Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From 'can-do city' to 'city that learns'

Mark Peres of Charlotte Viewpoint online magazine calls it "A call to redefine the city." It's a paper, available here, looking at whether Charlotte can change its self-image from "a can-do city that gets things done through
public-private partnerships” to “a smart city that learns.” It's a call to invert the city's top-down model into a bottom-up one that engages a broad base of citizens in the city's success.

The paper is an outgrowth of an event Peres and Civic By Design's Tom Low put together in October to explore how Charlotte might "create greater capacity in the region to address existing and future systemic issues." Peres took the conversations that night and distilled them into some key findings (the following is his words, not mine):

• The narrative that Charlotte is “a can-do city that gets things done through public-private partnerships” is code for many for top-down-driven initiatives. The topdown nature of the city has led to great civic successes, but an unintended consequence is passivity in the general populace and distrust among many.

• The city rewards social conformity. There is a perceived divide between corporate executives and non-conformist creative citizens.

• We are consumers of received culture – not producers of original work. Our investments – theaters, museums, arenas – reinforce consumption. We have not similarly invested in assets that lead to innovation: e.g., medical and law schools, interdisciplinary education, an MFA program in fine art or design, artist incubators.

• There is not a shared vision of the region. Citizens in different neighborhoods and municipalities are not well-connected to each other – let alone to the world. There is not a regional identity or a cosmopolitan character. Racial, ethnic, and immigrant populations tends to self-segregate.

• Charlotte is often described as a young city, but it was settled in the late 1700s. It is only young in that it has just recently become nationally recognized as a banking center, and its skyline and suburbs have recently been built. It is immature in its development of economic diversification, social capital, urban design, transit, and ecological sensitivity.
The paper ends on an optimistic note, logging in some of the many community conversations and cross-boundary initiatives going on. "In a fundamental way, community creation is the work of the 21st century," Peres concludes.


barkomomma said...

More like "a city that spends."

Anonymous said...

Ask City leaders if they really believe in citizen input as they turn over Eastland redevelopment planning to the private Foundation for the Carolinas. The old guard (white men) continue to plan what's "good" for the rest of Charlotte.

What they plan might be "good" but the arrogance of planning without community members at the table from day one is galling.

Anonymous said...

Might be better to make a plan using plain simple English that everyone understands. Instead of being pompous asses trying to sound as if they understand their own gibberish. If you cannot express yourself to the average guy on the street with a 10th grade education, then you don't understand your subject matter. Look at the number of comments to this article and maybe that alone will make the light bulb go on over your head.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte was setlted in the early-to-mid 1700s, not the late 1700s. It was incorporated in 1768, which means Charlotte is officially 241 years old this year.

Otherwise, the analysis is pretty much on target, especially the part about innovative institutions. Yet another reason to champion UNCC so that some day it can become the equivalent of my alma mater in Chapel Hill.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...Might be better to make a plan using plain simple English that everyone understands. Instead of being pompous asses trying to sound as if they understand their own gibberish."

My thoughts exactly. That whole thing of "create greater capacity in the region to address existing and future systemic issues" is nothing but a buzzword sentence. It has no definite meaning.

There is also no "perceived" divide between corporate execs and the so called "non-conformist" creative citizens. The divide is real and it comes from that whole corporate I'm-better-than-you attitude...that we-run-this-city-and-you-don't way of thinking. And just because someone is creative, does that automatically make them a non-conformist? No, it does not.

Charlotte has been trying to redifine itself since the sixties, latching on to new trends like they're some sort of brass ring, and ditching the things that made Charlotte what it is...or what it was, I should say.

The economy has tarnished a lot of those brass rings now. Can Charlotte learn or will it just continue with the whole business-as-usual mindset? I guess we'll find out, won't we?

Right now, all Mark Peres and Tom Low are doing is talking in some sort of New City-Speak language.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments that relegate this report to mere rhetoric (translation: the report does not attempt to say what they authors actually mean). This report is a critique of the elite - meant only for the elite. And what is it worth? If the elite can acknowledge the fact that they are, in fact, ELITE - is this how they can make amends for losing touch with the common man. A veritable "My-bad...I wasn't listening to you before. Now, what was it that you wanted?"

Everything the report identifies is true. But in order to fix the situation, the initiative needs to come from someone other than professionals and the elite. It needs to come from the streets, from the neighborhoods, from the common man. Stand up on your soap box and say what you mean: The rich get rich. The poor get poor. The rich call the shots and shape the city. But there are a lot of "poor" people (I use the term loosely to encompass the so called "non-conformist" or "creative class" or "grassroots class" or even Joe Bankjob who thinks that there are other things out there than nice cars and watches and fine dining) who don't know how to have a voice in their environment.

consultant said...

"Citizens in different neighborhoods and municipalities are not well-connected to each other.."

It's the streets. No connections mean no neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods are where we develop a sense of place. Great neighborhoods make people become "attached" to a place. These are the places that give character to a city, and it's those cities that are unique, interesting places.
They can be tough, sometimes scary places, but they make you think and push people to do all kinds of things. Some of which will be great, interesting things.

Charlotte and Atlanta are both big areas that lack defined identities because the living arrangements don't encourage "connectedness".

Cato said...

The best thing in the "paper" (I'm sorry, but it's just an incoherent mess) is the recommendation for kiosks. Simple, inexpensive, largely ungoverned, and useful. I've long thought that these would be a good idea.

Another thing is that if you want more public spaces, that's a fair point. But my suggestion is that they be smaller scale, neighborhood-focused spaces. What we don't need is some half-assed Frederick Law Olmstead designing some monstrosity so that he can win awards and Charlotte can "make a statement" about something or other.

One last point (not that there aren't plenty others that could be made): It's a bit strange to say that "the city rewards social conformity" while also complaining that "there is not a shared vision of the region." To the first point - pretty much any hierarchical aggregations of individuals - be it the corporate office, the faculty lounge, or the bohemian enclave - will have its own mores and orthodoxies. On the basis of these, some will be accepted and some will be shunned. That's life.

Regarding the second, when good, progressive urbanistas like Mr. Peres talk about the lack of a "shared vision," I strongly suspect what he really means is "the lack of hegemony for my vision." I have little doubt that if The Powers That Be were willing to remake the region into the kind of place that he wants, he wouldn't care in the least if his vision weren't widely shared by large numbers of his fellow citizens.

Anonymous said...

This has the makings of an abivalent symbiotic paradigm that will provide stakeholders with an alternate course of chaos resolution.

JDC said...

According to the paper, “We then discussed systems thinking, specifically how it is an approach to understanding occurrences in a holistic manner. Systems thinking explores why a problem or element happens and persists by understanding the part in relation to the whole.”

Let’s see. The problem: The majority of Charlotte’s inner city high school students haven’t passed a basic proficiency test for years. This problem persists to this very day. It certainly doesn’t result in a “smart” city. It results in unemployable citizens. It adds more people to the welfare rolls and repeat offender list. It defines this city as just another Southern refuse center for those who are mired in, as County Commissioner Bill James labels it, a “plantation mentality”.

If Peres and Low want to put their “systems thinking” to good use with 65 other people at the Harvey Gantt Center, this problem should be the only thing on the agenda.

By the way, guys, we’ve already tried busing, magnet schools, and spending money on under-performing inner city schools while ignoring suburban successes. We’ve about exhausted orthodox methods of prodding kids into being competitive in academics as well as in athletics.

If you want a smarter city with involved, interconnected citizens who can identify with one another, and a city to which smart people would like to move to associate with other smart people, here’s the place to start.

Anonymous said...

Them fellers sure like to use a bunch a big words, don't they. I had a uncle once he was reading one of them nature books and come up on a part about possums where it said possums was adept at tree climbing. He couldn't pronounce the word and he spelled it as he's reading it a-d-e-p-t and looked up from that book and says that means they good at it don't it. He couldn't say that word but he knew what it meant cause of the tree climbing part.

I ain't so sure those old boys wrote that paper knows what all them big words mean.

My names Johnny Jackson but everybody calls me JJ.

Anonymous said...

Mary, Are you going to take the buyout?

Rebecca said...

I'm sure the irony will be lost on these pompous asses but they have become the very thing they decry! Keep on fiddling, boys, while Charlotte burns...

Mary Newsom said...

I am not taking the buyout.

Tweet and Short said...

I wish folks wouldn’t post lengthy comments here. I can’t read more than a sentence before my wittle brain hurts. If we keep them tweet-length, great ideas such as

Anonymous said...

Maybe if we had ballot initiatives such as "Which city - Atlanta or Charlotte - is best for meeting single men or women?", then Generation X would get off their lazy butts and vote. Perhaps they'd even help decide real issues or elect candidates.

Meanwhile, they disrepect those who serve overseas to develop and preserve freedoms. What a disgrace.