In defense of Charlotte’s unstoppable growth

In defense of Charlotte’s unstoppable growth
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Charlotte is experiencing a major growth spurt. Earlier this year we were listed among Forbes’ 10 Fastest-Growing Cities in America with estimates of a 47% population increase for the greater Charlotte metro by 2030. We can already see the growth as new buildings climb their way up into the skyline, altering who we are from a distance. We can hear the growth as construction is unleashed on countless new apartment complexes and an expanded lightrail system, building the infrastructure we need to accommodate everyone. But where we’ll really feel the growth is with the arrival of some 800,000 human beings (from 2010 to 2030) who will choose to call Charlotte home.

I am one of those humans.

With all this growth come growing pains we’ll all have to deal with together. There’s the inevitable increase in traffic (have you driven down South Blvd lately?) and the emotional loss of longstanding businesses and landmarks that helped shape the Charlotte we know today. But these problems are just byproducts of what I’d argue are even better things to come because with growth comes more people and with people comes more growth. And that, I think, is an exciting cycle of expansion that pushes us forward in a very positive way. But not everyone is excited.

uptown charlotte construction

As an outside transplant trying to settle in, I can’t help but notice a disproportionate resistance to change in Charlotte, mostly because I feel like a burden for being one among many hundreds of thousands who have driven the growth by choosing this spot as my home (the nerve!). I live in one of the newest complexes in Plaza Midwood that neighbors protested. I eat in “new and weird” vegan restaurants instead of BBQ joints. And yeah, I’d rather drink a craft cocktail in a gastropub than a Bud Light in a dive bar any day of the week. My life is apparently many people’s problem. I’m sorry?

I hear you loudly lamenting the loss of good old Charlotte as she was when she was at her best, I really do. But I also can’t help but point out that the “old” Charlotte you’re trying to barricade was once the “new” Charlotte that destroyed the version before it. This is a never-ending process of growth we’ve been going through since the Thomas Spratt family built a cabin at the corner of Providence Road and Crescent Avenue in 1753. That one game-changing cabin was strategically located two miles from the intersection of two old Native American trails–Trading Path and Wagon Road–that is today a towering mass of steel and glass skyscrapers at Trade & Tryon. 

charlotte sunset

Should we have left Charlotte like it was when it was just the Spratts or was it ok that it grew into a village of half-acre lots? Should we have left it as a village of half-acre lots or was it ok to bring in the railroad and put us on the map as a trading center in 1852? Should we have left it with just the railroad center or was it ok to grow into a textile manufacturing hub in the late 1800s? Should we have left it at that or was it ok to add an electric trolley car line (a project directed by Thomas Edison) in 1890? Should we have just stopped there, home to 11,557 people?

There was no Plaza Midwood until 1914, no Freedom Park until 1949, no I-77 until the 1960s, no Bechtler Museum of Modern Art or Duke Energy Center until 2010. Was the growth of all these Charlotte mainstays wrong?

uptown charlotte

I’m not trying to be facetious. I actually wanted to know if the end of the good old days meant the best was behind us. All this resistance to Charlotte’s current growth has me curiously hooked on Charlotte history so I can see who we were before all of this and if we should go back, not forward. The answer for me is onward.

Growth doesn’t have to mean destruction. It can just mean growth – innovation and opportunity and improvement. I’ll admit there are concerns as we barrel forward – chief among them that we put a lot of effort into preserving our green spaces and our historical landmarks. Those two critical things will help us remember who we were as we become who we are. It’s all the same Charlotte. She’s just growing up. It’s not just a city made of concrete and steel growing up around us; it’s all of us growing, living and breathing here (because we chose to) and driving it forward.

So as much as I may not have a history in Charlotte, I most certainly see a future and that future requires growth. Who’s with me?

Major hat tip to Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett for making Charlotte’s history readily available and interesting to read.

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