Thursday, February 21, 2008

A goodbye - and an introduction

In recent weeks, I’ve been clearing out my files to pass along to Amy Baldwin, who has begun work this week as The Observer’s new guru of all things newcomer-related.

And it occurred to me that many of the people I met when I started the newcomer job in the summer of 2006 likely would not call themselves newcomers anymore. Maybe they arrived a year or two before that and were still flummoxed by our streets, our accents and our food.

But by now, I’m sure they can proudly educate their more recently transplanted neighbors on such matters as the differences between Blakeney and Birkdale, when to avoid the traffic jams on I-485 and where to find the best sushi – or barbecue.

A fact of life in Charlotte is that every year brings an influx of new people who must be welcomed and educated about our city’s peculiarities. I like to think I played a part in doing that over the past year and a half.

I particularly enjoyed how this blog took on a life of its own and you readers often peppered my message board with feisty comments, dozens at a time. It was great to have that dialogue with you.

I decided to keep that conversation going until Amy’s blog was up and running. (Click here to see it.) Now, it’s her turn to get you talking about the things that make this city unique and, at times, hard for the new folks to figure out.

I’m now an editor in the paper’s southern Mecklenburg bureau. I’ll miss meeting newcomers regularly, but I’ve wanted to be an editor for a long time. I’ll eagerly accept your tips on things our paper should be writing about in the areas of Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Ballantyne, Steele Creek and the Arboretum/Providence Road area – my new realm of responsibility.

This blog will continue to float in cyberspace and, from time to time, people might stumble across it and post a stray comment or two. But with the demands of my new job, I won’t have time to update it after this week.

So, I’ll pose one final question to those readers who are transplants, but no longer feel like newcomers. What’s the most important thing you’ve done to help you get adjusted to life in Charlotte? Was it meeting other newcomers, or befriending natives? Was it joining groups, or driving around to explore? Any advice you have for other newcomers is welcome – and might provide future story fodder for my successor.

Keep in touch!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Charlotte's economy pinched?

Is the economy pinching you?

As my colleague Mark Washburn pointed out in Wednesday’s paper, the effects of the economic slowdown making national headlines are finally being felt here.

Growing up in Charlotte, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that our economic growth has been so strong, we usually don’t feel slowdowns the way the rest of the country does.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that construction cranes are slowing down, gas prices are crimping commuters and people who list their houses for sale are having a harder time than usual.

I recently added a commute to my job with my switch from reporting to editing. Now I have to drive to our paper’s Matthews bureau office each day, instead of the five minutes from my Elizabeth home I used to drive to the main Observer building uptown. I’ve become increasingly conscious of conserving gas when possible – carpooling, combining errands, eating out somewhere I can walk to or staying in at night.

I used to enjoy taking a lunch hour at Target and leaving with unplanned purchases. No more.

And I figure it’s only a matter of time before we see more fallout among retailers and restaurants, especially the smaller mom-and-pops.

If you have any moneysaving tips to share, please post them on my colleague Celeste Smith’s new Deal of the Day blog.

Meantime, I’m interested in hearing how you’re feeling the economic slowdown. If you’re taking extra steps to pinch pennies, how has your life changed in recent months? How do you think things in Charlotte are changing? Let me know.

Monday, February 11, 2008

North vs. South - again

This morning, this blog earned me a guest appearance on the “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins” show on WFAE (90.7 FM). The topic: Northerners vs. Southerners.

The show was picking up on the tensions between newcomers and natives exhibited in the comments on many entries here, as well as on the Letters to the Editor page and “The Buzz” section of the Observer.

On the show, I think we reached a consensus that Charlotte’s rapid growth has indeed caused many under-the-surface tensions, but generally this city embraces change. (Just look at our willingness to tear down historic structures to build shiny new developments).

While someone from the North may write me to say they’re unhappy about being called a “Yankee,” by far most of the people I hear from consider this place very welcoming.

And I’ve heard from many natives who embrace the amenities, restaurants and increased diversity our influx has brought us.

One listener brought up an interesting point: Should the Observer stop printing the views of transplants and natives who resent each other for their attitudes?

My response is that the purpose of blogs, Letters to the Editor and The Buzz are to air the current views of the community. Just because we devote ink or bandwidth to the views doesn’t mean that we, as a newspaper, endorse them. What we do support is informing people of what’s going on out there in their community.

What do you think? Is there more to say on the subject of Northerners vs. Southerners, or have we exhausted the topic?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A view of Charlotte from Sundance

Thanks to the relative strength of North Carolina’s filmmaking industry, the state is usually represented in films at the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

As I have for the past seven years, I traveled there recently. I go out of personal interest and usually write about Carolinas connections for The Observer. One of this year’s films showcasing Charlotte surprised me.

Called “Kicking It,” it’s a documentary about soccer teams comprised of homeless people who compete annually in a Homeless World Cup tournament. An effort spearheaded at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center sends a U.S. team each year, and a Charlotte player was prominently featured in the documentary. (Click here for my article from Sunday’s paper about it; here for another article about a Carolina film connection).

In one sequence, the Charlotte player, Craig Holley, walks the streets of uptown Charlotte with a camera crew, and complains that in our city, there’s often no place for a homeless person to go. If the shelters are full and homeless people try sleeping on park benches or other public property, police officers will awaken them and make them move. Many end up in tents deep in the woods, and they, too, are sometimes forced to move along.

It’s no secret that this city has a serious homeless problem. It’s estimated there are more than 5,000 homeless in our community, and uncounted numbers of them sleep outside at night.

I wonder how much our leaders will want to celebrate our appearance in this film. It points up the sad reality that for many people who have fallen through the cracks of our system, there is simply no place to go.

So, I wrote in a brief for the Observer from Sundance that the film portrays Charlotte in an unflattering light. Lawrence Cann, a founder and leader of Charlotte’s homeless soccer program, took issue with my wording.

“The streets, in Charlotte or elsewhere in the world, are never nice and hardly ever described as peachy by someone who has to live on them,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But, he noted, Charlotte is ahead of many other cities in spearheading the homeless soccer program, which is credited with helping many homeless people turn their lives around. That includes Holley, the featured Charlotte man, who now lives in an apartment and has a job.

In that respect, yes, the documentary paints a positive view of Charlotte. And, I’m glad it provokes thought about the flip side of our shiny bank-towered skyline.

I also salute the filmmakers for coming up with the concept of “filmanthropy” – the idea of making a film about a cause they believe in, then contributing the film’s proceeds to the cause. This film’s profits will go toward the Homeless World Cup program. It’s been picked up by ESPN; no air date has been set yet.

This is an innovative way to attack the problem of homelessness. What else should we be doing?