It's traditional in Charlotte to wait at least a decade after city government pushes poor black people out of a neighborhood to hire a consultant to figure out why the tragedy occurred. By then, the memory of who exactly was responsible has faded, and it's safe to blame the "gentrification" on the Volvo-drivers who now live there or some other dark, mystical, racist force.
I say to hell with tradition. Why wait? Let's hire a consultant right now to document the taxpayer-funded white-washing of the Belmont neighborhood area. What's going on in Belmont should outrage black leaders (if we had any) and fiscal conservatives alike.
It would be one thing if the city was merely enforcing housing code and cleaning up crime in Belmont -- things it should have done all along -- and waiting for the rise in property values that inevitably would follow. But city leaders' haste to bleach the place is so over-the-top that it's transparently racist.
Imagine if someone controversial like Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James proposed buying and shutting down virtually all the food marts in certain poor black neighborhoods as a way to "combat crime." People would freak out. But that's exactly what the city is attempting to do in Belmont -- with a 10-1 vote in favor by the city council -- and not a peep out of the self-righteous crowd or the bought-off black leadership.
The target of the store shutdowns isn't just the vagrants who hang out in store parking lots, as the city claims. People in these neighborhoods often don't have refrigerators and must walk to convenience stores daily for food. Because they also can't afford to do their shopping in one weekly trip, paying daily bus fare to grocery stores outside the neighborhood would really cut into their ability to eat.
Selective enforcement of city housing code in Belmont is allowing scum lord investors to buy and board up what appears on some streets to be 20 to 30 percent of the houses as they wait for the big boom. That's legal, but most of these houses also have dozens of visible code violations, including trash in yards and peeling exterior lead-based paint that the city prides itself on abating elsewhere. Guess it's OK if Belmont's kids eat paint chips.
If the scum lords had to actually bring the places up to code, there's a danger they might incur enough costs that they'd have to rent them out -- God forbid -- or that they'd have to keep renting those they're still renting now.
Almost a decade ago, I screamed about the pedestrians routinely mowed down by drivers on Parkwood Avenue, which runs along Belmont, because of faulty road engineering. Eventually neighborhood leaders were able to use the publicity to embarrass the city into making some fixes.
Now city leaders are tripping all over themselves to build $600,000 worth of sidewalks, crosswalks, street trees and lighting improvements along Parkwood. No one used to care that cars regularly ran off a sharp curve on Parkwood into Cordelia Park, endangering kids that played there. Now the city says that elaborate neighborhood "gateways" are needed to provide "extra pedestrian area" for people crossing into the park. How thoughtful!
And if city bureaucrats get their way, $110,000 decorative gateway markers -- complete with artwork by artist Charles Partin -- will frame the entrances to the neighborhood.
It's ironic that the Charlotte Observer obsessed last week over the poor and elderly public housing residents who will be evicted from Hall House Uptown when the Charlotte Housing Authority sells it and how unfair it is that they might be relocated to places where they wouldn't be within walking distance of amenities they need. In the article, the paper bemoaned the loss of yet more affordable housing.
But the Big O and the city council's do-gooder politicians don't apparently give a rip if Belmont residents have to scrape together change for a bus ride to Harris Teeter before they're pushed out. The difference is that poor people aren't a threat to the established Uptown area Hall House occupies. In Belmont, they're in the way of what could be the next urban Dilworth-style neighborhood.
If this doesn't eat at you from a social perspective, consider what it will cost you. Under the current scenario, Charlotte taxpayers in whose neighborhoods the city isn't building decorative landscape features will be on the hook for the $1 million it will cost to buy these stores. Taxpayers will also pay millions for the mixed-use development the city is building to replace the old Piedmont Courts public housing complex with market rate and some affordable housing, millions to subsidize developers who will build a new grocery store in Belmont once all the mini-markets and the people who use them have been cleared out, and millions more to build replacement affordable housing units elsewhere in the city.
See Tara Servatius live at CL's Political Party -- April 4, 7 p.m. at the Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa (511 E. 36th St., 704-358-9298).