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tozmervo

One year in the QC

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A bizzare date slipped past me Monday without notice. It was the one year anniversary of my move into Charlotte from Tennessee.

There have been a few...

Well, more than a few times where I've thought about moving back. As I'm sure many people can relate, there were many months where Charlotte felt like a strange, inaccessible, unhappy place. I was looking to replace the community that was left behind, and I couldn't find anything like it. People here seemed too busy putting on airs. Uptown was full of preening white collar bankers and young 20-somethings that hadn't gotten over college. I was used to young and old, hippy and banker alike sharing the same urban space. I remember being devastated at my first Alive After Five. It was so boring. I had left behind a free music series where everyone was out to have a good time and enjoy good music, not mill around in blue dress shirts drinking over priced beer.

But, little by little, I found my moments. My first trip to NoDa revealed a small pocket of culture like what I was used to: music, art, great food and people who are happy being themselves. A little later, Plaza Midwood proved to be an eclectic spot with interesting folks (god bless you, Zada Jane's). Even Uptown, with a little more exploration, has become a friendlier place - although I still avoid it on Friday and Saturday nights. And no more AAF.

There are perks to Charlotte that I've come to appreciate, too. The Mint Museum of Craft + Design always has wonderful exhibits. The green movement here has much more momentum than most other southeastern cities. The Blue Line is insanely convenient for me. Tremendous urban development has drastically reduced my dependance on the 'burbs (god bless you, Midtown). There are some great parks and greenways. And of course, Price's.

So, after one year, what is my summary judgement?

Charlotte has a lot of growing up to do, but its a period of growth that promises to be an exciting one. There is such potential locked away in many of these neighborhoods, but so much about Charlotte's successes still seems forced. Sadly, one can't just start a new tradition. You can start an activity, and hopefully, one day, it will become a tradition. On that day, Charlotte will be an awesome city.

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It's very interesting to hear your input and perspective, especially as being one who doesn't really know any other than Charlotte having been born and raised here. :)

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I have to agree overall. Charlotte is in a huge transition stage right now. Culturally, it is very diverse, but lacks the cultural "feel" to back it. I wish there were more festivals around town, more notably uptown, that celebrate the diversity of Asian and Hispanic families in our community. The city needs to support, embrace, and help promote more daytime events that don't seem to require a namebadge & collar.

Uptown is still only a destination for the night crowd. I am hoping that the combination of the new cultural projects, the NHOF, and the rising number of retail outlets and housing units uptown will begin to bring more people into uptown on a consistent basis rather than just at night and for occasional large events. Alive After Five is and has always been a joke; but at least it is an effort to start something. I feel that, as the population of center city grows and connects with surrounding neighborhoods, it will begin meshing more culturally with the banks' many "migrant workers" and northern transplants. Charlotte probably contains more people that moved here in the last fifteen years than people that have lived here all their lives. The changes are beginning to emerge, but still have a long way to become more commonplace in this area.

Despite this lack of community, Charlotte is somehow still the only large metropolis with an economy that isn't consistently slowing as quickly as the rest of the country (yet.) I wonder if these things are related. I can't place a rational link in my head, but it almost seems to have a relatively strong correlation.

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..... People here seemed too busy putting on airs...

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I find Tozmervo's insights very on point and similar to mine. Been over three years since I moved from Charleston. Since Charlotte is a banking center there will always be a strong conformist one dimensional vibe that feesl suffocating to those that don't fit this mold. I do see a more diverse side to this town growing stronger since I have been here. Uptown is the shining corporate citadel on the hill that reinforces the "Keeping up with the Jones" mania that is so pervasive in this town. Here and there in Uptown other options are emerging but it is what it is and is wonderful to most people. I do my best to support locally owned businesses and innovative alternative spots like Area 15, Charlotte Energy Solutions, and the Freecycle store on Saturdays on Parkwood. I spend most of my time in the older neighborhoods that are less snotty and more laidback. Wish they were bigger hoods but I love what we do have.

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As someone from Charlotte originally, and having lived in Atlanta and Boston, I can see a good bit a truth to what you are saying and agree for the most part.

The putting on airs made me smile a bit. I'm probably guilty of it too to some extent. I think it comes from several things. Tremendous civic pride at the same time mixed with an inferiority complex. Most people who live in Charlotte want to imagine it for something greater than it is, as do I. They want to seem part of a big city that hasn't matured yet.

On the flip side, I think the attitude is beneficial in some respect. I remember it being much more prevalent in Atlanta, when I lived there a decade ago.....but the striving to be something better has made that city better (and Charlotte too). If you want to feel better about Charlotte's level of pretenciousness, visit Dallas :)

I've travelled and spent a decent amount of time in most every major US city, and agree that Charlotte lacks that organic vibe, and that there is a lot of "forced" culture. Unfortunately, Charlotte's leaders are masters of supporting the contrived, and oblivious to supporting the organic. There's a very strong "either your with us or against us" civic attitude. It has been effective in pushing forward many large scale projects, and has made Charlotte a successfull city economically, but the polarizing effect has prevented different cultural vibes from emerging.

Ok..that's enough rambling without solutions....

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I think this has been hit on above but I will state it a different way.

I think what you mention is caused a combination of the following:

  • Charlotte has a native "Southern country club" society that might be called "old money" in some other places. If you were not born into it, then your only chance for temporary membership is if you have money, good looks, and/or some kind of celebrity status. A lot of people do put on airs for acceptance. Where you live, where you go to school, etc are all aspects of this.

  • Banking culture. This was hit on above and is much more prevalent now than say 25 years ago because of how banking employment has come to define many social circles in Charlotte. I have worked with a lot of financial institutions over the years and the one thing they all have in common, expecially the commercial banks, is a definite "pecking order" amongst their employees that is based on position. It seems to be taken to the extremes at the banks. Employees there are alway jockeying to improve it and as a result I have rarely run into a happy banking employee. I am sure this must spill into many of the clubs in and around downtown.

  • Finally Money. Charlotte, compared to many cities has always had a lot of it and because of it has generally made a lot of very bad decisions based on the pursuit of "world class status". In particular this has meant many bad urban renewal projects over the last 1/2 century that came close to erasing all pre-WWII Charlotte. It was replaced by the hot trendy urban development idea of the moment which has resulted in what you see downtown now. People, mostly younger, have their opinions that what is being down now is great and good, but I have yet to see the signs that a real community is forming. What seems to be happening is that downtown is developing as a gated vertical suburb. Don't apply if you don't have the cash.

There are good things that have happened too, most notable the LRT, but I think that as stated in the header that Charlotte still has a great deal of growing up to do before it changes much. I think it's going to take at least another generation until we see a city that might be more on the lines of what was mentioned in Nashville and then only if some changes are made.

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.......What seems to be happening is that downtown is developing as a gated vertical suburb. Don't apply if you don't have the cash.....

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How is Charlotte suppose to grow "organically" if we lack or have very little old buildings to use? We pretty much have to build new, which usually means rent (including retail/restaurant) and the cost of a condo will be more expensive, which makes it harder for eclectic type places to open and people of all incomes to afford living there. However, we aren't the only city experiencing this problem. Even old cities, like NYC, are having this problem. Manhattan has become so expensive that if you don't have money, you can't live there. Even the outer boroughs have become more expensive. A lot of people are leaving these types of cities and moving to places like Charlotte because it is a lot cheaper. You could never get the type of condo you can get Uptown in NYC or Philly or Chicago etc. Even with that being said, Charlotte still needs to make sure affordable housing is being built Uptown and in surrounding neighborhoods and I would really like to see more apartment projects in those areas.

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How is Charlotte suppose to grow "organically" if we lack or have very little old buildings to use? .....

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Charlotte is in something of an awkward position right now. The city is searching for its soul and is trying to establish a solid identity for itself. Since the city isn't defined by geography, its status as a capital city/college town, or age/history, it's a bit hard to pin the city down beyond the banks. In this regard, the city differs among the vast majority of its Southern peers. So we see firsthand the results of the city's fumbling around for something to truly set it apart. IMO, this is only something that will be rectified with time.

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Charlotte is in something of an awkward position right now. The city is searching for its soul and is trying to establish a solid identity for itself. Since the city isn't defined by geography, its status as a capital city/college town, or age/history, it's a bit hard to pin the city down beyond the banks. In this regard, the city differs among the vast majority of its Southern peers. So we see firsthand the results of the city's fumbling around for something to truly set it apart. IMO, this is only something that will be rectified with time.

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^ And believe it or not, Atlanta has a planning review process that blows Charlotte out of the water, as well as far superior existing infrastructure.

The sad reality is, Atlanta has far more going for it in terms of planning and development (excluding transit funding mechanisms) than Charlotte does at this point, that if Charlotte reaches the size of Altanta currently and things haven't changed, it will be the most congestion filled city in America.

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We have had similar discussions to this but I think it's worthwhile to continually toss around ideas. We are often compared to Portland and Austin because of similar population and traffic needs. Aside from that it's tough because each of these cities has a "thing" that one organically feels when you are there. Portland is artsy and green oriented. Austin has a stellar music scene and the big university culture that breeds creativity. I don't think Charlotte has a "thing". Perhaps because we are so sprawly and diffuse and newer. Outside of small independent efforts that are always on life support because don't get help from ASC and the corporate poohbahs....our "things" are so packaged and forced it's almost the antithesis of "cool" or funky". If it's ever cool not to live in a cool city we are cool :lol:

On the positive side...we don't lack creative people here, they can be found in a wide variety of areas, it's simply more subtle because our foundational culture is not grass roots or whatever I am trying to say, Charlotte Viewpoint and Point8 and...Urbanplanet are forces for the kind of change I would like!

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I think it is interesting that these discussions always seem to focus on center city. It is much of what has been posted here, so if you want a funky, alternative, green, whatever vibe, take a look outside the core. You don't have to go far outside -- Elizabeth, NoDa, Southend, Wilmore, Wesley Heights, Plaza - Midwood, and Commonwealth all offer genuine, home-grown businesses, restaurants, and 'scenes' that everyone seems to be talking about and perhaps looking for. No one went to these areas and created the vibe, it built upon itself from the people that live there. Thomas Street / Pecan / Central Avenue is my favorite by far and is far from a ritzy scene and someone 'putting on airs' there would definitely stand out.

I don't agree or disagree with everything above, but it just appears that when people talk about what Charlotte is like they always gravitate towards the middle of uptown and assume that it must be where the test should be applied.

That being said I love it here uptown, but I've found people that are similar to me and have similar interests and that doesn't include trying to be something we aren't. I'm not a banker, don't dress like a banker, and don't try to impress bankers. When we aren't out in uptown we are usually in Southend/Wilmore where most of my friends live (Phat Burrito, Tutto Mundo, gallery crawl on the first Friday on Camden), at the Dog Bar in NoDa (I love that i can take my pups out of a night on the town), or at Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza-Midwood. We go to Visulite a good bit and throw a couple parties there a year (since no one throws funky parties with stage shows we do them ourselves instead of wishing someone else would). Neighborhood theater has great shows that rival the music scene in Asheville -- probably one of the coolest, funkiest towns in NC.

All I'm saying is every place is what you make of it. If uptown ain't for you, look around a bit, there are far more scenes in Charlotte that the one in the middle.

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I wonder, too, how much of this comes from people wishing elements of whatever they left when the moved here were here. We can't be everything that everyone left (too many people from too many places) any more than Seattle would have a Charlotte-like area for me if I moved there.

There are places, though, where people have done this and done it well. Case in point, Wilmore has a bunch of folks from Buffalo, NY. Charlotte does in general, but a lot of younger ones have settled there. In Southend, right beside Wilmore, you'll find Tavern on the Tracks. A restaurant / bar opened by guys from Buffalo with a menu and feel that makes them all feel at home -- Speedies (I don't even know what they are or what makes them special but Buffalonians seems to love it), wings, and other home-cookin from up above in NY. Buffalo Sabres stuff everywhere and Buffalo fans fill the place on Football and Hockey game days. I guess the point is if a place doesn't provide what you are seeking, maybe think about trying to make something happen instead of just missing it. I'm not saying its easy, but it is worth trying...

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We can't be everything that everyone left (too many people from too many places) any more than Seattle would have a Charlotte-like area for me if I moved there.

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That description invites comparison to Atlanta, which apart from being 3x bigger than Charlotte, I would say suffers from the same identity crisis. I can't think of any way to describe Atlanta other than "big," "nightmare traffic," and "they have an ikea."

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I think it is interesting that these discussions always seem to focus on center city. It is much of what has been posted here, so if you want a funky, alternative, green, whatever vibe, take a look outside the core. You don't have to go far outside -- Elizabeth, NoDa, Southend, Wilmore, Wesley Heights, Plaza - Midwood, and Commonwealth all offer genuine, home-grown businesses, restaurants, and 'scenes' that everyone seems to be talking about and perhaps looking for. No one went to these areas and created the vibe, it built upon itself from the people that live there. Thomas Street / Pecan / Central Avenue is my favorite by far and is far from a ritzy scene and someone 'putting on airs' there would definitely stand out.

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This is a good point, but let's face it: with few exceptions, a city is going to largely be identified by its core. Charleston is surrounded by nothing but sprawl for days, but it's reputation is defined by downtown. I actually think Charlotte might fare better in this regard had 277 not been built, which prevented some of the blending of the "organicness" of the surrounding neighborhoods with Uptown.

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Actually Seattle has the University District, which looks amazingly like Charlotte's Myers Park.:)

However I understand what you mean. Funky, eccentric businesses bring lots of character to an area. And Seattle has tons of that. Seattle also has TONS of old buildings, whereas Charlotte tore down almost all it's old buildings Uptown. Kinda hard to imagine a funky retail/entertainment district in which all the businesses are in new buildings, and Charlotte's center city is almost all new/newish.

All the wishing in the world isn't gonna bring all those old buildings back, so I question if Uptown Charlotte has the basics for an area like Seattle's Pioneer Square or Downtown Marketplace. As others have eloquently stated, perhaps surrounding neighborhoods like Elizabeth can develop in fun, eclectic ways to make up for the quasi-sterility of Uptown.

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I don't disagree at all, just trying to point out that if you aren't happy with what is here, regardless of whether it is typical to look in the core, try looking elsewhere. Every city is different and Charlotte is what it is. Why try and force everything to be downtown. Skip a couple blocks east, south, or west and you'll find much different character. One of my favorite cities in the world is Toronto -- but when we are there we don't hang out in the core financial district, we go a mile or so out in a couple directions to the awesome little hubs of uniqueness. Queen Street, Church Street, Davisville, etc. 277 hemming in does create a barrier of sorts, but it is really that difficult to cross?

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Oh I totally understand where you're coming from. Two cities that I think are exceptions to the "core" rule are DC and LA, which I absolutely love--and it's for what they offer outside of their downtown areas. They are more defined by their neighborhoods/multiple nodes than their downtowns/CBD's. I think that as SouthEnd, Elizabeth, Dilworth, Plaza Midwood, etc. begin to see more and more investment, they may come to play a more defining role in Charlotte's overall identity.

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Oh I totally understand where you're coming from. Two cities that I think are exceptions to the "core" rule are DC and LA, which I absolutely love--and it's for what they offer outside of their downtown areas. They are more defined by their neighborhoods/multiple nodes than their downtowns/CBD's. I think that as SouthEnd, Elizabeth, Dilworth, Plaza Midwood, etc. begin to see more and more investment, they may come to play a more defining role in Charlotte's overall identity.

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To an extent this is true, and that crossed my mind while I was typing out my thoughts. However, Atlanta has a few identifiers that make its identity less amorphous than Charlotte's, such as being a capital city, home to notable institutions of higher learning, its Civil Rights history (and by extension its status as a "Black mecca"), the hip hop/R&B industry, and having been a host city for the Olympics. Charlotte's identity doesn't encompass any of these non-economic elements--really, none period at this point.

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