How Charlotte can navigate its more diverse future
As migration trends chip away at the longstanding geography of inequity, leaders and neighborhood advocates say Charlotte needs to more widely distribute its resources.
What’s happening: The “crescent,” comprising west, north and east Charlotte, is historically where low-income people and communities of color were located. But gentrification, a lower cost-of-living and job opportunities are driving people of color and immigrants into the suburbs, while the neighborhoods near the center city are becoming whiter.
Why it matters: Charlotte strives to balance addressing historic disparities in the crescent while ensuring that the outer-ring places people are moving to also have resources and infrastructure, all with limited funds.
- Government and nonprofit agencies that serve populations in need are grappling with how to reach them when they are more spread out.
“We have made investments in corridors of opportunities a priority,” says Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera, referring to the six historically underserved corridors the city is focusing on, all in the crescent. “And that’s great. But we also need to ensure that we are also investing in high-growth areas where there is high congestion and traffic.”
Between the lines: Allocating money across the city could also help mitigate the gentrification that is fueling some of these changes, says Angela Ambroise, a community advocate in Villa Heights.
The LYNX Blue Line and its northern extension, for example, attracted a lot of investment in a short period to a handful of neighborhoods, including hers.
- “You hear the term concentrated poverty; we know what that looks like,” she says. “But the other side of that is concentrated wealth speeds up gentrification.”
What they’re saying: It also may be harder to achieve upward mobility in the outskirts because people are farther from jobs and social connections, says Katie Zager, a research associate at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
Some nonprofits are changing how they serve their communities in response to the shifts in where they live.
The people that Camino Health Center in University City assists are increasingly traveling from places like west Charlotte near the airport, or other counties, like Cabarrus and Gaston, according to Lennin Caro, lead community researcher at Camino Research Institute.
- So many people were coming from Cabarrus County that Camino, a bilingual health center that serves underinsured and uninsured populations, opened a clinic there.
“I believe the wrong way to go about it is just build something in east Charlotte and assume that you’re going to be serving the whole Latino community,” he says.
Services from grocery stores to hospitals are widening their reach to serve outer areas of Charlotte, too.
- Novant opened an $80 million hospital in Mint Hill in 2018. And Atrium opened a more than $150 million hospital that’s in west Union County, a stone’s throw from the Mecklenburg line, in 2022.
- Last year, Publix announced plans for a new store in the Clear Creek Crossings development in east Charlotte. Aldi has opened new stores in Gastonia, Cornelius and Indian Land in recent years, too.
Yes, but: Housing is less expensive outside of the city, but higher transportation costs may offset those savings.
- Charlotteans spend 27% of their income on housing and 20% on transportation, according to data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
- In the larger Charlotte metro area, people spend 23% on transportation, and 25% on housing.
Catch up quick: More people living in the fringes means public transportation must be farther-reaching.
- That’s why Charlotte is proposing expanding mass transit with new rail lines, bus route improvements and more. But the current beleaguered proposal mainly invests inside Mecklenburg County.
- Some local officials have pushed for the plan to fit into a larger regional framework that would invest in surrounding counties.
The bottom line: Without a massive infusion of cash, Charlotte is essentially playing whack-a-mole to address the needs that emerge from the city growing outwards.
- For example, the city would have to spend approximately one-third of its entire 2023 budget just to build sidewalks on all of the more than 250 miles of streets that lack them on at least one side of the road.
“Until we figure (the funding) out, no matter what we do will continue to feel like just a drop in the ocean in eyes of many residents,” Ajmera says.
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