Three community leaders share their thoughts on finding solutions in 2023

Categories: General News Tags: Women's Issues

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of a series of guest contributors considering the question, “What small tweak or large shift would you make in 2023 that would catalyze sustainable growth and ensure equitable wellbeing in our region?”

Ask anyone in Charlotte-Mecklenburg what issues are most important to them and you’ll get a short list, things like the economy, the environment, housing and transportation. They’re all areas where we face challenges. But what about solutions? I asked three Charlotte community leaders where they would start in 2023.

Helping communities understand growth

Eboné Lockett is an educator and founder of Harvesting Humanity, a Charlotte-based educational consultancy. You might run into her lecturing at UNC Charlotte, leading a climate change collaboration or attending a public meeting for a state environmental initiative. She’s involved and believes we need to teach others in the community how to get involved – building capacity she calls it.

“I think one of the largest shifts, when we talk about catalyzing sustainable growth, is getting funding and resources to the grassroots community to build capacity, not only to really serve one another, but also to understand the complexities of what we’re talking about when we talk about sustainability,” Lockett said.

Lockett said you can’t advocate for yourself or your community if you don’t start with a basic understanding of the processes that determine funding or policies – public budgeting, planning and policymaking.

“Sustainable growth is not being taught in the schools. If we inculcate it in our curriculum, we’d start to get young people more engaged early on. And that’s critical,” she said.

One of her current initiatives is teaching a group of students from local low-income schools about environmental impacts – like what happens when you casually toss pollutants such as used motor oil into a storm drain.

“They had never really been exposed to what our waterways are, and how our behaviors impact those systems. So if I don’t know that I’m impacting that system by throwing (away) oil, then how can I be an agent of change? So really educating them early on what that looks like and what their role could be,” Lockett said

She said young people need to know: “What does that look like for me in this particular neighborhood, in this particular area, with this particular set of pollutants or industries that I may not even understand? Giving them that early understanding, I think it is critical.”

Small business gentrification

Rocio Gonzalez is Executive Director of the Women’s Business Center of Charlotte, and a longtime advocate for Charlotte’s diverse Latinx community. She said she thinks not enough attention is paid to how Charlotte’s rapid growth is squeezing small business owners. Rents are going up and many are being pushed out of their homes.

“I continue to hear the business community’s worry in regard to the decrease of affordable commercial space. I am concerned we are not only having neighborhood gentrification, but also small business gentrification,” Gonzalez said.

The Women’s Business Center of Charlotte helps start-up and established women-owned businesses with counseling, training and strategy.

In 2023, Gonzalez would like to see more public support for this sector, whether that is policies or financial aid.

“We must shift our minds to embrace the importance of a robust and healthy small business community in our region, as they sustain our economy and provide employment opportunities,” Gonzalez said.

“We need to make it a priority to offer equitable space for all types of businesses in all the corners of Mecklenburg County,” she said.

[Read: Supporting Charlotte’s Minority-owned Small Businesses]

Transportation funding

Solving the Charlotte region’s lack of funding for public transit and non-automobile transportation is the top priority for Shannon Binns, the founder and Executive Director of Sustain Charlotte. The nonprofit organization’s education and advocacy efforts focus on “smart growth.” That includes pushing for diverse housing and transportation options.

Binns said he would like to see local officials finally secure a “permanent, significant source of funding” for transportation infrastructure, such as a proposed one-cent sales tax for mobility in Mecklenburg County. Charlotte City officials have suggested the tax as a way to help pay for the proposed $13.5 billion Transformational Mobility Network – a two-decade plan for transit, roads, and pedestrian and bike facilities.

“We need an ongoing source of funds to be able to build a diverse, sustainable transportation system that keeps up with our rapid population growth. We haven’t done that, and traffic is getting worse,” Binns said.

The city wants to shift half of residents’ local trips out of cars by 2040. It’s both an environmental and economic issue, Binns said.

He said transportation generates 40% of Charlotte’s carbon emissions because of our over-reliance on single-occupancy vehicles. “The need for vehicle ownership makes transportation the second highest household expense in the Charlotte metro area, after housing. The high expense of needing a private car for mobility falls hardest on our lowest income residents, many of whom are cost burdened by high housing and transportation costs,” Binns said.

“Our current transportation system (is) a major equity failure,” he adds.

Supporters say a local sales tax, along with state and federal funding, is the only way to pay for transportation improvements like these. But the city and county can’t implement it without the consent of the state legislature, where it faces a big roadblock: Republican leaders are against it.

“Over time, we can dramatically improve equity, health, and the climate by investing in a multi-modal transportation network that prioritizes moving people over moving cars,” Binns said.

David Boraks has been a reporter and editor in the Charlotte area for 30 years. He’s currently the climate reporter for Charlotte public radio station WFAE.

David Boraks, WFAE