We’re moving. After ten years in Chicago and three years in Charlotte, we’re headed to Mebane — a small town in North Carolina’s research triangle, just west of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
Why are we moving? In 1995, the French anthropologist Marc Augé wrote a book called Non-Places
. “If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not… will be a non-place,” he wrote.
He’s talking about airports, train stations, fast food restaurants, big box retail stores — transitory spaces that are “never totally completed,” where people are anonymous and don’t relate to the space with any sense of intimacy.
Could an entire city qualify as a non-place? After three years in Charlotte, I think so.
Charlotte is the 16th largest city in America, home to more than 850,000 people, and zero sense of place or history. It is a tax-driven amalgamation of banks, McMansions, and gentrified strip malls. It has no distinguishing geographic, historical, or cultural features — the latter two by design.
In the 1960s, white city leaders in Charlotte bulldozed an entire Black neighborhood
in the name of “urban renewal.” Churches, theatres, shops, homes, and businesses, all destroyed to make way for the lifeless government buildings that now account for a third of Charlotte’s downtown. Historic architecture in the rest of the city was demolished to build things like this
A sense of place has always been important to me, whether it was the small town where I went to college, or Chicago. I gave Charlotte an honest try, reading as much as I could about the city, seeing as many neighborhoods and landmarks as I could find. There is simply no “there” here, to borrow the phrase from Gertrude Stein. It’s like living in an airport terminal.
So the next time you hear from me, I’ll be in the Triangle, one of my favorite parts of the South. So long, Charlotte! Do you live somewhere with a strong sense of place? Does it matter to you? I’d love to hear from you.