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King of the Queen
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Restaurants, festivals win praise, but cost of living hurts reputation as economist compares cities
KERRY HALL
Staff Writer

Charlotte, apparently, is much cooler than people may think.

We have a more vibrant evening scene, more fabulous parks and live longer on average than residents of other medium- to large-sized cities. A high number of Charlotteans also borrow library books, suggesting we like to learn.

These are the conclusions from Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting, a Wisconsin firm that advises clients on how to attract educated professionals ages 25 to 44 -- also called "the creative class."

She was paid $75,000 by a group that hopes to boost Charlotte's reputation as a cool place to be.

"It's not `Charlotte's a great place, trust me,' " said Hunter Widener, a local banker and chair of the City Committee, which paid for the study. "We have quantified it and can communicate it now."

The City Committee, made up of about 200 young local professionals, fears Charlotte is falling behind other cities that possess more creative and "cool" cachet, cities such as San Diego, Raleigh and Austin, Texas. Some economists argue cities must attract talented, young workers to survive.

The committee, which has existed quietly for more than two years, raised private donations to pay for the study, which will be released to the public Thursday evening. The Observer contributed $2,500 worth of advertising to the committee.

According to the study, Charlotte is emerging as a world-class dining city. The report praises the city's festivals, such as Charlotte SHOUT, and the city's overall cleanliness and mild seasons.

Johnson and Wales University received kudos for bringing "new flavor" into the traditional college system and the study gives Charlotte good marks for having free wireless hotspots around town.

Thursday evening, the City Committee will announce five initiatives designed to get young professionals more involved in the community and to boost Charlotte's "cool" reputation nationwide. Among the initiatives: the launching of a comprehensive Web site that connects people with goings-on around town and the creation of a young professionals group for socializing.

Both ideas sounded good to Terry Connarn, 25, and Matt Gallo, 26, who spent their Tuesday lunch break relaxing outside Dean and Deluca in uptown. The two architects had been discussing where to go for happy hour that night, "but there aren't any signs advertising specials," Connarn said.

In the next few years, the baby boomers will start retiring, ultimately leading to a worker shortage. Author and George Mason University economist Richard Florida has said a city's economic success depends on its ability to lure artists, scientists and other creative types.

Not everyone agrees with this form of economic development.

Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Bishop worries Charlotte could limit its growth by focusing too heavily on one type of worker.

"I'm not sure we ought to be looking to implement policy, or significant changes based on the interests of a particular interest group," said Bishop, 40, an attorney and native Charlottean.

For the report, Ryan, an economist, conducted focus groups and telephone interviews. She then compared more than 40 of Charlotte's characteristics with those of 221 cities. Characteristics include: religious and ethnic diversity, the number of art galleries, restaurants and fitness clubs, air quality and availability of parks, commute times, housing prices and unemployment rates.

Ryan said Charlotte is one of two cities out of the nine her company is working with that beat the national average in most categories. Current clients include Tulsa, Okla., Akron, Ohio, and Fresno, Calif. She declined to say how they compared with Charlotte.

"There's a reason beyond Bank of America and Wachovia that Charlotte is growing," Ryan said. "There's a lot going on."

Some of the city's flaws also came through in the report. The city is home to fewer entrepreneurs per capita than other parts of the country and needs more business and arts incubators with sound financial plans, the survey said. The report also cited professionals' concern about a growing gap in quality education for local Hispanic and African American students.

Perhaps most surprising, given the thousands of Northerners who moved south in part because it's cheaper: Charlotte's weakest trait is cost of living, particularly housing costs.

Wachovia Securities broker and young professional Tori Reid, meanwhile, has watched the city evolve and she said she's proud to learn that Charlotte is considered "cool."

Ten years ago, she struggled to find quality shopping. Today, she spends weekends at SouthPark and Concord Mills. She also loves the summer jazz and wine festivals and poetry readings.

"I think it's a work in progress," she said of Charlotte. "There's room to grow."
 

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Sic Semper Tyrannis
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nostyle said:
I know I'm cool because my mom told me so.
MY dad told me I'm soo cool....and he' right :).
 

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How does cost of living hurt the reputation? Isn't it cheaper to live there? - wouldn't the fact that it's cheaper attract younger people??
 

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A whole self-referential cottage industry has grown up around this creative class business.
 

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It kind of makes me sick that people are paying other people to regurgitate Richard Florida which is the most academic theory in modern planning/economics. While there are valid points to his arguements, no account is taken for economic cycles, or massing pulls that larger cities have......in fact he touches so lightly on the second subject that I can only assume that he sees how it can disprove his arguements and would rather ignore the subject.......sorry for that.

To the topic at hand. I live in Charlotte, and love it to death, but it is not cool, and no one visiting here would get the impression that it is. To be honest, I don't think that these consultants gave us shit. To tell us that our cost of living is our biggest problem is an absolute joke. To tell us that we have bad racial problems is a joke. Instead of regurgitating the same drivel that they tell every city, why not ask people who really know.......every person that they interviewed was white, straight, and between the ages of 25-40.......kind of a narrow focus, huh?
 

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...wolf in cheap clothing
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I agree that Charlotte is not cool. However, I think it definitely has the potential to become such. Will it become a much larger version of Asheville? No. But, will it eventually attain that big city vibe that generates "cool"? I think so, if the city stays its current course.

Granted, if an outsider dares to gush over Charlotte's urban, in-town development, locals are eager to correct you and remind you that Charlotte is still bouncing merrily along in that handbasket to suburban hell. However, I think from what I've read that the central city can grow and probably will grow large enough to start giving off those metro vibes that are so hard to quantify but so easy to detect. I think that as Charlotte's reputation for high-quality modern architecture continues to grow, and as it slowly becomes a world-class dining city as Johnson and Wales students and graduates get to work, Charlotte will have two of the many things that people cite when they define cool. As the city restores its historic residential 'hoods and creates new urban neighborhoods, it will have another. When streetlevel retail moves back to Uptown, as it will as the population continues to rise, the city will have yet another.

From my perspective, what Charlotte could do to help its coolness factor along would be to encourage the arts in every way possible beyond what rich people in suits would want to buy or attend. Encourage weirdness. Encourage a little Asheville down there. In fact, we have hippies to spare, and you can have some of ours.
 

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I think Charlotte's 'cool' factor is like everything else in Charlotte (except its skyscrapers) in that it's undersized for a metro this size, but steadily growing as the city continues to grow. I'm really not all that concerned with this whole coolness thing.

As for cost of living, I don't think it's that expensive around here, and the one knock specifically mentioned, expensive housing, it's the worst thing in the world either. Buying real estate is a tremendous investment. And since taxes are so low compared to other cities, more of your monthly mortgage payment is going toward your equity than into the city's pockets. Furthermore, most of Charlotte's core neighborhoods are appreciating very well right now. Buying a house in Charlotte is a terrific investment.
 

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I think a lot of it has to do with the vibe of the city, and Charlotte really doesn't have any (yet). There is no vibe walking around Uptown - outside of lunch hour, there really isn't that much people walking around (or rollerblading, skating, bicycles, etc), there is no street life (are they ever entertainers/people who play music or something on the side of the street?) traffic, taxis, horns, sounds. There are a lot of nice days there, don't people want to go out for a walk??? I also think that Charlotte may be too clean - everything needs to be perfect (landscaping, no advertisments on buses and around the city, etc) that it doesn't create anything really interesting. It needs to let go of some of its uptight, corporate roots - I think as more people move to the center, things will change.

But the suburbs are nice, and we all know thats why the majority of people move there.
 

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I will speak very generally, so please bear with me... If the people who live in Charlotte feel good about their place, then we can safely say that Charlotte is cool. What outsiders think is important, which is why cities pay big bucks for another point of view. Sometimes, however, the research groups try to please their customers instead of contacting a thorough investigation. I don't know the details of the "study" which concluded that the rising cost of living may hurt Charlotte - personally, I doubt it, unless it gets out of control - but assigning the word "cool" to a growing city that still has a lot of growing (in a good way) to do, would be rushed and unfair to the city. It would create expectations that will, most likely, not be met. Charlotte has been working hard to make itself a true city, with amenities found in the largest U.S. metros, but the term "cool" may not be the best way to describe this place. To me, Asheville and Wilmington are cool. Charlotte, however, deserves the title of the up and coming city that positions itself to become a truly nice major U.S. city. Call it what you will, but the Queen City carries a lot of potential and through its hard work will prevail. Its identity is not based on coolness but on its corporate mentality and big-city vision. If Charlotte's residents wish to call their city "cool" I won't argue with them. Their opinion carries far more weight than mine because they live there and see the ever-changing image of the Queen City. As for me, I prefer to see Charlotte with a different eye; I have tons of respect for this city and it makes me proud to hear about all the "cool" things that either are happning or will happen. So, two thumbs up for Charlotte, with or without the "coolness" factor.

One thing that kind of made me wonder is the following excerpt:

"The City Committee, made up of about 200 young local professionals, fears Charlotte is falling behind other cities that possess more creative and "cool" cachet, cities such as San Diego, Raleigh and Austin, Texas. Some economists argue cities must attract talented, young workers to survive."

What is the "cool" side of Raleigh? Are they kidding me? If anyone can see Raleigh as "cool" place, please step forward and tell me what it is. The City of Oaks, while a great place to live, is still trying to create an identity for itself. Being the capital city means little to most residents here. This status may offer us amenities we are not aware of, but in terms of identity, we have a crisis. Sure, we are working on it, but unlike Charlotte the city of Raleigh doesn't see itself as a major city, or a "cool" place. Plenty of potential, but nothing along the lines of "cool". Austin and San Diego, however, are certainly the kind of places one may call "cool". If the City Committee of Charlotte wants to look for "coolness" they ought to mention Asheville and Wilmington, not Raleigh.
 

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"The City Committee, made up of about 200 young local professionals, fears Charlotte is falling behind other cities that possess more creative and "cool" cachet, cities such as San Diego, Raleigh and Austin, Texas. Some economists argue cities must attract talented, young workers to survive."

Something told me that Raleigh would be thrown in the mix.

But hey! If that is what they wanna think , let em.........it is an outsider who said that we were cool!

Seriously though, I beleive that the statement was made on the basis of young professionals and that fact the the triangle area, per capita, turns out more young professionals that any other place in the state........

Charlotte, In my opinion is as cool as any other place......I do think Raleigh is cool too! to me, its an individual perception...it's all in what you like.

A while back , a family moved to Raleigh from Augusta Ga. I asked them what did they think of Raleigh and the answer was " Raleigh is the country with "city clothes" on.....meaning the freeways, tall buildings, busy traffic etc....... I accepted that answer, didn't totally agree, but I accepted the reply for all it was worth .
 

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hauntedheadnc said:
From my perspective, what Charlotte could do to help its coolness factor along would be to encourage the arts in every way possible beyond what rich people in suits would want to buy or attend. Encourage weirdness. Encourage a little Asheville down there. In fact, we have hippies to spare, and you can have some of ours.
I agree with just about all of what you said. The above, though, is the real sticky issue for Charlotte. It's a hard task to create an arts scene in the city. Usually good art pops up out of genuinely bohemian or depressed areas: the French Quarter (in the 20s anyway, not so much today), Deep Ellum, Beale Street, Harlem and the like.

Charlotte really doesn't have anything like those neighborhoods, partially due to the amount of prosperity in the city right now. There really aren't any truly bohemian neighborhoods, and the depressed areas are really not so bad. Places like NoDa strive for that kind of image, but as we have seen they gentrify almost instantly when they start to develop a decent street scene.

I'm not sure what the solution will be. I've seen a couple of articles about an attempt to establish a music district somewhere inside the 277 loop; maybe Charlotte's future is more like that of a Nashville than a Memphis. Right now, the city is simply not accessible to the "starving artist" population that we'd all like to see there.
 

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What is the "cool" side of Raleigh? Are they kidding me? If anyone can see Raleigh as "cool" place, please step forward and tell me what it is. The City of Oaks, while a great place to live, is still trying to create an identity for itself. Being the capital city means little to most residents here. This status may offer us amenities we are not aware of, but in terms of identity, we have a crisis. Sure, we are working on it, but unlike Charlotte the city of Raleigh doesn't see itself as a major city, or a "cool" place. Plenty of potential, but nothing along the lines of "cool". Austin and San Diego, however, are certainly the kind of places one may call "cool". If the City Committee of Charlotte wants to look for "coolness" they ought to mention Asheville and Wilmington, not Raleigh.
It doesn't happen often, but I'm going to have to disagree with Raleigh-NC here. Raleigh is a very cool place. Its quite hard NOT to be cool when you've got 80,000 college students within 30 miles of the place. Raleigh's indie music scene is decent, as is the nightlife. Now I'm not technically considered the "creative class" as I am only 22, but I think I can be a pretty decent judge of the coolness of an area.

Wilmington is pretty cool, as is Asheville, but Raleigh has this cool, mixed in with other things (more people, more business, etc...). I have friends from both Asheville and Wilmington that now live in Raleigh and would not move back to either city. Raleigh simply has more to offer, great museums, a growing downtown, growing nightlife, the college scene, good parks, great concert venues, and a pretty decent selection of restaurants throughout town.

Take First Friday, or artsplosure, First Night Raleigh, the different festivals...or places like the Pour House or Lincoln Theater. Movie theaters like the Realto and Colony. Throw in Glenwood South, Saks, the Warehouse District, City Market/Moore Square... All these things make Raleigh a pretty cool place. There are new bars and restaurants popping up all the time.

I'm pretty flattered when I talk to people from out of state that hear great things about Raleigh. (And of course I tell them its just as good as everything they've heard ;) ) And whenever you see other cities talking about trying to be "cooler" or trying to reinvent their image (Charlotte and Richmond come to mind), they often mention Raleigh as a place they could emulate. Obviously if all these outsiders see Raleigh as a cool place, its doing something right. Sometimes I think after you live in a place for so long you forget about what you have...we have something great here and I'm glad other's are taking note.

**Note, this post is in no way suggesting that Charlotte isn't as cool as Raleigh. I think Charlotte is a great city, I was just responding to a post.
 

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@Justadude: Very nicely put :eek:kay: I could not have said it better. Charlotte is a city that is prospering and growing, not the depressed kind. Any attempt to create that old-style bohemian life will merely be an imitation. Love it or hate it, Charlotte is a leader, not an imitator, but that is my opinion of course.
 

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Chapel Hill is considered 'cool', particularly in the 90's when it was indie rock central. And since Chapel Hill is in Raleigh's metro area - I suppose that would assist Raleigh in being 'cool'. Besides, there are even bands from Raleigh proper that have been pretty cool.

Charlotte? I don't know, not sure what is considered 'cool', depends on how you value 'cool'. Based on the same criteria - Charlotte has been very quiet in alternative music. The last bands I've heard about that were any good were Fetchin Bones & Antiseen - both quite excellent. But Hope Nicholls (lead singer of Fetchin Bones) is still in Charlotte, so in between singing for Pigface I suppose she helps the 'coolness' of Charlotte just by her prescence.

She is a hottie too :)
 

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Justadude said:
I'm not sure what the solution will be. I've seen a couple of articles about an attempt to establish a music district somewhere inside the 277 loop; maybe Charlotte's future is more like that of a Nashville than a Memphis. Right now, the city is simply not accessible to the "starving artist" population that we'd all like to see there.
I have no idea if this would be a feasible idea or not, but it was the first thing to pop into my head. Why not eliminate taxes on artwork sold in the city, and businesses that sell it?

On second thought, why not? Because that would be discriminatory. But... perhaps some fiddling with the tax rates is in order. Perhaps create a special district or something.
 

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hauntedheadnc said:
I have no idea if this would be a feasible idea or not, but it was the first thing to pop into my head. Why not eliminate taxes on artwork sold in the city, and businesses that sell it?

On second thought, why not? Because that would be discriminatory. But... perhaps some fiddling with the tax rates is in order. Perhaps create a special district or something.
I wouldn't mind giving tax breaks to artists. In a city that's practically dripping with business opportunities, I'd rather government money be going to culture than to commerce at this point (at least until the boom subsides).

As an example of why this stuff is hard to pull off: A few weeks ago I went to a gallery crawl up in NoDa. Now, let me say firstly that this is one of the "coolest" things to do in Charlotte and something I'd recommend to any out-of-towner. But... I didn't see a decent piece of art all night that was less than $500. Most ran up into four-digit territory.... and these things are being sold out of converted mill buildings. Bohemians, students and countercultureheads aren't going to be able to shell out that kind of money. So basically the gallery crawls are filled with the artsy equivalent of yuppies (young urban artists... yartsies?).

The same thing has happened to the jazz scene. I went to a fantastic jazz club in Washington this past New Year's and spent over $100 for a dinner for two. That's just insane, considering what jazz is supposed to be all about. No wonder nobody appreciates it, most people can't even afford to see a decent performer.

I think this is a problem all over the country really, but it's more pronounced in places like Charlotte that don't have a pre-established cultural scene that can at least pretend to open itself to all comers. Our "low" art is becoming "high" art, which leaves a cultural vacuum in the middle and lower class. As a nation we need to rethink the way we value our art.
 

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Why of course Charlotte is cool. How else do you explain the fact that we’re one of the fastest growing metros in the country, attracting people of all backgrounds? This report echoes something I’ve said to friends and family for years; you WILL NOT find another city Charlotte’s size that offers more to a greater number of people of varying backgrounds. If people insist on trying to compare Charlotte to larger cities, so be it. But shame on them for living here and expecting the city to be like those places that are four times our size. And I disagree totally with the notion that Asheville is cooler. The last time I was in Asheville, I had a great time. Loved downtown, the funky shops and the cute restaurants. I love visiting there and do so often. Only one thing missing…more people that look like me (and Denzell Washington, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, you get the picture). So while Asheville may be nice, there’s no way I would live there. A city is not “diverse” and "cool" simply because you can see a pierced punk rocker or six foot drag queen meandering down the street. And no disrespect to Raleigh, but I’ve visited there several times. It’s nice. Cooler than Charlotte? Uhhh, the answer is, “What is no?” So it doesn’t shock me at all that after completing this “study” the conclusion is, “Hey, Charlotte’s not that bad.” I think Charlotte is very cool, not perfect, but certainly cool.
 
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