Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book of the Day: Parallel Cities



“What’s going on with Charlotte?” friends ask me on social media and by email.

It’s a good question. Charlotte has ever striven for a quiet pride in itself, a city of banks and the churches in which the bankers worshiped, of NASCAR and sports and a vague progressivism that translates to, “We’re not as bad as [Southern City of Your Choice].”

Charlotte doesn’t do riots.

How did we get here?

Alan Pyke’s article, in Think Progress yesterday, is a good summary of how, displaced from power for twenty years at the end of the 19th century, North Carolina’s old guard got it back and cemented itself in. In Charlotte, the effects of segregation laws were amplified by ban’s financing practices and developers’ restrictions on land as the city began its relentless, decades-long surge outward.

And then, in the 1950s and ‘60s, city leaders embraced new roads- a social engineering tool for the days of Baron Haussmann in Paris through Robert Moses in New York and his baleful influence jamming interstates through cities.

In Charlotte, “problem communities” were simply paved over with federal highway and urban renewal money. And as Thomas Hanchett wrote in his book, Sorting Out the New South City,  thousands of suddenly displaced families had to move to where there was somewhere to live, never mind that it was usually a step or two down, and further out:

Map today’s steeply segregated Charlotte by racial demographics and you’ll get something that looks like Pacman’s silhouette running downhill. The white populace is heavily concentrated within one triangular slice of the city’s south end, between South Boulevard and Providence Road.

Neighborhoods there are 80 to 95 percent white. Wind clockwise around the city’s face from South Boulevard, however, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find census tracts where the white population even cracks 30 percent.

These are the domain of Charlotte’s black folk, neighborhoods that cling to the sides of the giant interstates that chisel the city apart from itself.

I-77 blades north and south through town, its shadows harboring almost all-black neighborhoods.

Its twin monster, I-85, slithers east-west across the city. On the west side, dozens of minority-majority communities cling to 85’s hips.

Thomas Hanchett’s Sorting Out The New South City- on which Pyke’s article relies- is to Charlotte what Robert Caro’s The Power Broker was for New York under Moses. He documents how the city became two.

Henry Bemis Books is pleased to offer an autographed copy of this important and newly-timely work:


hanchett cover.jpg

hanchett autograph.jpg

Hanchett, Thomas W., Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975 (UNC Press, 1st ed., 1st printing, 1998). ISBN 0-8078-4677-5. Fascinating account of how Charlotte did not begin as a deliberately segregated city, but became one over time, through the rise of large manufacturing companies, new travel technologies, and- finally- urban renewal finding, which allowed civic leaders to resort the city’s residents on opposite sides of the city. Trade paperback, 9.25” x 6”, 380 pp. Very good condition. Autographed on the title page. HBB price: $50.

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot.com. Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.

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