The good folks over at Sustain Charlotte compiled a report card of sorts assessing Mecklenburg County's social, economic and environmental health. Taking into account 57 metrics — everything from our recycling habits to accessibility to jobs — the ambitious project is the first local, independent review of its kind.
Yes, much of the information in the report has been available through other sources for years. But seeing it all together is eye-opening — and organizing it into one report serves as a good reminder that problems often feed into each other.
Here are some of our takeaways.
1. We’re no better at recycling than we were in 1999. In fact, that year we recycled 8 pounds per person more than in 2013. (These figures take into account recycling collected by local government, not recycling collected by private companies, which aren't required to report how much they collect.) The report suggests enacting a “pay as you throw” policy to encourage alternatives like recycling and composting, and providing recycling to small businesses (we don’t already?!).
2. We need to get better at controlling smog and ground-level ozone. Some suggestions from the report we like: replace diesel-powered construction equipment with newer, cleaner technology and, of course, increase public transportation.
3. Our number of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings per 100,000 people has doubled every year since 2006. In other words, the U.S. Green Building Council says a lot of our buildings are energy efficient. Still, we’re 46 percent below the national average. Suggestions: renewable energy-focused tax incentives.
4. Our reputation as an affordable place it live is being threatened. The amount of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing has increased about 3 percent annually from 2005 to 2011. It’s a modest increase, but it’s getting us closer to the national average.
5. The percentage of families and children living below the poverty line in Mecklenburg doubled between 2000 and 2011.
6. As it is across the U.S., overall crime is down here.
7. Food insecurity is slightly more of a problem here than it is around the country. About 17 percent of households in Mecklenburg County can’t always provide complete meals to everyone in their home. The national average is about 15 percent. Food deserts are still a problem, too. A suggestion from the report we like: increase incentives that help reduce the upfront construction costs of full-service grocery stores.
8. Park expansion has not kept up with our population growth. Similar issues with land use mentioned in the report include widespread sprawl, which can lead to lower economic mobility and higher transportation costs.
9. We have 21 percent more developed land per person than the national average. Green spaces are necessary to maintaining natural water flow. Plus, they look pretty. Some suggestions: increase high-density housing and require vegetated roofs, porous concrete and rainwater collection in new development among other best practices.
10. “Between 1985 and 2008, Mecklenburg County lost over 33 percent of its tree canopy and the City of Charlotte lost 49 percent.” Suggestion: Adopt a “no net loss” policy to maintain the tree canopy (pull a tree, plant one in its place somewhere).
11. We want to get better at using alternative modes of transportation to get to work. “The percentage of Mecklenburg County workers who commute by transit, walking, or biking
has increased from 5 percent in 2006 to 5.9 percent in 2011, but we are still below the national average of 8.8 percent.”
12. CATS riders doubled from an average of 44,014 riders per day in 2000 to 92,134 in 2012.
13. The Great Recession had one positive impact on Mecklenburg County: Due to a decrease in home construction starting in 2007, less construction waste was produced.
14. While less “yard waste” (the natural stuff, like leaves), construction materials and waste generated by businesses has decreased every year since 1999, we’re producing about the same amount of trash per person.
15. We’re using less water — about 27 percent less per capita than in 1999.