I was given a tough assignment last week. A group of 300 business and civic leaders from Louisville and Lexington, Ky., visited Charlotte to learn about how we have become such a successful city.
After hearing politicians, business leaders and Chamber types tout the city’s selling points, the group asked me to provide an “objectively critical” perspective. That is: We’ve heard a lot about Charlotte’s strengths; now what about the rest of the story?
This wasn’t so easy. As I told the Kentuckians, I love Charlotte and think we’re doing a lot of things right.
Still, I had my marching orders. So I started thinking about Charlotte’s challenges. In almost every case, it was the flip-side of something Charlotte was doing well. A “yes, but” situation.
Here, in summary form, are the six “yes, buts” I talked about with the group from the Bluegrass State:
Things have changed on the public side, too. The quality of the people we elect is spotty, and some elected officials limit their focus to one part of town. And as Charlotte has grown, so has the cacophony of voices and pressures on public officials.
Throw in a bad anecdote or two from recent public-private partnerships and an inability to annex our way to growth, and you have a city where it’s getting harder to make important investments in its future.
Residents in that survey reserved some of their worst scores for the ease of getting around town and traffic flow. A respected study last year labeled Charlotte the worst big (more than 250,000) city in America for pedestrians (74th out of 74), and we aren’t much better for cyclists.
Charlotte has been on a great run for more than 30 years. The question now is whether we can sustain it. We need public and private leaders who will not rest on the city’s laurels but who will find new solutions in an always changing environment.