In 1982, I left Charlotte for Atlanta. I wanted a big urban “feel,” walkable, diverse urban communities and I found that in Atlanta.
Charlotte seemed small to me. When my mother, sister and I walked out onto the Charlotte airport tarmac in 1967, my mom cried out, “What kind of a cow town has your father brought us to?” That is the Charlotte in my mind and those words have rung in my ears ever since.
Thirty years later, I have found a different, vibrant, urban Charlotte.
Charlotte is on display now to the nation (and the world) sporting it’s Lynx light rail line, a well networked bus system, shiny high rises in its financial center, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, arts and culture venues, upscale eateries and much more.
Taking it all in, particularly on the heels of a failed transportation initiative in the metro Atlanta region, Charlotte has become an amazing city and certainly no “cow town.” Charlotte now has a captive audience.
“The city has a buzz and a ‘feel’ to it now. We are ready for people to see Charlotte,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, a four-term NC State Senator who serves on Charlotte’s convention host committee.
Graham said comments he has heard about Charlotte leading up to the convention mostly cite Charlotte as a banking town.
“Through this convention, people will see we are more than that. We have a strong educational network, we are the 16th largest city in the nation and it shows,” Graham said.
Thousands of Democratic Convention visitors, including media, delegates, protestors and police officers, have been descending on the city over the weekend. City officials are easing their residents and visitors into the convention by increasing the blockaded areas a few streets each day.
Since I arrived on Friday, the volume of pedestrians and the number of police officers has increased visibly. Some 2,000 law enforcement personnel are expected to be on hand this week, arriving from all parts of North Carolina.
Pre-convention activities kicked off Saturday night with a media party held at the NC Music Factory. Guests were transported from the convention center and escorted to the open-air venue by police motorcycles. Fifteen thousand participants were expected, but heavy early evening rains kept some away.
Major media outlets, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox and ABC, have all set up news stations around the convention center. Most have created unusual reporting sets inside restaurants and courtyards. Reporters picked up their convention credentials today and began settling into their workspaces.
On Sunday night, state delegation dinners began. Georgia’s delegates gathered at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and many guests moved from there to the Congressional Black Caucus party with All Star list of celebrities.
“The Congressional Black Caucus was the most diverse event of the evening. It just shows that people of all colors and backgrounds can find common ground and let loose at a party together. It’s been an amazing evening. I love the Democratic Party!” said LeWanna Heard Tucker, a delegate from the Atlanta area.
On Monday, Sept. 3 the activities continue to crank up. The Georgia delegation will have its first formal meeting from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. The free, family-friendly Labor Day festival, CarolinaFest begins at noon and is hosted by Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee.
Also, on Monday, the Democratic National Committee will host an opening press conference to preview the most open and accessible convention in history. Speakers will outline convention highlights, discuss the convention's lasting impact on Charlotte and layout the themes of the week. Representatives from the Obama for America campaign will also be on hand to answer questions. Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will address reporters.