I attended a terrific gathering of new and less-new friends last night, cooking together and learning about the two-degree nature of our lives. Charlotte is wonderful in that way – we are all just slightly apart by one or two degrees.
I’ve found myself ruminating (Cece!) on the phase “hyper-local” of late, a term that conjures up a series of seemingly disconnected concepts. It is certainly the energy powering #WeLoveCLT and the Charlotte Agenda. It can be found on a plate at Heirloom and in a glass at NoDa Brewing. It is the main attraction at the Charlotte Art League’s local artist booths and the discovery at any of the many pop-up retail events throughout the city. It is revealed in a bike ride through Freedom Park, a hike at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve and in a canoe on the Catawba River. It is often accompanied by a sense of connection and an appreciation for our unique assets.
Charlotte is in the midst of a hyper-local movement that I’d argue is really just a new way of approaching the concept of community. It is a movement often characterized by the Millennial generation, but in some ways is too easily dismissed as a tag for a sub-segment of the population. If you see yourself in the activities listed above, congratulations, you are a part of it regardless of your age or whether you would self-identify yourself that way.
I perceive this movement as alive and vital to the future of Charlotte, and yet it is one where the nonprofit community is under-represented. This is disconcerting because there is nothing more hyper-local than the ambition of our region’s nonprofits, which are so often laser focused on improving the experience of living here.
There are certainly exceptions. An organization like Sustain Charlotte exists to educate, engage and unite citizens to solve Charlotte’s sustainability challenges, and they are doing a very good job of it. Participants can sign the 2030 Vision and then join the Community Corps to help make it a reality. When I think of hyper-local, I often think of Sustain Charlotte as a model of community engagement.
Another nonprofit embracing the movement is The Red Boot Coalition, with its aim to provide safe places where people can engage in honest sharing and compassionate listening. Frustrated by the us-versus-them rhetoric that dominates discourse these days, Founder and VisionGiver Molly Barker set about bringing together those who are polarized to find common ground. Just an utterly beautiful expression of hyper-localness – in our neighbors we can find our humanity.
But what of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s other 3,500 tax-exempt charities? How are they embracing an increasing focus on hyper-local that shows up in the many varied choices we make as residents on a daily basis? Some are right in the white-hot center of the action while others are off to the side wondering how anyone finds the time to do any of it.
Increasingly, there are two Charlottes; one comprised of people who just exist here, and another of those who truly live here. The former is highlighted by a well-worn path between a holy trinity of one’s workplace, children’s school and house of worship. But as was mentioned last night, you can find that in any city in America. What is the difference between Charlotte and Atlanta if those are the primary destinations in your weekly travels? The traffic? Is that all that separates us?
I’m of the opinion that real status as a local resident requires engagement in the hyper-local movement in some way – that you don’t really live here until you actually live here. If we hold ourselves and those we meet to this standard, we engender a community of people who actually care about one another. It is too easy to just exist in Charlotte and never fully embrace the opportunity, engage in the civic life and care about a fellow neighbor. For nonprofits, it can be quite a hill to climb.
But back to last night – who knew that a grapefruit and gin cocktail could be so tasty? Or the company so varied? Or the conversation so meaningful.