Democrats were astute in picking Charlotte as the site for their 2012 national convention. And the international spotlight will hopefully help the city solve some of its problems.
That appeared to be the consensus Tuesday when a panel of professors gathered at UNC Charlotte for a discussion of "Charlotte, the New South and the Democratic National Convention."
Here's some of what they said:
- Charlotte, a New South city that's gone global, "is in the vanguard of contemporary urban transformation," said Heather Smith, an associate professor of geography at UNCC. "Its unconventional melding of South and global, past and present, makes it an ideal convention city."
- In the last 30 years, Charlotte has gone from "a middle-sized Southern city" -- the country's 47th largest -- to a diverse, rapidly growing city that is now the 17th biggest and "representative of the United States in the 21st century," said Owen Furuseth, associate professor of metropolitan studies at UNCC. "This is where America is headed. Charlotte is America in the 21st century. And the (Democrats) wanted to be in this place, to be represented by this city."
- Citing U.S. Census figures, Furuseth charted Charlotte's transformation from a city that was two-thirds white and one-third black in 1980 to a city in 2011 that's less than 50 percent white, 34 percent black and -- the biggest change -- almost 20 percent immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Those changing demographics, Furuseth said, mean "a whole new calculus of what we are as a community and impacts politics, schools and growth and development."
- But beyond the city's glitzy skyline and rapid growth, the city has some problems. Among them: Its "traditional growth machine" -- banks -- is sputtering, said Bill Graves, an associate professor of geography at UNCC. With the big decline in all jobs -- from 857,000 in October 2007 to 760,000 in July 2011 -- the city needs "post-corporate" growth, he said, that is more creative, more entrepreneurial and more collaborative. The goal, Graves said, is to "leverage the visibility" of the upcoming Democratic National Convention to give Charlotte "global destination-city status" and bring skilled job-creators to town.
- Other problems could get some more attention as Charlotte tries to present a positive picture for the world. The city's schools -- once a national model of integration -- are almost as segregated as they were before busing came to CMS in the 1970s, said Stephen Smith, a professor of political science at Winthrop University. And Charlotte's suburbs "are not very wonderful," said David Walters, director of UNCC's Urban Design program. "They don't make it on postcards." His hope is that Charlotte will look to cities that have been smarter in developing transit, and push ahead with light rail and streetcars.
The panelists contributed to the book, "Charlotte, NC: The Global Evolution of a New South City."