• Housing is springing up across Charlotte and its booming suburbs, but some rural counties are losing population. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    Our population is more concentrated in cities ⁠— and increasingly diverse

    There’s a common narrative about people in rural areas seeking opportunities: they should go to the big city and leave the country behind.  Rural counties are often seen as hollowed out or in decline, while cities and their adjacent suburbs boom. While population in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study area has become much more concentrated in the urban and suburban core, the story is (as usual) more complex than that.
  • Richmond County extension director and extension agent Paige Burns discusses bok choy with Mandy Davis, co-director of Sandhills Farm-to-Table (in the pink hat). Photo: Nancy Pierce

    Why intermediaries are key to viable local food systems

    Growing and buying healthy local food is a business: complex, rich in heritage and culture, essential to health and well-being, consumed by all but understood by few.  We learned from our Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection regional food systems research that farmers who become part of the wholesale food supply chain are able to increase the economic viability of their crops. However, this commitment not only requires additional investment and education, then selling directly to consumers, it also requires the support of many partners or intermediaries, along the way.
  • Quadplexes built in Badin, N.C. for workers by Alcoa, which for generations was the town's major employer. The aluminum works is gone now, leaving Badin to search for a new way forward. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    There’s a housing affordability crisis in rural areas, too

    Charlotte has struggled with housing affordability in recent years, as the city faces rising rents and home prices driven by rapid growth and low supply.  But urban areas are not the only places grappling with these challenges, even though affordable housing is typically seen as an urban problem. Rural areas in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study region are also experiencing a severe housing shortage and affordability issue.
  • Highways lead from North Carolina to South Carolina without any physical border - but there still appears to be an effect on our behavior. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    A border problem? Unexpected ways the state line influences our behavior

    We don’t often think about crossing state lines. Other than changes in gas prices or the availability of fireworks, there’s little visible difference as you cross from North Carolina into South Carolina, or vice versa. But that line appears to influence our behavior, at least when it comes to how we spend leisure time. 
  • 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.