Region Forward Reflections from Charlotte

Feb 3, 2011
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COG’s John Mataya is attending the 10th Annual New Partners in Smart Growth Conference in Charlotte North Carolina. The conference is organized by the Local Government Commission a forward-looking nonprofit that assists local governments in addressing community problems and leveraging environmental and economic resources.

In route to the conference I couldn’t help but wonder about what type of challenges Charlotte and other local governments across the country might be dealing with and how smart growth strategies and plans are being utilized to improve the livability and economic competitiveness of communities. It seems every time I leave the metropolitan Washington region I’m confronted by the hardships communities and local governments are facing in this economic recession.

As I was taking the local bus to the hotel I was catching up on some reading and noticed a piece in the Economist focusing on the scene of poverty and its rapid growth in the suburban sunbelt region specifically Sarasota Florida. According to the Economist and the US Census Bureau the Sarasota-Bradenton metropolitan area a two-county sprawl of condominiums marinas and retirement homes saw the proportion of people living below the poverty line rise more between 2007 and 2009 than any other big city in America. The article focuses on the fact that many of these areas bearing the brunt of rising poverty in their communities are suburban in nature.

This trend has also been the subject of recent work by the Brookings Institution where researchers have noted poverty has grown fastest in the suburbs with a third of America’s poor now living in the suburbs. As COG begins to analyze census figures that are being released we should have a better idea of how this trend is impacting our region and what strategies we can put into place to address it.

However there still is a bigger question looming and that is what does this trend mean for metropolitan areas across the country and specifically our region? It appears that this economic recession is showing that some places are clearly much more resilient than others. In Charlotte and our region it appears these areas all have one thing in common. They are typically livable walkable communities with access to diverse housing and transportation choices. This morning at the conference I had the pleasure to speak with a group of gregarious elected officials from Saint Charles Parish Louisiana. When asked about some of their challenges they summed this up with a response that “We have to start selling sustainable living environments for communities not sacrifice. Fortunately local governments in our region have recognized this and have endorsed many sustainability and livability goals and targets.

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