Charlotte mayor: rural areas of states hold back big cities

Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts discusses the relationship between state legislators and big cities:

ROBERTS: Remember, this is Charlotte. There’s always a way out of the impasse. This is absolutely not something that just Charlotte is facing. I talk to mayors: In Seattle, they have rural areas that often don’t understand what they’re doing—Phoenix, Atlanta, so many other cities have this challenge. And this is a critical issue in America because we have many states that are still controlled largely by rural legislators. And there are different needs. We’re not a one-size-fits-all country. So if you are in a rural area, you’re thinking about things differently. If you’re in a densely developed, urban center that’s dynamic, where change happens every day, you’re looking at things differently than if you’re in a town or rural community where things haven’t changed in decades. And so, my worry for America is that we have states that are holding our cities back.

We have read that cities are the center of innovation. They are laboratories for how we face the 21st century, how we solve the energy crisis, how we work on climate change, how we make sure people are included, how we work on public safety in an increasingly diverse universe of people who are moving, are transient, are mingling, and are living close together. And how do we solve all those issues if we have a rural mentality where things are static? We don’t have the tools. This is a great challenge in America: How do we convey that it’s okay to be different? I love our rural areas. I spend time in the mountains, in small cities, and small towns. We have wonderful people in North Carolina. But, how do we show them that we’re not competing with them in our cities, that it’s not diminishing them? That we are actually providing sales tax for them? Just let Charlotte be Charlotte. Let Charlotte work.

On the one hand, this could be a very real issue: leaders in Charlotte likely want very different things from leaders in small towns and rural counties. This urban-rural dynamic happens in many states, including Illinois where it is Chicago vs. downstate.

On the other hand, I’m guessing states also provide some benefits for cities. Does Charlotte receive a lot of state funding? Are there certain programs or initiatives that it would be hard even for a large city to put together themselves? Think of things like entitlement programs or the DMV or state roads.

I imagine relationships between city and rural leaders could be more beneficial to both in numerous states if they sought to maximize each other’s advantages…but this is unlikely to happen. The urban-rural divide has a long history in the United States going back to an urban North and agrarian South as well as competing visions of idyllic small town life versus the bustling, innovative metropolis.

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