I’ve been thinking a lot about change recently. It’s nearly impossible not to. We’re seeing tremendous changes in the political sphere as we move full-steam ahead into this year’s local elections and next year’s presidential picks. There are immense changes in our movement for equality, as we stare down a future “after marriage.” There are changes in our economy, in the media, in conversations over race and inclusion and relations between police and local communities, particularly those of color.
But here at home, as I look around my daily environment, I’m seeing lots of changes, too. Population estimates recently topped out Mecklenburg County at over one million residents. When I moved here in 2007, the story, or so I vaguely remember, was that upwards of 90,000 people were moving into the city each year. Newcomers are flocking to the city again. To keep up with the growth, new apartment buildings are springing up across Charlotte. Recent news reports say that 10,000 new apartment units are currently under construction with another 10,000 in store. The massive complexes are popping up everywhere, including in neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood and Noda, communities traditionally home to low-income people, people of color and LGBT people.
I’m reminded of this change everyday when I go to work. Next to my office, a new 250-unit complex is currently rising out of the flattened ground at the corner of Central and Louise Aves., where an event venue and other offices once stood. Just as we were going to press with this issue, that very same building became the butt of jokes on Facebook, where a meme defiantly declared, “The best thing about these new buildings in Charlotte is how seamlessly they fit into the neighborhoods.”
Questions of neighborhood architectural integrity aside, I do often wonder just how “seamlessly” these new complexes full of new residents, many, perhaps, brand new to the neighborhoods to which they’re moving, will mesh with the pre-existing culture and climate.
In short, it’s a matter of gentrification. How will these new residents — and their new ideas, new needs for services and new desires for amenities — affect the surrounding neighborhoods?
Plaza Midwood and NoDa are two of my favorite neighborhoods in Charlotte. They find themselves anchoring the 28205 ZIP code, where the most recent U.S. Census data says the highest number of same-gender couples live in the state. The area is also home to the highest concentration of LGBT organizations in the city, ranging from three out of four of the city’s LGBT churches to organizations like Time Out Youth Center and Charlotte Pride. QNotes’ office and White Rabbit are just two blocks from the 28205 line, technically in Elizabeth, but growing ever more closely linked to an expanding Plaza Midwood.
Charlotte’s LGBT community has long been plagued with a lack of any true “gayborhood.” It’d be sad to see the two ‘hoods that come closest to it transformed into more bland, less accepting and less eclectic versions of their former selves.
I often wonder particularly how smaller businesses will fare. We’ve already seen some changes, with new restaurants, for example, serving more affluent customers in Plaza Midwood, a neighborhood long known for its diversity of small business owners, including those owned by LGBT people and people of color. Will they stand the test of new competition, find new customers and thrive? Or will they be pushed out, their former locations traded for even more residences, national chains or businesses serving entirely different clientele?
It is possible Plaza Midwood and NoDa will stand the test. These neighborhoods’ reputations, histories, cultures and traditions could be strong enough to attract new, but likeminded residents who cherish, patronize and champion the small business owners, culture and diverse communities of current residents keeping these neighborhoods unique. That would certainly be my wish, and it’s entirely possible.
But for other neighborhoods, gentrification will be a hard force to stop. Neighborhoods like Cherry, situated right next to booming Midtown developments, will find it difficult to assimilate new residents and businesses into their historic, traditionally African-American, middle class neighborhood.
These questions and challenges are natural — regularly faced by cities across the country. As Charlotte continues to grow, I hope we’ll take the time to ask hard questions, examining the wisdom in rezoning petitions and sought-after developments. Maintaining the unique natures of neighborhoods that, collectively, make this city a unique home for all of us needs to be a priority, and I believe it’s entirely possible to balance growth with respect for the people that call each of these neighborhoods home. : :