- Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875–1975
Though foreigners often express shock at the sprawling confusion of American cities, Thomas Hanchett demonstrates that there is method in this madness in his analysis of Charlotte, North Carolina. The book is more than a spatial accounting of Charlotte’s neighborhood and business district development. Hanchett places growth in regional, political, economic, and cultural context. This is a southern story of the emergence of mercantile, industrial, banking, and real estate entrepreneurs and how they shaped a city in an era of black disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, and the waning political power of white workers. The leading planning practitioners of the early twentieth century worked in Charlotte, and their influence remains visible in the city today. Hanchett identifies numerous subdivisions that followed their planning precepts, including an emphasis on residential homogeneity and the spatial isolation of diverse racial income groups, the use of restrictive [End Page 87] covenants, street layout and zoning designed to reinforce class and racial distinctions, and the separation of work from residence that consequently defined a downtown business district. Neighborhood groups and African American leaders did generate political opposition to elite planning and secured significant political change in 1977, when Charlotte switched from at-large voting to a district/at-large system, but Hanchett ends his analysis before he can assess the subsequent impact of this shift on the city’s spatial development. For the century Hanchett studies, however, he provides a broad context for understanding that the shape of our cities is far from happenstance.
David Goldfield, Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two-time Mayflower Award-winner.