Thursday April 23 | Report on Charlotte: The Recommendations

April 22, 2009 at 10:00 am | Posted in Coming Up | 1 Comment

In 1995, Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson studied Charlotte as part of the Peirce Report, a large-scale study of urban areas in America. In late 2008, they compiled a new study on Charlotte as part of their CitiStates Report. They join us to share their findings and recommendations on what city leaders should do to prepare for Charlotte’s future.
Neal Peirce – Co-Author, CitiStates Report
Curtis Johnson – Co-Author, CitiStates Report
Jeff Michael – Director, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

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  1. I am astonished to be the only commentator on this CT episode.(There were some e-mails because Mike read them on air.)

    Summary: The first third consisted of introductions and context. Jeff Michael of UNCC explained why Citistates had been hired as consultants, and then Pierce and Johnson summarized their vitas, business model and research method. They never explained fully who they talked with or why particular respondents were chosen. The second third was a roast of Queen Charlotte as a personified entity. Their report was described as an “intervention”, leaving one to wonder what the 12 steps would consist of for a city. Charlotte’s hubris had been humbled by the financial meltdown, the phallic bank buildings had drooped and the starched shirts had been replaced by drip dry ones. (Amazing, since their research had been completed well before the Bailout; before the worst was revealed.)

    The report was almost a “what if?”, a wish list of what would have been possible before the financial disruption and Recession. (I say Second Great Depression, but then I am a 20th Century guy.) Light rail and commuter trains seem to be key to a new mixed-use urbanism, with baby boomers ditching the lawn chemicals and moving near trendy bars and excitement. Like anywhere USA, the growing healthcare market was touted. (This in a state where 50% have no health coverage without Medicaid/Medicare: The very things “nominal conservatives” want to cut.) The research campus in Kannapolis was another chesnut, but did they examine the actual research being done? No! Water was their measure of environmental well-being and growth potential. Charlotte would have to abandon its unilateralism and go regional to keep wet. (And of course nothing but rain could enter those storm drains.) They expected court decisions to curb libertarian property rights interpretations. Charlotte would build up and up like Arlington, Va. (As described by Hedrick Smith in his recent Frontline report on PBS.) Regionalism? Poor Gastonia, so far from God, and so near Metrolina. Some poor planning lady called in from Rowan County (Salisbury), gave a ten minute pedigree, and complained that her county commissioners had chucked real zoning for the last 20 years. (They can’t speculate without growth, ya know.) About then a producer (Wendy Bratt Herkey, I guess) submitted a website:, just a one button e-mail drop for civicbydesign, probably a plug. Mike laughed it off during the break and told the guests they probably couldn’t answer his previous question about declining real estate values anyway. He claimed the days of the 7 Bigmen in a mahogony office on the 32nd floor were over, and suggested Jim Rogers of Duke Energy as one of the new “egalitarians.” (Now how many were arrested at the recent downtown protest against Mr. Rogers coal plants? He shore is “green” ain’t he?) Mike called Rogers contradictory or at least ambiguous. If bank CEOs ain’t ambiguous and contradictory these days no one is. (They made me buy it./I made a good choice because the money’s still rolling in from writing more slick mortgages on commercial paper.)
    Education, the last refuge of utopian scoundrels, was dragged out at the end. (As teachers are laid off.) Computererers are gonna save the day, because learning will be tailored to each little mind. And these are the kids who are gonna shame us against greed and into preserving the environment with succeeding generations of light fixtures and bulbs. The sad thing is that these two old fogeys had no new answers, or at least no answers greeedy business types would listen to even in good times. They are hopeless under our new reality.

    Conclusion: People want to drive more cars on more roads to farther away jobs. Their dream is a big house with a big lawn. Landowners expect to profit from intense development without restrictions. Banks are still writing and bundling questionable mortgages while raising consumer interest and fees. Unemployment in core Mecklenburg just hit 12% today and continues to rise.
    We are killing our watershed with runoff. County governments are booster clubs of insider dealing and quid pro quo. The federal government is setting new deficit records daily and the FED is issuing pretend electronic money at 1/4%. Obama is apologizing at economic summits for the crimes of our financial elite. The USA has pretty much the same mindset as pre-crash Charlotte. It is a “sweetspot” with 7 wheeler-dealers behind boardroom doors, and they will get theirs no matter who gets hurt. Hierarhy and financial sector dominance are alive and well! Example: Liberty Insurance (headquartered here, and typical) asks us to be responsible, while they are stiffing claimants and writing deceptive policies. They are “pure Charlotte”: still running their offices like Mr. Charlie’s cotton mills, without screwing in anyone’s light bulb. The USA has few admirable examples of leadership. The few we have are laughed at in today’s circumstance. Charlotte can aspire but can’t achieve with no money. True, its a new cosmopolitan world, but we have no jobs for immigrants, and are beginning to resemble Argentina. This show was a glimpse into a future that will never be, a pipe-dream smoke ring. The truth is still too depressing for Charlotte, and Charlotte Talks. (Mike did a superb job, using a bitter undercurrent of sarcastic humor as his foil.)

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