I believe it was Summer 2008 when I heard the fun-loving, juggernaut of creativity, BooneOakley, was going to be creating a slogan for Charlotte. I was a fledgling creative, a year past graduating from college, had just wrapped up my first year “in the biz” and had decided to follow a girl to New York City.
Then I remember when I heard it, “Charlotte’s Got A Lot.” It certainly was unexpected. It wasn’t the typical boasting you might expect from a campaign meant to promote a city. It was completely literal. There are many cities that have a “ton,” (Charles-ton, Day-ton, Hous-ton, San An-ton-io) but not a single city of over 100,000 people that had “a lot.”
What did it mean past the literal? That Charlotte had a lot to offer? Well, the super pared down definition of a city is “a place that has ‘a lot’ of people and ‘a lot’ to offer.” So this could apply to literally anywhere.
In 2008, Charlotte was in the most illogical boom of its adolescence. Donald Trump was promising to build a new tallest building on South Tryon Street, and banks were too big to fail. Developers thought they could find more than 100 people to spend $3M+ to live in a condo uptown, one developer promised 20 future residents a free Porsche to buy an obscenely expensive condo, with a car elevator that whisked you and your new car right to your front door. Everyone was a ”home flipper“ all of a sudden, and everyone wanted a slice of ”The New South.”
Charlotte was a city on the rise; we thought we were invincible. We weren’t.
The truth of the matter is, Charlotte didn’t have anything tangibly unique to offer past its ranking in “Monetary Assets held by Banking Companies.” Even the iconic canopy of oaks that we hold so dear can be found elsewhere. After all, our little sister, Raleigh, claims the title of “The City of Oaks” already.
The city just doesn’t have “a lot.” Plenty of cities have a lot more breweries, taco restaurants, and a lot more of the beige boxes that seemingly are becoming the city‘s identity. There is so little left of what makes a city great, like remnants of its history, and we lose more and more of it every year, replacing it with things that are more “Instagrammable.”
Charlotte has the disadvantage of coming to prominence in a time when cars were king, and the definition of “urban renewal” was to push out all the non-white residents, and demolish anything that just wasn‘t shiny enough. Fully committed to “urban renewal,“ we demolished theatres, department stores, hotels, and retail establishments that had been operating for generations.
Just in the past few years we’ve lost Park Terrace Theatre, Double Door Inn, Tremont Music Hall, Query-Spivey-McGee Building and pretty soon will lose the Coddington (then Polk) Building. The ’80s and ’90s were even worse, losing Belk’s original department store, the Independence Building, Hotel Charlotte, and the Masonic Temple.
We whitewashed our identity for the foreseeable future and never learned the value of historic preservation. The times when local government and wealthy residents would develop cultural assets together in partnership are long gone, and these assets seem impossible to rebuild.
Charlotte has always been a city that wanted to be world class, but lacks the cultural assets that sets those cities apart. We are the big kid on the block, full of ideas, full of aspirations, but a little too austere and frugal to make those aspirations come fully to fruition. For instance, we want a world class greenway system, but it’s been painfully slow to develop. We built a extension to our single light rail line, but the infrastructure and connectivity lag way behind in the immediate area.
Full of piss and vinegar, we think we can take over the world, but we get no support from the NCGA. Thanks to their obsession with the rural parts of the state, Eastern NC gets our roads, Asheboro got our zoo, and we don’t get our share. Charlotte accounts for more than one-third of the State’s Gross Domestic Product, but you‘d never know it based on how the state “shares the wealth.“
What makes Charlotte unique isn‘t the extent of its offerings. We are the Queen City, the crown jewel of ”The New South.“ We are a city adept to transition. We‘ve gone from gold, to textiles, to banking. We survived a banking crisis that should have completely sunk us, and came out of ”The Great Recession“ diversified economically and ready to compete. We were the first mid tier city in the South to develop a light rail system. We are a city that simply “wants it” more than anyone.
After we decided we “got a lot” and after the DNC, I think Charlotte settled in, and got a little complacent. We thought we had arrived, and we could let things come our way for the first time ever. We forgot that to be world class, you still had to act the part. We got lazy. The most recent example was the Amazon pitch video that everyone around town collectively rolled their eyes at. Was that really the best we had to offer?
Between our wrongful punishment for HB2 (seriously, not our decision, world), the riots after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and being passed over by Amazon, we‘ve been in a two-year-long funk.
Its been about a decade since “Charlotte‘s Got a Lot“ debuted, and it’s time Charlotte gets a new slogan that doesn’t just tell others that we think we are great, but reminds us that to be great, we have to work diligently toward our ultimate goals. Reminds everybody that we are the Queen City, and while we might have some deficiencies we will try like hell to be great anyways.
Image: Observer files