• Sackda and Phoudone Naovarath, Laotian immigrants, own and operate the only restaurant in Badin, Tho Pizza & Hot Subs. The diverse menu includes fajita subs, lo mein, teriyaki and hibachi dishes, salads, double bacon cheeseburgers, Pad Thai, hush puppies, fish & chips, and pizza. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    ‘It would be insane’ not to value stronger urban-rural connections

    Cities boom while rural areas struggle. People seeking opportunity leave the countryside for urban areas. Small towns left behind after the local mill or factory closes down are hollowed-out shells. We’ve heard these tropes before; cliches about the urban-rural divide abound. But the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connections project is built on the premise that there’s more that unites us than divides us.
  • A worker at Storm Technologies in Albemarle fabricates a component for the emissions reduction system of a power plant boiler. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    The changing economic development landscape

    “Regionalism” has become something of a public policy bromide these days — an unwritten assumption that informs the planning, economic and growth decisions that supersede any one political jurisdiction. But what is easy to say can be hard to do. 
  • Hay bales on a farm in Cleveland County. Across the greater Charlotte region, farmland is being lost quickly to development. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    Farms and sprawl: Conservationists worry they’re losing the battle

    About 45 minutes from Charlotte in neighboring Cabarrus County, the owners of 1,000-acre Porter Farms raise chickens and pigs on part of their land. The chickens are sold to Tysons Foods, and the pigs become sausage, pork chops and spare ribs for Smithfield Foods. Another part of the property is a cattle farm, and since 2012 it also has become a destination for those seeking a taste of the country. Two large, climate-controlled barns with expansive views of the scenic landscape host weddings and other events. Over the past few years, the family has taken steps to make sure their land won’t ever be used for subdivisions or gas stations.
  • The Charlotte skyline on a vintage postcard. Photo: Atkins Library special collections

    Banks? NASCAR? Food? How branding aims to find the Charlotte region’s identity

    From basketball to banks, Charlotte’s got a lot (as the slogan goes). But critics say one thing is missing: an actual brand. Compared to iconic city identities such as Nashville’s “Music City” and even Rockland, Maine’s claim to fame as the “lobster capital of the world,” Charlotte seems to lack one defining characteristic that sets the city and its surrounding counties apart.
  • Part 5: Big Data, Big Goals as the Urban Institute turns 50

    In 2018, UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute announced plans to collaborate with the Harvard University-based Opportunity Insights program on an ambitious goal: making economic mobility a reality in Charlotte.  The collaboration, which includes Charlotte’s Leading on Opportunity, the Foundation for the Carolinas and The Gambrell Foundation, grew from a 2014 study that ranked Charlotte last in upward mobility among 50 of the nation’s largest cities.The Urban Institute will play a key role in the groundbreaking work — and it’s also a good example of the institute’s ability to adapt to serve the region’s changing needs. 
  • Part 4: Connecting urban policy to the community

    UNC Charlotte Urban Institute Director Jeff Michael enjoys telling a story about the time he nearly made a big mistake. In 2007, Michael wanted a way for the institute to promote its work and publicize urban policy issues affecting the Charlotte region.  What about a print journal? he asked his staff. While no one groaned audibly, younger staff members convinced him that an online publication would be a smarter way to go. 
  • Part 3: Burnishing the Urban Institute’s reputation, one plan at a time

    When Bill McCoy replaced Jim Clay as director in 1985, UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute got a seasoned political scientist who knew the region, the university and the institute itself.    More than that, McCoy was adept at making connections – with academics, CEOs, farmers, small-town politicians. McCoy has a talent “for walking into a room, introducing himself, and engendering trust,” says Owen Furuseth, a retired UNC Charlotte geography professor. “There’s no ivory tower, no pretense.” 
  • Part 2: How the Urban Institute changed Charlotte

    Today, amid countless mixed-use projects in Charlotte, the development known as University Place seems unremarkable - perhaps even outdated. But in the early 1980s, when the city’s uptown died after 5 p.m. and shopping malls were everything, the planning that produced University Place – higher density, with a mix of housing, shops, restaurants and a hotel – was unknown in Charlotte. The venture, spearheaded by the Urban Institute, remains the boldest in its history. 
  • The UNC Charlotte campus in 1969 was outside the city limits, on what was recently farmland, and far more rural than urban. It was an audacious location to found an "urban institute." Photo: UNC Charlotte archives

    The Urban Institute turns 50, Part 1: Urban studies on a rural campus

    In 1970, when UNC Charlotte formally launched its Urban Institute, the campus had just nine academic buildings. Cows grazed the surrounding pastures and, on at least one occasion, ventured onto athletic fields.  It wasn’t an obvious locale for urban studies, particularly since the young campus was outside the city.
  • A worker loads food at the Sandhills AGInnovation Center, serving rural farmers east of Charlotte. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    The urban-rural workforce connection

    There’s a not-too-surprising insight about how the labor market is changing across the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection region, which became clearer from real-time commuter data: out-of-county commuting rates are rising. Many more people work in a different county from where they live.