As someone who’s visited a good many cities, I must admit to having been quite favorably impressed by Charlotte, N.C. during my recent stay there. Sweet tea and southern hospitality were everywhere, but what most impressed me was the dynamic uptown business and restaurant district, with its successful blend of commercial and residential ambience. In fact, it’s just the kind of versatile regional hub that urban planners like to envision, with a vitality that has been lost in far too many of America’s cities. Observing the legions of employees pouring out of various corporate headquarters, including those for Bank of America, Duke Energy, and what will soon become the East Coast operational center for Wells Fargo, and into nearby restaurants, I almost had the feeling of having traveled back in time to an age when the nation’s cities were thriving centers of commerce. Even the hotel I stayed at had a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
The last time I visited the “Queen City,” as it’s known, it didn’t even have a football team, which obviously was quite a while ago. So on this trip I felt sort of like I was discovering the Charlotte for the first time, as I just walked around and enjoyed the laid-back aura, the combination of cool vibes and vivacity of a really relaxed yet lively metropolis (similar to the feeling engendered by a place like Boulder, Colo.) – one whose traditional southern charm blends smoothly with a highly sophisticated business environment and a vibrant and varied enough cultural life to appeal to everyone from NASCAR fans to fine arts patrons. A lot of other places, in fact, could take lessons in livability from Charlotte, which could and should serve as a model for how a contemporary city should look and feel.