It’s been nearly a generation since the 2000 Brookings Institution Report that classified Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham as “Emerging Immigrant Gateways,” based largely on the rapid growth of Hispanic/Latino immigrant population. Hispanics now make up more than 10% of the population of the 14-county Charlotte region, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.
A bobwhite quail calling from the edge of a stubbled hayfield. Honeybees buzzing in every patch of clover. Fireflies hovering just beyond reach as dusk gives way to night. These are the images that come to mind when I think back to summers outdoors in the Uwharries when I was young. Little did I know that over the course of my lifetime, each of those species would experience precipitous population declines. Or that I’d be so devoted to saving them.
As the world sinks towards an unprecedented depression, now is the time to invest.
The demand for the most valuable commodity in the world — human ingenuity — has not been this low since the Great Depression in 1933. The nation’s unemployment rate spiked to 16.1% in April 2020 (before dipping to 13.3% in May), and world populations are confined to their homes, threatening the global economy. While this presents enormous problems, it also opens opportunities.
We who write about cities are quick to make predictions. Some will prove prescient. Some won’t. But nobody really knows. Cities aren’t all alike. New York’s texture, way of life and pandemic experience are not Charlotte’s, or Houston’s, or Seattle’s. And this: We humans have a long history of behaving both predictably and unpredictably.
June is upon us, and the rush of activity in the ponds, streams, and vernal pools of our state is already well underway. For many native frogs, it’s breeding season.
Right now is a great time to experience the variety of nighttime songs that signal the return of summer in our waterways. The best part is, you don’t need to collect ticks or put on a pair of waders to do so. Frog songs can be enjoyed from a distance, just about anywhere there’s trees, grass or water. So grab your favorite beverage, head to the porch, and enjoy this guide to identifying a few of the most commonly-heard frog calls in Central North Carolina in the month of June.
The English peas are finished. Given the long spell of mild weather we’ve enjoyed this year, I’d hoped this cool-weather crop might last a bit longer. Alas, they still flamed out in a matter of weeks. English peas (Pisum sativum) are the very essence of a Piedmont spring – sweet and tender and all too fleeting.
Places like Shelby’s Don Gibson Theater, the El Dorado Outpost outdoor retailer in the Uwharries and The Twilight Bark pet supply company in Troy were built on grit, luck and the surety that there would be demand for something other than the offerings at chain stores and strip malls. But for those counting on place-based, experiential strategies to drive their revivals, the key question is: Will that be enough?
The coronavirus pandemic has generated a flood of data, maps and other resources to track the spread — and places to get help — throughout the region.
Many of these resources are scattered across different websites and dashboards. Here’s a brief summary of what’s available, collected in one place. We will update this list as the pandemic goes on.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in the middle of the spring semester, it added a whole new layer of significance to the assignments in Assistant Professor of Architectural History Lidia Klein’s spring seminar. The curriculum for the graduate course, Architecture and Production: from Assembly Line to 3-D Printing, challenged students to investigate “changes in methods of architectural production from the 19th century to the present,” placing those changes “within social, political, cultural, and economic contexts.”
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, news headlines have called attention to both “essential workers” in the food system, such as farmworkers and grocery store employees, and extensive job losses for food system workers, primarily in retail and restaurants. There are requests for contributions to virtual tip jars and for customers to buy gift cards from small businesses alongside fears of food chain disruptions, empty grocery shelves, and virus exposure while shopping. All of this highlights the often invisible precarity of essential workers in the US food system — and the precariousness of the food system itself.
The novel coronavirus, better known as COVID-19, has changed the world as we know it. This holds true for the field of education, particularly K-12 schools in North Carolina and across the U.S.
COVID-19 has exposed some glaring educational inequities that were present before the pandemic, but in many ways have been amplified during this crisis. As a result, I provide four major educational inequities that have directly impacted the most vulnerable K-12 students’ ability to learn and reach various educational academic achievement metrics.
On one recent hike, I saw a fantastic bird up close that I’d not seen in person before – the red-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). These birds typically prefer to stay near the tops of trees, so spotting them is not easy. I was fortunate that these birds were using my friend’s bird feeder, dining on birdseed and sunflower seeds. I was able to get some good photographs of them with my camera with the 40x optical zoom. I tried with my phone but was not able to get anywhere near them, as they are pretty skittish.
Encouraging people to stay home, avoid non-essential outings is the main strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, for those facing family violence, home can be anything but safe.
Advocates across the country are concerned about an increase in domestic violence and child abuse incidents, with schools closed and families stuck at home.
Monday night’s rezoning meeting felt like most Charlotte City Council sessions from previous years, despite the mayor and staff sitting six feet apart and developers battling audio and video glitches in the remote setup.
But even though developers are moving forward with most of their previously announced plans and cranes are still filling in the blank spaces on our city’s skyline with new towers, questions are swirling about what the era of COVID-19 means for the much-touted urban revival.
There will certainly be scores of studies and articles for years to come about lessons for public administrators from how our multiple levels and units of government managed the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. An important place to start is asking the right set of questions.
This is the age of the “metropolitan revolution” in the U.S.: the city as the crucible of change in the wake of waning effectiveness at the national level. Or so say some, like former Chicao mayor Rahm Emanual, whose book “The Nation City” came out in February.
That the triumph of the city could now seem almost blasé to urbanists makes it all the more provocative to regionalists and rural advocates. We asked former UNC Charlotte Urban Institute Senior Fellow Brian Dabson, a nationally recognized expert on regional development and resilience, to give us his take on the new book. Below he shares why he thinks cities (still) need their regions, whether the urban-rural divide narrative will wither away in 2020, and how this new era of pandemic risk might foster more regionally-minded thinking in the future.
As much of our work, learning and lives move online following the stay-in-place policies to control the coronavirus pandemic, the inequity of the digital divide for low-income and rural households here and around the country is now more visible.
Like most states in the country, North Carolina has poor broadband (or high-speed internet) outside of most cities and towns. Almost all 100 counties in the state include rural areas with little or no broadband
After weighing the pros and cons of taking groceries to elderly parents; after assessing the risk of exposing them to coronavirus while driving them to the doctor; after worrying about friends who are sick in New York City, those who are considered essential workers and those who are now unemployed; after obsessively wiping surfaces with bleach solution and slathering hands with sanitizer; after years of developing virtual networks only to be unnerved by social distancing, I find moments of respite while pulling winter weeds.
The 2020 Census is crucial for making policy, assigning Congressional seats and divvying up resources for the decade to come, but it’s one of the many institutions facing a big challenge from the coronavirus.
Census response forms were sent nationwide last week, inviting people to respond online. People who respond online, over the phone or via mail won’t get a knock on their door from a Census worker — an especially important consideration in a time of pandemic.
Charlotte is home to the world’s sixth-busiest airport by takeoffs and landings, and Charlotte Douglas International is often cited as the region’s most important economic asset.
That’s why the airline industry’s sudden existential crisis could be especially consequential for the region.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, American Airlines and other carriers are struggling with the twin blow of a massive dropoff in customer demand and radically tightened restrictions on where they can fly.
Restaurant workers are grappling with the industry’s near shutdown in North Carolina due to coronavirus. Another category of workers being hit hard is those employed by the retail sector.
The closures have come swiftly over the past week, engulfing an ever-widening swath of stores locally:...
Nothing speaks of the winter sky quite like a flock of blackbirds flying in unison above a sprawling pasture, field or marsh.
They spiral and bank and funnel, breathing life into a void of leaden gray. It’s a spectacle you won’t observe in any other season.
In the Piedmont, these flocks are often composed of an assortment of common species, not all of which are native or even considered true blackbirds: starlings, robins, brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Sometimes the rusty blackbird, an erratic winter visitor in our region, joins them. In other times of the year – when these very same birds are establishing territory, breeding and raising their young – they tend to be more solitary and competitive, and nest in pairs or loose groups. When winter comes along, they become more cooperative and sociable.
There’s a growing consensus that if we want to get out of the housing affordability mess we’re in, we need to hear a lot more swinging hammers.
Policymakers, developers and housing advocates are all talking about the need to build more, and more of everything: single-family houses, duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, townhouses and apartments. It’s fast become the conventional wisdom that we need to lower regulatory barriers, streamline the development process and unleash the power of the market on our housing problems by allowing as much density as possible.
Leaders from across the region gathered Monday in a conference room at Charlotte Douglas International Airport with an ambitious goal: Creating a comprehensive plan for public transit, covering a dozen counties and setting the transit agenda for decades.
Called CONNECT Beyond, the 18-month planning effort by the Centralina Council of Governments is, to put it simply, big. The planning area covers 12 counties, in two states, with 17 different transit systems. Previous transit planning efforts have been focused mostly on one county at a time. The goal here is to come up with a plan to coordinate and prioritize projects, as well as funding requests, across the whole region.
“Twenty years from now, I think everyone is going to look back on this as the jumping-off point,” said John Muth, the Charlotte Area Transit System’s chief development officer.
What a year 2019 has been been for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute: The completion of a two-year study of the connections between Charlotte and surrounding rural communities. The launch of a new Urban Institute Faculty Fellows program focusing on economic opportunity. The inaugural Schul Forum Series.
But it was also a year of reflection, as the institute celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Our purpose in studying the 32-county region wasn’t to merely document a Carolinas version of the familiar urban-rural divide. Instead, we sought to go beyond the conventional narrative of an irreversible split, and seek examples of connections – either residual or new – between urban and rural communities. Connections that might provide opportunities for renewal in places still struggling to adapt to the changing economic landscape of the 21st century.
Ecosystems such as forests and wetlands provide clean air and water, food, building materials, and recreational opportunities. The benefits people receive from nature are referred to as “ecosystem services.”
Our interactions with ecosystems can have a positive impact, boosting our health and the economy. We can also have a negative impact on the health and survival of these natural resources.
Outside of booming cities, can entrepreneurship “save” Main Street? Longtime practitioners who have researched or designed entrepreneurship strategies across the country see it as the surest route to helping rural and small-town communities survive and thrive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
In the wake of manufacturing-based economies that once formed the basis for much of the region’s prosperity, three cities in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study area are hoping the crack of a bat will give them a second chance.
Gastonia and Kannapolis were once regional textile powerhouses, while High Point remains an important player in the furniture market. They’re all investing tens of millions of dollars in new, minor league baseball stadium meant to spur adjacent redevelopment and draw people back downtowns that have been hollowed out by the departures of major employers and retailers.
It’s Monday, and farmer Isaac Oliver begins his week at the computer.
Out on their 72-acre Harmony Ridge Farms in Tobaccoville, Isaac and dad Kevin raise ducks, harvest eggs and grow produce. At the start of each week, Isaac emails his list of available products to nearly 70 restaurants in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham. Over the next few days, chefs text or email him what they want.
“A restaurant in Charlotte orders 20 ducks every week and a lot of our eggs are on standing order, but otherwise, it’s week-to-week,” Isaac said.
In any conversation about strengthening urban and rural connections, local food systems are usually suggested as the prime example. Images of farmers’ markets come to mind, where urban consumers have the opportunity not only to buy fresh fruits and vegetables but to get to know the growers and producers.
In reality, the food system is more complex, and involves more than just growing food and bringing it to the table. It reflects an array of regulations, policies and markets. So what do we know about local food systems in our region? What impact do they have on urban and rural consumers, as well as regional social well-being and economic connections?
Development has been sprawling. Places that were once rural now seem urban. Take Fort Mill, S.C., whose population, according to the American Community Survey, has nearly doubled since 2010. Many small towns have grown into bustling suburbs as developers search for large tracts of land to build residential communities. As the population grows, low-cost land and high volume are necessary to meet the regions demand for single family housing.
Natural aesthetic appeal, increased economic vitality, a reason to leave your car behind, a walking and biking connection between communities in two states: Organizers hope to deliver all of that, and more, through the growing Carolina Thread Trail network of greenways, waterways and trails.
Charitable giving is an invisible thread binding people and communities together across the 32-county Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study region — but how much people give, and what resources are available, varies from place to place.
Can philanthropy foster greater regional connection? Yes, according to our research for the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection project. But it’s not just the movement of money that matters, say local leaders: it’s the regional exchange of ideas about how to put that money to work that seems to make a difference.
To better understand commuter flows at select sites in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection region down to the individual level, we studied anonymized cell phone tracking data. We sought to determine how commuter connections differ between types of business districts and types of firms.
By mapping the residential location of workers at a broad range of employment locations, we were able to make some judgements about the local economic impact, and community-building abilities of specific business types.
An array of environmental, cultural and economic connections together give rise to the interdependence of the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study region. But none of these connections are more economically significant than the flow of workers within our regional economy.
Counties within the region relied on out-of-county commuters for their workforces more in 2015 than at any point in our history: nearly one-quarter of our region’s residents had jobs outside of their home county.