Eric Frazier

Charlotte has a growing problem

Charlotte is challenged by rapid population growth.
Charlotte is challenged by rapid population growth. OBSERVER STAFF PHOTO

Unless you’re talking FBI Most Wanted posters or delinquent tax rolls, it’s nice to land at the top of the rankings.

That’s where Charlotte found itself in new Census estimates of the fastest-growing cities from 2010 to 2014. We came in at No. 3, trailing only New Orleans and Austin, Tx.

We picked up 78,534 people. That’s almost as much in four years as we gained in the entire decade of the 1980s. We are welcoming more and more newcomers.

Are we ready for the challenges that come with that? Sure doesn’t seem like we are.

From Lake Norman to Ballantyne, we gripe about the worsening traffic on interstates 77 and 485, but there’s no agreement on solutions. We have more children to educate, but less consensus about how best to do it. We need to spur development on the city’s eastern and western flanks, but can’t agree on the catalyst.

Mecklenburg commissioners Vilma Leake and Pat Cotham couldn’t even agree on the obvious point that it’s perfectly all right if Cotham declines her turn to pray before the group’s meetings.

“We live in such a divided society,” Beverly Howard, head of the Loaves & Fishes food pantry, said last week. “The divisiveness creates more problems than we ever had before.”

She offered that thought during a lunch presentation she conducted with Carol Hardison, head of Crisis Assistance Ministry. Both groups mark their 40th anniversary this year, and the CEOs recalled how their charities were launched by local faith congregations in response to rising poverty.

Back in the 1970s, they said, people seemed more willing to step across the dividing lines of race, religion and class to solve community problems.

Poverty still exists, of course. But if you’re hungry, Loaves & Fishes will give you groceries. If you’re behind on the rent or the electric bill, Crisis Assistance can pay it. You’re that less likely to wind up on the street.

That’s progress.

Charlotte should be proud, Hardison said. But she added that we still haven’t figured out how to move people from poverty to long-term economic stability. Witness the much-lamented Harvard study that showed Charlotte ranking last among 50 big U.S. cities for economic mobility.

The creation of Crisis Assistance and Loaves & Fishes proves what Charlotte can do when it unites.

We have lots of big problems. All this growth means we don’t have time for pointless bickering. We need decisive action – the kind those congregations took back in the 1970s.

Time to stop fighting each other. Let’s fight the problems.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

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