The University of Untapped Potential

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My mom is a true Charlotte native. She went to Olympic High School, grew up off Tyvola, got her first job at Carowinds and graduated from UNC Charlotte in 1983. She went on to work for Henry Faison, the man responsible for structures dotting the Charlotte skyline and all of our good malls, but that’s a story for another day.

I give her resume so you understand why she takes special joy in detailing the Charlotte of her heyday. Specifically, the city around UNCC. “It was all farm land out in the middle of nowhere,” she loves to say as we drive through strip malls surrounding campus.

While University City is no longer rural farmland (although you don’t have to drive far to find some), the neighborhood doesn’t have the quaint walkable feel you’ll find in NoDa or Plaza Midwood. Most apartments close to campus have at least one grocery store-anchored strip of shops within walking distance, but you really need a car to experience Charlotte beyond Domino’s Pizza.

University City Charlotte

Plaza Midwood

I followed in my mom’s footsteps and landed at UNCC in 2010 (go Niners). Trying to find a part-time job that looked good on a resume and paid enough to live on was next to impossible in the University area. I ended up working with an Uptown startup and between I-85, Highway 29 and Graham St., I almost never made it on time.

Commuting from University is hard.

If you want to safely experience nightlife in Uptown while living in the 28223, expect to pay $40 for a one-way cab or Uber ride. I don’t know about your college budget, but an $80 round trip didn’t cut it for me. In an act of desperation, a friend and I once snuck onto a club-owned party bus designated to cart the freshmen to 18+ parties in the city. Someone puked on her before we even left the parking lot.

No one should have to endure freshman puke just to get to a decent bar safely and responsibly.

What have we learned? Walkability, functionality and good old-fashioned fun are missing from the campus area. What’s the answer? LYNX.

I think LYNX Blue Line Extension is the best thing to happen to the University area since Bonnie Cone decided there should be a university.

As Charlotte strives to cement its identity, it desperately needs to plug into the next generation living just 15 minutes outside the city walls. Give them a safe, affordable way to experience the city and they’ll stay here – finally putting commuter campus grumblings to rest and tapping national talent in our own backyard.

As the unbridled energy and ambition from the college students flows down the Blue Line, culture and new business will hopefully grab a seat on the return ride. Non-chain restaurants, nightlife venues and shops have a tough time surviving in the anemic environment created by strip-mall islands. I hope the Blue Line will serve as an anchor and lifeline for new businesses.

For the sake of landlocked students at UNCC, I beg you to be patient with the seemingly endless construction. Sections are closed along 36th Street, Eastway, N. Brevard, Old Concord and Tryon, and it’s a real pain. In fact, it’s going to be a real pain until early 2017.

Next time you’re stuck in traffic, think of this as a growing pain and imagine we’re about to shoot up five inches and be really great at basketball or volleyball. I really believe cool things are about to happen in University City and you can smugly tell all your friends, “I told you so,” if you hop onboard #TeamBlueLine.

Photo via CATS Blue Line Extension Construction Updates

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Dana Boone
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