The Democratic National Convention called Charlotte home this September, but a Republican now running for governor of North Carolina led the city's revival.
When Pat McCrory moved to Charlotte in 1978, most locals deserted uptown after 5 p.m. It was boring and unsafe. But a third of a century later, the city is alive. McCrory left his job as mayor in 2009 after serving a record 14 years. During that time he embraced "the new urbanism" and its doctrines of walkable communities with housing, shops, schools, offices, and accessible transportation to promote healthy living while saving money and energy.
McCrory points with pride to the EpiCentre, a new hub for dining, shopping, movies, healthcare, and banking: It replaced the old Charlotte Convention Center when the city changed regulations, allowing investors to build with no public funding. We talked as he stood in front of Vida Mexican Kitchen y Cantina, with light rail tracks and a new arena behind him, and with the Ritz-Carlton on his left and the chic Enso Asian Bistro below.
McCrory's first step toward revitalization was safety. Charlotte strengthened security and chopped tree branches to let light in. McCrory pushed for on-street parking - "People don't want to go to an empty place" - and zoning changes to allow residential space above retail. He recruited new businesses and upscale restaurants for the Center City area: "I wanted a small-town quality of life, but I wanted big-city opportunity."
McCrory took the non-Republican step of pushing for higher taxes to pay for light rail, and voters approved a half-cent sales tax. He disagrees with conservatives who say don't waste money on transit, and liberals who want service in the name of fairness to all areas of the city, whether the economics justify expansion or not. He lost a race for governor in 2008 but is a heavy favorite to win this time.