Monday, December 14, 2009

I have to give a talk on Charlotte in the 1930s early next year. This time I'll be on my own. I would like to tell some of the same types of stories as I brought to the radio interview, but I will also be responsible for advancing an argument. I will have to draw a big picture without simply repeating what Tom Hanchett says.

Herewith some notes towards accomplishing that goal.

The Charlotte Observer noted last Sunday that business leaders and elected officials are looking for someone to lead the city to a more economically diversified future. Growing beyond dependency on a single sector provides a sounder foundation for growth and makes the city more attractive to outsiders. Everyone interviewed agreed that strengthening the school system so that it turned out employable workers was key.

How does this compare to the 1930s? What did people then say about the remaking of the city? In the days shortly after the crash, the News and the Observer were full of hopeful headlines, as if deflation and joblessness would be bumps in the road rather than enduring conditions. They were in denial.

Acceptance came by 1931-32. There were some signs of a lifeboat mentality - cheating and mistrust.

People concerned for Charlotte's future focused first of all on binding up the community's wounds. The damage was so deep and widespread that everyone knew it had to be addressed before the city's human resources could be productively employed again. In Charlotte during the present recession, the damage has been more limited and the social safety net more in place. We have a sense of our neighbors in need, but not of our community in peril. We have been asked to dig deeper in support of existing agencies. They organized from scratch to meet the needs around them.


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