Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How does your neighborhood rate?

Interesting story in today's newspaper about the city's semi-annual statistical study of neighborhoods. It's called the 2008 Neighborhood Quality of Life report. If you want to see the map I think you have to see the on-paper version (at 50 cents still cheaper than a cuppa coffee), as I can't find an online link. But here's a link to the report itself. Warning: It's a slow-loading PDF file. Here's a link to the page on the City of Charlotte's Web site about the report.

I haven't read the report yet -- it's 246 pages -- so don't kick me around for "endorsing" it; I'm simply sharing it for those who might be interested. I hope to find time this week for some reporting, with luck for my Saturday column.

One quick thought: I find its terminology unclear. The report says that in 2006 it changed its classifications from Stable, Threatened, and Fragile (also unclear -- which is better, "threatened" or "fragile"?) to Stable, Transitioning, and Challenged. But Transitioning is applied to neighborhoods in "an improving or declining position." So if the number of "transitioning" neighborhoods has increased, is that good news for the city or bad news? Who can tell? And is this because the city wants only happyface news about its neighborhoods? Or because these kinds of reports are done by geographers and academics, not writers or editors? Who can tell?

Anyway, happy reading. Check back with you later.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the study, but I want to make a comment about how they present their data. They use three words, "Stable", "Transitioning", and "Challenged", to describe neighborhoods. The problem with limiting grades to these three words is a virtually-complete lack of precision which leaves most people, myself included, wondering how a neighborhood is actually doing. This three-word grading system is so "executive summary" that it's practically worthless. The only thing more worthless would be a Siskel & Ebert-style "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

What they need to do next time is to start presenting TWO pieces of data for each neighborhood: A letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) or a number grade (0-100, 100 being best), as well as a direction (improving, declining, not changed). And it would be nice if instead of just one grade for each neighborhood, they could present grades for different factors such as crime, property values, drug use, neighborhood involvement, etc., and roll all of those numbers up into a final score for that neighborhood. Then, maybe, we could derive some value from this study.

Until then, though, this study is pretty worthless.

chupacabra said...

you could use this to see how your neighborhood rates:

Anonymous said...

I found the headlines and some of the story a little misleading. It seemed to imply that the center city and rail corridor are doing well, but the suburbs are declining. But if you look at the map, the vast majority of suburbs are stable, and the most challenged neighborhoods are still in central Charlotte.

As an aside, did anyone else's Observer contain 2 blank pages in both the local and business sections today? What is that all about?

Anonymous said...

If you look, for transitioning neighborhoods, there are arrows that point up, down or side to side. Up is better, down is worse. Those areas simply have not improved enough to be stable or gotten worse enough to be fragile.

Mary Newsom said...

To anonymous 2:56 p.m.: My paper didn't have blank pages, nor do the ones here in the office. Obviously, that was a glitch.

I'll forward your note to the right people. If you see this, please e-mail me at
with your name, address and phone number. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

the city requested that the neighborhood labels be changed in order to avoid stigmatizing portions of the city. Its a political word choice, not an academic one

Anonymous said...

There is a map on page 35 of the report which states if neighborhoods are trending up, down, or are stationary in regards to the metrics chosen. Everything I've read on my neighborhood (Commonwealth) seems to be pretty spot on. This will be out of date within a year for my 'hood though... because we are going through MAJOR changes for the better at the moment with Morningside Village, and conversion of old slums to condos, restoration of homes, etc. All of this transition is happening more rapidly and on a larger scale than I think I've ever seen in any Charlotte neighborhood.

Cato said...

I found the presentation a bit difficult to decipher as well. They've measured some things, like appearance, that aren't defined anywhere in the text (at least a word search didn't turn anything up).

It would also be helpful...well, neat, I guess, if the neighborhood scores for this and prior reports were made available in Excel or some similar format so that it would be possible to run statistical comparisons across areas and time-series.

Rick said...

I love this is SOOOO Observer. You have to read this (as with any) Observer analysis with a hefty dash of salt.

To the first anon, the information you requested, neighborhood trending and specifics or each category, are in the report. The observer doesn't mention the trending or give too many details because they don't cleanly mesh with their pre-determined story line - "Suburbs Bad, Urban Areas Good" or "Trains Good, Cars Bad" (take your pick).

From some brief analysis using the history data from the study's site on, since 2002 30 neighborhoods have fallen at least one grade and 31 have actually risen one grade. The maps in the current report compare 2006 to 2008 and NOT 2002 to 2008 as the Observer chose to use in the sidebar for this article. Why the Observer chose to talk about one set of data in the article and put another in the sidebar is anybody's guess.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the changing neighborhoods (improving and declining) are nowhere near the vaunted South Corridor. Of the eight neighborhoods that have changed status since 2002 which are close enough to the South Corridor to be affected 5 have improved, but 3 have declined. The Panacea of Rail Transit doesn't seem to be quite as universally beneficial as previously advertised - something the Observer conveniently forgets to mention in their article. The three declining neighborhoods over the longer period of time are in the center city.

I took a few minutes to map the changed neighborhoods from 2002 to 2008, and one thing is clear. More suburban neighborhoods have declined and more close in neighborhoods have improved - something that seems to go with the constant Observer theme of Urban-is-Good-Suburban-is-Bad. The real question is why did this happen. The answer was accidentally give in the Observer article - gentrification.

“Wilmore basically made some very, very dramatic improvements,” Watkins said. He attributed the change to gentrification, a rapid influx of people with higher incomes. “Neighborhoods, when they do that, can do it very, very quickly.”

Gentrification has nothing to do with infrastructure (rail), race, or education but has everything to do with the wealth of the people in a given neighborhood. Wealth brings higher education levels. Wealth brings lower crime. Wealth brings Starbucks. Wealth brings more attention from City Hall. But new wealth in an old run down neighborhood doesn't fix any of the problems for the people who originally lived in those neighborhoods who have been forced out. They moved somewhere else and took their problems with them. That somewhere was out in the forclosure neighborhoods approved by the City and County elected officials for the express purpose of remaking the center city in their own image.

jackson said...

Rick, I've never wanted to admit it before but your last paragraph is spot-on. Thanks.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jumper said...

I immediately recalled this article as least tangentially related to this discussion.

Jumper said...

(I mean "at least" not "least" in the above comment.) I once knew a Section 8 landlord. Although vaguely well-intentioned in his own mind, his actions appeared inept in his maintenance efforts, self-defeating profitwise, degrading to his tenants, and slumlord-like in the final analysis. All his properties slowly eroded in value, even in the recent years' market.

Anonymous said...

That somewhere was out in the forclosure neighborhoods approved by the City and County elected officials for the express purpose of remaking the center city in their own image.

I was kinda with you until this point.

The conspiracy theories about the "uptown crowd" are really wearing thin. 20 years ago I remember uptown being a place that was genuinely dangerous at night, inhospitable to tourists during the day, and about as family-unfriendly as it could possibly be.

Today the center city is far from perfect but it's a LOT better than it used to be. This notion that it's all a selfish land-grab by a bunch of businessmen is just nonsense -- the changes ought to be credited to those who bought crackhouses in 4th Ward and turned them into respectable homes... to the bar and club owners who introduced Charlotte to the concept of "nightlife"... to Harris Teeter and Reid's for sticking their necks out... to those who spent their entire lives fighting to re-establish the old streetcar system... to the hard work of men like Hugh McColl, who could just as easily have redirected his efforts toward some beach house in Malibu. The corporate towers and condo developers were peripheral to the process, which occurred on the backs of lifelong residents and Yankees alike, who put in the years of risk and sacrifice to turn a ghetto into a vibrant city center.

I very much agree that the gentrification process often steals away the rewards from those who deserve it most. And I agree that the city as a whole (citizens and government officials alike) needs to wrap its mind around the notion that endless sprawl at the fringes of the city is a BAD thing. But turning this into a matter of Uptown vs Southpark vs Ballantyne vs University (ad nauseum) is just not productive and not true to the facts of the story.

Anonymous said...

Center City indeed had its rough spots when I moved here in 1972 and worked uptown. But it was always “vibrant”. You could shop there at both Belk’s and Ivey’s, another local retail competitor. There were smaller stores scattered around and plenty of places to be wined, dined and entertained, if not on the affluent scale that is pervasive nowadays. (Uptown even had…gulp…a cafeteria!)

It remained “vibrant” even after the big retail stores fled for the suburbs. All I’ve seen in my 36 years as a Charlottean is uptown growth. It never stagnated. By the way, I think a lot of Mr. McColl’s motivation might have been self-serving. It must be difficult for a banker to impress his New York, London and Singapore counterparts over stuffed peppers at the cafeteria and then a billiards game at the old “Joe’s” on College Street.

I think folks from all over the city are proud of our accomplishments, whether those success stories are in Center City or elsewhere. But what turns off many residents is the over-emphasis on center city to the detriment of other parts of Charlotte. Our leaders moved – or want to move – the arena, the Mint and the Knights and who knows what else to Center City. At minimum that requires infrastructure changes paid in large part by taxpayers from all over the city. Developers assume that everyone wants to live uptown, and start building (and then shutting down) luxury condo projects. Ditto for the light-rail lines. Maybe the best way to retro-fit any struggling Charlotte ‘hood is to build a light-rail line through it and call in the developers.

But all that gentrification has accomplished is to enrich the developers, the hotelkeepers, the restaurant and bar owners, and the parking lot owners. Most jobs created are low-level service jobs. Maybe the plan is to create jobs for housekeepers, cleaners and nannies to serve the folks who can afford to live in Center City or South End.

Charlotte’s main problem is that it only has one major industry, the financial one. We’ve seen recently just how tenuous that can be. Where’s the emphasis on getting new and diverse businesses to relocate here? Once we’ve leaped that hurdle, the developers can start meeting real market demand instead of a contrived one, and build where actually needed. In the meanwhile we’ve got the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

But what turns off many residents is the over-emphasis on center city to the detriment of other parts of Charlotte.

On the other hand, the loudest complainers (WBT callers, Rhino columnists and Naked City anons) usually want to see those efforts redirected to Southpark or Ballantyne. I rarely hear them calling for investment in parts of Charlotte that aren't overwhelmingly white, affluent, suburban and conservative.

So the cries of elitism ring a little hollow.

Rebecca said...

Hey before anyone freaks out after going to the "felony spy" site recommended by "chupacabra": Every time I open the site and enter my adddress I get different results. So I wrote down a bunch of the names of sex offenders shown on the map who supposedly live near me - NOT ONE of them lives on the streets pinpointed on the map of felons. Then I entered their names in the NC sex offender registry and not one of them showed up. So don't freak out like I did. (I have two little girls who I just started letting walk to the pool alone) Just goes to show you can't believe everything you see/read online. Sorry "chupacabra" -- I am sure you meant well.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the felonspy website is inaccurate. I am 100% sure that the individuals listed near my home do not live there and as far as I can tell have never lived there.

A nice idea but this shows why it's so risky to publicize such things.

matt c said...

For Rick to state that light rail has not had an impact is downright laughable.

You don't need an academic study (just a pair of eyes) to see the development along the line in South End. That development will keep moving south along the line.

More importantly, it might just be a tad early to declare the rail a failure since there is little or no improvement in certain neighborhoods along the southern end of the line. The rail line has not been open for a full year yet... the desired improvements may never come, but Rick can not make that claim yet.

Finally, it is clear that Rick sees the devil in whatever the Observer writes, which makes his judgment terribly skewed on each and every topic.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a “contrived” or artificial market has been created to encourage uptown development by focusing venues such as major entertainment and transit in or toward Center City. Then when developers and investors discover they’ve been duped and the real market demand is nowhere near what the shills predicted, construction halts or is delayed, as we’ve recently seen. That faux pas should be required to count heavily in the “Quality of Life” ratings.

But that is true of other areas of the city as well. Piedmont Town Center near SouthPark Mall was developed as a multi-use community by Crescent/Lincoln Harris. It was touted as the place to live in SouthPark. But many of those top-end luxury condos were bought by speculators, not by real live residents. And consequently the “off-street” design coupled with low occupancy rate means that there is no real demand there for retail. For proof of that, one only has to walk or drive through there to notice that except for the large “anchor” buildings occupied by employers, the retail spaces are empty. (Starbucks there is slated to be closed).

The developers belatedly discovered that there is a big demand for office space in SouthPark, but not necessarily for luxury condos above empty retail space. Like the previous poster said, “they got the cart before the horse”.

A major multi-use project proposed across Fairview from Piedmont was also scratched when owners realized that demand for anything other than retail fronting Fairview was somewhere in the future. At least they realized there is a difference between contrived market demand and real market demand. And I’ve no doubt the same has happened at Ballantine or University City.

Anonymous said...

I see where Mary removed the comment which praised Rick and which also pointed out the trash-talker who disgraced her 8th Street topic.

Yet she never removed the trash talker's lewd comments from that topic.

All I can figure is that Mary loves it when you talk dirty.

Rick said...

Matt C,

My beef is with the dishonest way the Observer reports things – similar to your misleading statement…

“For Rick to state that light rail has not had an impact is downright laughable.”

You see, the problem is that I never said that.

What I said was…

“Of the eight neighborhoods that have changed status since 2002 which are close enough to the South Corridor to be affected 5 have improved, but 3 have declined. The Panacea of Rail Transit doesn't seem to be quite as universally beneficial as previously advertised - something the Observer conveniently forgets to mention in their article. The three declining neighborhoods over the longer period of time are in the center city.”

The Observer article mentions that the only three suburban areas that improved were on the rail line – a fact I didn’t dispute. However, they failed to mention that 3 neighborhoods in the City Core along that same line declined during the 2002 – 2008 time period. It’s an obvious attempt to skew the story in the direction they want it to go. This story was in the news section and should have been reported based on the facts, not on an agenda.

Personally, I like to make my own decisions based on all of the information rather than being spoon fed someone else’s interpretation. But hey…to each his own.

Oh, and for the record... If the North Corridor is built to Mooresville, I'll benefit from the gentrification that comes along with it. My property value will go up, and I could use another Starbucks. So even though the project will likely be a financial disaster, I'll benefit. Not too shabby.

matt c said...


With the way you connect the rail corridor and this neighborhood study - making specific references to the rail corridor and looking for the specific neighborhoods along it in the study, this demonstrates that it is you with the pre-determined agenda, which comes out quite clearly in your comments.

Since you are against rail and its "likely... financial disaster" you look for evidence of it wherever you can.

And, being a proponent of rail, mass transit, and development does not mean one relies only on the Observer for information.

Rick said...


I'm not the one who linked the two. Here's the lead in paragraph of the story...

"Neighborhoods close to Charlotte's center city and the new light-rail line are improving, but several outlying suburbs show signs of decline."

I simply pointed out the partial inacuracy of that statement and the fact that the Observer deliberately ommitted some details because it didn't fit with their storyline.

Was I against rail because it is exorbitantly expensive and serves mostly those in gentrified areas - yes.

Is my opinion portayed as front page news - no.

I ride the bus every day to work. I wish more working class people had that same opportunity, but they won't because we will be building trains. However, the fight against expanding that system is over. The fight against the dishonesty behind it doesn't have to be.

Yes I have an opinion and yes I am biased (as all people are), but then again I'm not the supposedly unbiased newpaper.

Anonymous said...

Rick, do you call into WBT when they present only one side of the story and berate them? Or do you pick and choose your battles based on which media you think is biased in the wrong direction?

Rick said...

Last Anon,

You seem to be missing the point.

I don't call WBT and say they are biased to the conservative side for the same reason I don't call up Craig Madans or Whilhelmenia Rembert on WGIV 1370 AM and say they are biased to the liberal side.

All of them would say...

"Thank you very much. I appreciate the compliment."

None of those shows are pretending to be unbiased as the Observer tries to do. WBT actually advertises itself as conservative. It's not trying to hide anything.

If the Observer advertised itself as the Paper-of-Record-for-Uptown-Charlotte-Whose-Publisher-Ann-Caulkins-Sits-on-the-Board-of-Charlotte-Center-City-Partners there'd be no problem.

...but we've gotten way off topic. Anything on the neighborhood study itself and what it says - not just the Observer's interpretation of it?

Anonymous said...

None of those shows are pretending to be unbiased as the Observer tries to do.

On the contrary, WBT frequently presents its political agenda as "fact" by leaving key elements out of "news" stories.

People talk a lot of trash about how far the Observer has fallen, but consider that once upon a time WBT was the main source of broadcast news in this city. Now it is little more than tabloid talk shows with only very marginal news content... THAT'S a disgraceful fall from prominence for you.