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First Impressions
Published Monday, July 23, 2001
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Doomed to the boom: I won't fight it


I have declared my crusade for environmental responsibility in Charlotte over.

Why? It's a waste of breath.

Whereas the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the official vehicle of Charlotte, the Cul de Sac is the official neighborhood, and Little E ("Hell, no, that race wasn't fixed") is the official sports hero, I give up.

If you're reading The Observer's current five-part series on cars, you know we are ranked No. 2 in sprawl by USA Today, and No. 8 in dirty air by the American Lung Association. You know the Catawba River is on the nation's list of endangered rivers.

America has 5 percent of the world's population, but uses 45 percent of its gasoline.

Why is Charlotte continuing on this path when there is so much talk about Smart Growth? Because the people who talk Smart Growth are just that. Talkers. The uptown banks preach Smart Growth, but they will still finance Wal-Marts and Jiffy Lubes. Johnny Harris, who headed the uptown arts/arena effort, developed Ballantyne, 15 miles away.

Then, these same people turn around and ask us to use visitor taxes to build arenas, ballparks and museums to bolster uptown.

No wonder the trust level is down.

(Note: I voted with Johnny, hoping the museums and arenas would boost the economy and counteract the sprawl.)

Even the Belks, Charlotte's first family, have all their stores in the suburbs. Why? The suburbs are where the people live.

Atlanta north?

If we are going to destroy the area anyway, why focus on the negatives? It just makes you bitter and angry, like your underwear is too tight.

Why not focus on the positives?

The suburbs can be a great place to live. Backyards are nice in the 'burbs. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, it's where most of the best schools are.

I lived in the suburbs of Atlanta for 10 years. It was cheap. Nice. I had a great condo on a sports writer's salary. I drove some 20,000 miles a year, and it didn't seem absurd. Then.

All the growth and new people made it a fun place to be. Unfortunately, all the time Atlanta was preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics, they weren't paying attention to air and traffic problems. They do now, but it's a little late.

Charlotte is no different than Atlanta. In July 10's USA Today, the only two U.S. cities with "unhealthy" air rankings were Charlotte and Atlanta.

The bright side

That said, there are two things to be positive about.

First, while the outerbelt won't solve problems, it will create more growth. Not necessarily good growth, but the economic boom will continue.

Second, as the growth continues, it brings more interesting people. More great restaurants. More arts. More areas like NoDa and South End and Central Avenue that have created pockets of soul we didn't have before. The proposed Sugar Creek greenway could be extraordinary.

We're not going to stop it. The people who run Charlotte want sprawl. There is too much money to be made from it. We might as well chill out and enjoy the party.

Reach Don: (704) 358-5703;




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