Saturday, November 22, 2008

Charlotte Nativism

A common complaint about Pittsburgh I've heard is that the long-term locals are not always warm to newcomers. I don't find the critique of parochialism all that compelling. All cities have their own provincial snobs. An observation from a Pittsburgh expatriate now living in Seattle:

We’ve also gotten another, more entertaining reaction: a kind of hip/urban reverse snootiness about Seattle relative to Bellevue and the whole East Side (Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, and Renton). It didn’t take long for us to learn that, in the minds of many Seattleites, the East Side is not Seattle. One day while we were still living in our temp housing in the city, I told a woman I met that we were moving to Bellevue, and she replied “well I hope you enjoyed Seattle while you were here.”

I lived in Olympia, WA for a few years and I've spent a lot of time in different Seattle neighborhoods. Washington natives were (probably still are) aggressively anti-Californication. I can write from firsthand experience that the locals were not welcoming to newcomers. I didn't much care for the winters, but the open antipathy made me long for taciturn New England.

Outsiders who flock to the most desirable cities drive up real estate prices and dilute the regional culture. Colorado natives aren't riding on the welcome wagon when you arrive in Denver. My city of Longmont is divided between the old guard and a rapidly growing number of outsiders. I've lived here five years and it still seems like half the people I encounter would rather I go back to from whence I came.

Charlotte, NC isn't any different. Frost Belt refugees continue to move there, but not for the southern hospitality:

Charlotte's expatriates were lured -- not chased -- to N.C.. They seem to have unpacked their political baggage for a long stay.

This is a lament that the Charlotte identity is under siege. The city would like to grow up as the as another Atlanta, but instead is becoming the next Miami (described in less than flattering terms). Immigrants and neo-carpetbaggers: North Carolina would rather you not move there if you aren't going to properly assimilate.


Jefferson Provost said...

Before we moved, we were concerned about the "Seattle Freeze" and Seattle's supposed antipathy toward outsiders, for all the reasons you mentioned. My sister lived in Seattle in the late 80's and even then people were complaining about "Californians" coming in and driving up home prices. (I'll bet Chief Seattle's people thought something similar.)

But when we got here we found our fears unfounded. True native Seattlites may feel that way, but where are they? Most of the people we know are originally from elsewhere, brought here, like us, because they found better opportunities here than the places they left.

In Pittsburgh, on the other hand, almost everyone we knew were natives, and their parents too.

Jim Russell said...

True native Seattlites may feel that way, but where are they?

Ballard? I left Washington's I-5 corridor about 15 years ago. But even then native Seattlites were hard to find. I had a good time searching for hardcore local dive bars that still harbored Seattle's blue collar roots.

Denver is almost Seattle, natives ever scarce. Few realize that many Front Range communities complain about brain drain. Gobs of homegrown Colorado talent leaves the state. I'd bet Western Washington is similar. Charlotte is moving quickly in the same direction.

Regardless, my point is that how welcoming a city is to outsiders has little to do with the rate of in-migration.