each intersection and the crowns on the street signs. The city, which I see as in its teenage years, is torn between its small-town roots and its metropolitan future and has made many compromises that have satisfied neither urge. Charlotte has become more urban physically than it is prepared to be mentally.

Finally, everyone here has come from somewhere else's suburb. The generic, soul-less suburban culture here is the same generic, soul-less suburban culture everywhere else but without the established city in the center. It is the city created by people who have never really lived in a city. It will take at least 25 years for Charlotte to even start to incubate a distinct culture. Atlanta in 1980s was the same way and it is only now beginning to assume an identity as (arguably) the capital of The South and capital of Black culture in the US...and even it has a long way to go. The question that should be asked and is more difficult to answer is whether or not Charlotte's culture is indicative of what modern American culture has become and are we now realizing that we really don't like it?

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Honestly I don't think the city needs another slogan. They just spent $70,000 (or was it $90K) on some slogan for downtown that nobody is going to remember in a few years because it is so corny that nobody will use them.

Charlotte's leaders need to find a way to make the residents of the towns and burbs 25 miles beyond Mecklenburg's borders consider themselves part of "Charlotte," not Mooresville, Monroe, or Bessemer City, etc.

.....

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Personally, I think a lot more could be done with the Queen City theme. We need to differentiate Charlotte from Cincinnati and Buffalo and the other pretenders to the name. We had it first, it's ours, case closed. The QC thing would be a natural draw to Europeans and Asians. Commuter rail will help in the future. Great architecture would be a true I.D. builder (look at Chicago and the Art Deco of NYC or Miami Beach). Portman helped make ATL "the world's next great city" in the late 60's and 70's. We have traditionally been too conservative to capture the imagination of anyone, let alone the planet's. It's changing. I think we're "not too trifling" anymore (Sorry President Washington). How about a great park called "A Trifling Place?"

I just don't think a "packaged" slogan will endure.

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Charlotte is not different from new cities nationwide in that most of it is characterized by mind numbing sprawl that could be anywhere USA. Hard to put an "identity" to that. A premium is put on Uptown which is very nice and new and shiny and worthy of praise. Our core does not "say" anything though. A collection of condo towers is not going to give our city any heart. There are vestiges of history here and there which I think give Charlotte some life but not enough is left and more is bulldozed every day. Family and religion is given top priority and everyone else who does not fit this distinct mold is marginalized or patronized. This mindset runs City Hall, The Chamber and The Visitors Bureau. Hard to build an identity beyond Generic Family Town USA in the current circumstances.

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Honestly I don't think the city needs another slogan. They just spent $70,000 (or was it $90K) on some slogan for downtown that nobody is going to remember in a few years because it is so corny that nobody will use them.

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Charlotte is not different from new cities nationwide in that most of it is characterized by mind numbing sprawl that could be anywhere USA. Hard to put an "identity" to that. A premium is put on Uptown which is very nice and new and shiny and worthy of praise. Our core does not "say" anything though. A collection of condo towers is not going to give our city any heart. There are vestiges of history here and there which I think give Charlotte some life but not enough is left and more is bulldozed every day. Family and religion is given top priority and everyone else who does not fit this distinct mold is marginalized or patronized. This mindset runs City Hall, The Chamber and The Visitors Bureau. Hard to build an identity beyond Generic Family Town USA in the current circumstances.

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Just to play devil's advocate-do we even need an "identity"? I mean, we're doing quite well without some focus group tested, mass market appeal "identity". People think of Charlotte as a good place to come to get a decent job, raise a family, etc. (If they think of us at all ;) ) And that seems to be working pretty well. We're growing by leaps and bounds (which is both a good and a bad thing), we're making progress on mass transit, and yes, we continue to sprawl just like most other cities in America. But an identity that we can point to and say "That's what Charlotte is" is not going to enhance our assets nor contribute in any way to solving our problems.

In other words, I don't see why people spend so much time obsessing over this. An identity will come as people become more aware of Charlotte. And that will only happen over time. All imho.

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Everyone in Charlotte including myself has work to do to move outside of our bubbles or comfort zones. Light rail is going to help forge more unity because it's a co-mingling of a variety of socioeconomic classes. Supporting ethnic festivals and patronizing locally owned stores and volunteering helps as well. I know that local government and powers that be can't do it all. However it's always a major help when those in charge have an open-minded and inclusive mindset. The city of Atlanta has a well earned reputation as a mecca of diversity in the South because minorities of every stripe are welcomed. I sense a real fear by the majority here to move beyond a small town mindset. The current mindset does not fit the reality but those with the most clout to move us forward won't acknowledge the change and help craft a truly welcoming "face" for Charlotte.

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Much of the reason that newcomers never really become Charlotteans is that to us, the Charlotte experience is generic and largely suburban. When I leave uptown, I only know I'm in Charlotte because of the center medians at each intersection and the crowns on the street signs. The city, which I see as in its teenage years, is torn between its small-town roots and its metropolitan future and has made many compromises that have satisfied neither urge. Charlotte has become more urban physically than it is prepared to be mentally.

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To tell you the truth, I think Charlotte is too BIG, not too small, to have a single unified identity. As in other large cities, people from different parts of Charlotte live dramatically different lives and make a point NOT to identify with "others" scattered throughout the city. This happens in pretty much any large city.

In fact, I would question whether it's perception or reality that a city like London has AN identity. It seems to me that a city that large has countless different identities due to the sheer number and diversity of people living there. What we think of as London's "identity" is largely just a manufactured marketing presence centered around its central tourist areas. In that respect, Charlotte is well on its way with cheesy slogans and hip-sounding district nicknames. But real identity comes from real life, which will happen regardless of whether we obsess over the issue or not.

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..... What we think of as London's "identity" is largely just a manufactured marketing presence centered around its central tourist areas. ....

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Just to play devil's advocate-do we even need an "identity"? I mean, we're doing quite well without some focus group tested, mass market appeal "identity". People think of Charlotte as a good place to come to get a decent job, raise a family, etc. (If they think of us at all ;) ) And that seems to be working pretty well. We're growing by leaps and bounds (which is both a good and a bad thing), we're making progress on mass transit, and yes, we continue to sprawl just like most other cities in America. But an identity that we can point to and say "That's what Charlotte is" is not going to enhance our assets nor contribute in any way to solving our problems.

In other words, I don't see why people spend so much time obsessing over this. An identity will come as people become more aware of Charlotte. And that will only happen over time. All imho.

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I don't really have time to read through all of the replies, so forgive me if I'm saying something that's already been said. But the truth of the matter is that it's extremely hard for a post WWII city like Charlotte to really develop a unique identity. Perhaps things would have been a bit different if the city had more of its historic structures standing, but as is, it's just hard to pin Charlotte down identity-wise. Charlotte is pretty much doing everything that every other city is doing today, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since our cities are now focused on truly urban issues.

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History is somewhat lost on this city at the moment. Much of it has been torn down or forgotten, due in part because its a city of transplants. How do you create an identity when much of the residents are from somewhere else? What here hasn't changed in the last 100 years? I would say Charlotte is in its infancy right now. Neighborhoods (real neighborhoods...) are being established now, since many of our "established" neighborhoods had different identities just a decade ago (ex. dilworth).

I also think density and mass transit will really be needed to create an identitiy. There really isn't enough density anywhere to create retail districts and other infrastructure to feel a sense of place. Uptown will though, there will be too many residents in the wards for retailers and such to ignore. Rail lines connecting the different neighborhoods will go a very long way as well. Enclosed, car oriented communities have really hurt Charlottes identity, but TOD projects along the lines will help establish true neighborhoods. Not to mention connect people who are miles apart that would otherwise feel completely disconnected even though they live in the same city.

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I don't think we're talking specifically about a slogan for Charlotte. I think the question is what about Charlotte is identifiably "from Charlotte." These things are important because they are what will keep people here when the city experiences a change in its good fortune. This country is littered with dead cities and towns that had no ambition beyond jobs, families, and just getting by.

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I don't really believe any place or person can create an identity, at least not one that is real. Identity, especially as seen by those from elsewhere, must evolve. That doesn't mean a little help from its citizens or government isn't good -- such as building a signature park (Central Park), or adding civic venues (any city with well known arenas or stadiums -- they've been doing this since Roman times), or enhancing districts (Seattles waterfront fish whatever). Those things, if they are real and used for real, help establish identity. But to flat out look for an identity just won't ever work, IMO. I also don't think it is necessary.

To say we have no identity is silly. We might not have the one we want, but everything, everyone, and every place has an identity. Right now it seems ours is of a business minded growing city. That is our identity good or bad -- and that is what we are. So be it. From reading above that seems to have brought 60% of our population here in one way or another.

I see our identity beginning to be a bit sports and entertainment related as well. We now have two professional teams downtown that draw tons of visitors. We might add minor league baseball. We have the national Whitewater training facility here. The ACC basketball tourney is here this year and we might get football. The CIAA tournament is here. NASCAR is headquartered in the region and the HOF is being built in center city. I'm not saying I want, don't want, or care if we are associated with sports, but to some people we are. I also meet people on the street and in restaurants downtown that come here from fairly close by for the bar and restaurant scene. Not tons of them, but some -- and they aren't necessarily coming for any specific event. Just a road-trip.

We are also seen by many, from transplants from all over the US (seems like a bunch from Buffalo -- at least I know a lot of them) to immigrants from other places (Asian, Hispanic, etc) as the land of opportunity. Charlotte has a reputation elsewhere of being a good place to find work, to find reasonably priced housing, and having a mild climate.

I personally don't waste time fretting about being world-class or not. I like living here and know tons of people who do also. I also know plenty that don't like it -- they are either stuck here for a job or other reason or haven't found another place they like more.

I like all the districts that are evolving here as well. Though many don't seem to see them, the very foreign and ethnic populations that have settled in east Charlotte, along Central Avenue, and down South Blvd have really begun to establish themselves. They have their own communities, businesses, restaurants, and clubs. Some are now 2nd and 3rd generation. There are places along Albemarle Road where many of the signs on poles and in windows don't have any English at all. Will they ever be as cool as Chinatown in San Fran? Of course not, but we aren't all white, all southern, or all American any more. I personally like variety. We also have a growing Bosnican and Croatian population, my step-sister just married one of them.

I like the scene in NoDa. It isn't the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago, but no place I've ever seen remains a picture in time. I love the arts scene at Area 15 -- took a tour last week -- I had no idea what was going on there -- what to know where the old NoDa went? Check 15th Street and the surrounding blocks. Also check out Plaza Central and the Thomas Street area -- for the most part it is very self-evolved and not chain oriented. The people are a great mix and most live in the area.

I know families here that love the city for what it offers them and I know singles that do as well. The people I've met that can't find a scene they like here in Charlotte are few and far between -- their gripes are legit, but it is more that they can't find what they want, not that the city doesn't offer a decent variety. There are many great cities out there that I wouldn't be happy in -- great to visit, not so great for my lifestyle.

I'd rather see us spend our time and money figuring out how to grow responsibly and in a smart manner, keep up with infrastructure, make this a better place to live, than trying to determine or steer what others think about us. Charlotte won't ever be perfect for everyone, no city can be, but it is great for many.

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