Charlotte at a crossroads
Posted on 4 Feb 2009 by Justin Ritchie
The crowd packs in at the JCSU location.
In six years Charlotte could become a shining beacon on a hill or a skeleton of failed potential, the choice is up to its citizens.
That in essence is the premise behind the Crossroads Charlotte initiative which held the world première of its film, Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie, last night — showcasing four future scenarios for our city: failure, stagnation, success and utopian equity. Funded by the Knight Foundation and the Foundation for the Carolinas, Crossroads Charlotte kicked off its mission of community engagement by holding the film première in style.
If you RSVP’d ahead of time, at your arrival you were greeted with a video link between all the screening locations across the city, UNC Charlotte, Ballantyne, Johnson C. Smith, Davidson and Uptown.
At UNC Charlotte, the RSVP was clearly necessary as the few hundred seats in the Storrs Building of the College of Arts + Architecture were filled. No room to spare! After a brief introduction, spoken word artists at each location performed the various scenarios for Charlotte’s future, hitting nerves of layered inequities and igniting hope for future success. The video link made the event feel like an important occassion that integrated the community. The primary message: imagine our tomorrow, act today. After all the locations waved goodbye to each other, the DVD queued up and we were off!
Writer Alan Moore famously said in the Watchmen that the best way to engage your audience in a piece of fiction was to start out with the most tragic thing you could imagine. And Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie did just that. Starting with a scenario entitled Fortress Charlotte, gang members were involved in a drive-by shooting, an eight-year old girl was checked for weaponry via metal detector and an Iraq war veteran was denied entry into a homeless shelter … in the first few minutes. Ouch.
I never thought I would know what it would be like to live in Detroit, but now I think I do.
At the end of the pain, actual stats about city problems were displayed as we transitioned into the next scenario, lending creedence to the possibility of such a world coming to fruition. A trend that continued between each scenario.
After depressing scenes of our failed, hypothetical, community we transitioned into a world where Charlotte has become a great place to live but lacks social equity. In the Class Act portion of the film, Charlotte has excelled in maintaining a strong financial cluster and has branched out. But despite financial success for some of citizens, the majority of social equity is still controlled by stuffy white people. The city council holds a meeting using a “poll the audience” type of technology but a city council member that looked like Rush Limbaugh and spoke like Keith Larson (or a Larson/Limbaugh love child) complained that using the technology was, “a mis-use of our tax dollars”. Eventually we end up with a bittersweet feeling as the dejected youth dream of a day when they can feel comfortable in South Park and the rich white people celebrate their diverse background, being both Anglo and Saxon.
Then … in the next scenario … nothing happens. The Beat Goes On. Charlotte fails to expand past dominating the financial sector. People are frustrated. A news reporter in the background mentions that a tech manufacturer thought about moving here but passed us up for, “the eastern part of the state”. Probably because Fayetteville finished that loop road. Basically all the trends that concern us play out in the worst way possible and everyone is unhappy.
Ending with a note of optimism, Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie closes out with Eye to Eye, a QC where our city government has grown to embrace our diverse community, outreach programs develop youth that love the world and stressed out corporate people actually want to know the office janitor’s name. That might all sound good until the twist ending. Charlotte becomes so awesome it gets on the shortlist for the 2024 Olympics. Yeah, we’ve become a great community and all but Atlanta was cool too before the 1996 Olympics.
I think the movie missed some opportunities for dreaming big. We didn’t have any Charlotte Rocks! moments (even if it would have been tounge-in-cheek). References to high speed rail between ATL and DC, light rail between SC, Salisbury and Gastonia, UNC Charlotte football beating Ohio State, baseball uptown, 485 geting completed and President McCrory were all non-existent. Yeah, those things will probably never happen but when making a movie about an alternate future it never hurts to aim for the fence.
Regardless of how we turn out, Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie was a great start to the Crossroads Charlotte initiative. It was fun way to get the audience thinking about issues of equity and community involvement. Following the film, the audience was led to discuss the principles of Crossroads both in small groups and via members who volunteered to share their thoughts from the mic.
If you weren’t able to see the film last night, you can view all of the footage from the four different stories of future Charlotte on the newly launched CrossroadsCharlotte.org. There’s a wealth of other content and interactivity on this site as well that begins the next phase of the Crossroads initiative, so check it out and get involved in building the community of the future!
We’re curious what everyone thinks of the film. Were there issues over-emphasized? Issues not given enough representation? What do you think about the Crossroads philosphy? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
photos from the JCSU première location, credit: Justin Ruckman; view these photos on Flickr