Before DNC, Contrasting Views Of Host City

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The Democratic National Convention begins this week in Charlotte, N.C. WFAE's Julie Rose looks at what this city's boosters want visitors and TV viewers to know about Charlotte and what they're trying to paper over.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The Democratic National Convention starts this week. The party will formally re-nominate President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as the two try to hold onto the White House. We'll talk party politics with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and NPR's Mara Liasson in just a moment. The convention also presents a chance for the host city, Charlotte, North Carolina, to create a national identity that goes beyond NASCAR and big banks. But residents there have struggled to figure out what that identity is and how to convey it to the nation. Julie Rose reports from member station WFAE in Charlotte.

JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: Remember that class picture where you got stuck with a crooked grin and crazy eyes in the school yearbook? Well, it feels like picture day for Charlotte, with the Democratic National Convention coming to town. The city's all spruced up and ready to flash the perfect smile. Streets resurfaced, a quarter of a million dollars spent on flowers in freeway medians that have never bloomed before. The airport even has new carpet. And there's a special logo plastered all over town with a wordy message.

TRACY RUSS: Charlotte is a beautiful, clean city that offers a high quality of life and the comforts of Southern hospitality, but also...

ROSE: The logo is an image of the Charlotte skyline filled with tiny words read here by Tracy Russ of the city's convention host committee. The rosy telling of Charlotte's story goes on for several sentences, but doesn't resonate with all the locals.

LAUREL GREEN: This is not a story that would be told by many of the people that I know here in Charlotte.

ROSE: That's probably because Laurel Green runs in activist circles. She's an artist and member of Occupy Charlotte. They are circulating their own version of the logo.

GREEN: Charlotte is a beautiful city willing to sacrifice quality of life and citizens' rights in favor of vulture capitalism...

ROSE: The Occupy version talks about Charlotte's crackdown on protesters and history of fostering big business. Charlotte does have the challenges you'd expect in one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country. Air and water pollution, income inequality, racial tension; the region's unemployment is 10 percent, and the city's collective ego took a big hit when its once-proud banks faltered. No longer does Charlotte feel like the world is our oyster.

ERIC GAMBLE: No, no. Definitely not an oyster. And if it is an oyster, somebody took the pearl already.

ROSE: Eric Gamble teaches finance at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. He's lived here ten years, but hails from bigger cities with a wider array of food and culture.

GAMBLE: Beyond that, Charlotte is still a great place to live.

ROSE: You really can't beat the weather and quality of life, he says. Or the mix of big city and small town, adds Octavia Evans.

OCTAVIA EVANS: You know, we have all this uptown and different businesses and big companies and stuff, but when you go out, get home, we're still quaint; nice small town.

ROSE: No need to be embarrassed about our growing pains, she says. Besides, what close-up doesn't show a few pimples, right? Hey, Charlotte, say cheese. For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose.

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