At a town hall forum with developers and contractors last week, attendees posed the question: What if development, so often maligned as an engine of gentrification and displacement, could help remedy some of Charlotte’s problems with inequality?
After an evening of discussion, it’s clear that there aren’t any easy answers, and development can be a double-edged sword. While growth can provide construction jobs, an expanded tax base and revitalized neighborhoods, it can also push higher rents and home prices, even potentially reinforcing patterns of residential segregation. Development can lead to displacement, as Charlotte has seen in neighborhoods such as Cherry.
“We want to be as inclusive as we can be with the benefits of a vibrant economy,” said Pat Mumford, director of neighborhood and business services for the city of Charlotte. “There’s a large segment of the population that is not integrated in that.”
“It’s getting so cost-prohibitive to live in these vibrant parts of the city,” said Mumford. “If we continue on this trajectory of pricing people out, this city will look a lot different than we want it to.”
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But the meeting highlighted some ways in which development can be beneficial. Partnerships with organizations such as Goodwill and the Urban League can provide job skills to people at a time when the construction industry is running against a labor shortage, potentially helping both. Developers and contractors can choose to do more business with minority and woman-owned firms as they build.
One area there was considerable agreement that local government could do to help out was improving the physical appearance of areas in Charlotte. Attendees pointed out the vast disparity in the appearance of streets in Dilworth vs. the Beatties Ford Corridor, and some said the city had allowed some areas to deteriorate.
“That was the heartbeat of Charlotte, and all of a sudden it just went away,” one attendee said at the forum, organized by City Council member James Mitchell. “And no one cared...It’s like an automobile.If you don’t drive it it doesn’t go away, but it will dilapidate while it sits there.”
Brian Leary, president of commercial and mixed-use development at Crescent Communities, said the city should invest more in fixing street lights, sidewalks and planting good street trees in the area. That could change the area’s perception, Leary said.
“Why can’t Beatties Ford be the best possible street in Charlotte?” said Leary. “That is not that expensive. You start changing the idea of what a place could be.”