Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hey, Charlotte: Bring on the noise!

Did you see the story in Sunday's paper, explaining that a committee had come to town to advise leaders on how to make Charlotte a more interesting, less psychologically gray city? We were described as being "suit-y" and having a low "funk factor."

Well, the picture above comes from America's funkiest city. I took it Saturday afternoon in Central Park, a place where I heard at least a dozen languages and saw nearly as many skin tones on a two-hour stroll -- much of it within sight of the skyscrapers, as you can tell.

I saw this guy swirling a net through the air and making bubbles of immense size and multifarious shapes. I heard an elderly Chinese man playing traditional music on the zhong-hu, a stringed instrument he called a little brother to the better known erhu. (Later, I came across another Chinese man playing "Oh Susannah" on an erhu.) I saw woman painting elaborate face tattoos for $5, a living statue pretending to be Lady Liberty, guys in the distance forming some kind of loose-knit drum circle.

Mostly, I saw chaos.

A great city has to have room for a sensory mess once in a while. It can't prescribe a few street corners for buskers (not that we get them much in Charlotte anyhow) or designate one out-of-the-way corner for speakers or invite a single artist to some pocket park for an afternoon.

We have nothing as glorious as Central Park, with its antique carousel and sprawling Sheep Meadow and a tract of marsh that seems to make the city vanish. I stood at the edge of that bank, watching ducks and turtles dipping and sunning themselves, and I saw a white egret soar over the trees. Of course, then I looked down and saw an audacious rat foraging for crackers about four feet from my toes. (Perhaps that's the full New York experience: an egret and a rat.)

But if we want funk, we're going to have to stop worrying about controlling every aspect of it. As cities go, Charlotte seems OCD about order and neatness. And nobody has fun at a party where the host runs around constantly, fretting about whether a guest dropped a cheese stick on the rug.


Anonymous said...

I continue to be embarrassed by Charlotte's insecurity.

Apparently, we now yearn for streets reeking of urine and teeming with rats. We invite self-appointed arbiters from these environments-"committee come to town"- to examine us and tell us we simply aren't disheveled and dirty enough. We cringe in shame at the calvacade of their sneers, as though urine stink is a mark of civic authenticity and we, alas, lack this ultimate imprimatur.

When we remove our civic head from its darkened place, perhaps we'll move heaven and earth to organically grow advanced businesses, open a medical school, elevate UNCC into the ranks of renowned research universities, generously support our arts institutions.

Whatever authenticity we are said to lack will then take care of itself.

There is only one New York. There is only one San Francisco. After many years in both, I am bewildered why we seek to copy their worst traits instead of emulating their best characteristics. And New Yorkers don't like dirt-witness the recent civic outcry over the mauling of Riverside Park every weekend.

Please seek things that matter.

Not the fake authenticity of dirt.

Anonymous said...

You read this entire blog and thought I wished Charlotte were dirtier or stank of urine? I'm asking for more spontaneity and multiplicity of outlooks and cultural input from all sorts of people. That's messy, but it needn't be filthy. (And guess what: Every city in the world, ours included, has rats.)

Anonymous said...

Charlotte just isn't an interesting place. Its a typical southern suburban town on a larger scale. 9-5 Monday through Friday, the mall on Saturday, and church on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte - A city of trees, a city of people that volunteer, a city in search of improvement, a city for young and old. I love visiting larger cities, as a matter of fact I grew up in one, and I love the energy of big cities, people rushing, the funky places..... But there is beauty in order, respect, green everywhere, warm people, hands helping others, people at church, people spending Sundays reading or just enjoying family time. Yes, it will be great to have a bit less ties & suits and more artists, but.... patience..... Charlotte is just starting in that path, remember that New York & San Francisco, have been around for a lot longer than our Queen City.