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Weekly News Roundup: Greta Thunberg Joins Local Student Organizers

Greta Thunberg Comes to Charlotte

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg joined local student organizers outside of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on Friday to lead a rally that drew nearly 1,000 people to Uptown to hear her speak.

Mary Ellis Stevens, who along with Krissy Oliver-Mays and Ollie Ritchie has been leading local efforts to support Thunberg in her Fridays for Future campaign, said she was sitting in biology class on Wednesday when she received a direct message from Thunberg on Twitter letting her know that she’d be coming to Charlotte for Friday’s march.

Stevens said she could barely concentrate on her cell division lesson after hearing from Thunberg, who has built an international following stemming from her activism outside of the Swedish Parliament, which served as an inspiration to Stevens, she said.

“I began striking and kind of kept at it because I saw all these pictures of Greta alone and she kept at it, so all these times striking out alone, she was what kept me going, so to have her come join me was really, really amazing, so we’re all excited,” Stevens said.

Charlotte Climate Strike leaders (from left) Ollie Ritchie, Mary Ellis Stevens and Krissy Oliver-Mays. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Stevens told reporters before the event that she’d like to see the city reinstate the Environment Committee, which in March was merged with the Community Safety Committee and the Housing & Neighborhood Development Committee. The Environment Committee, chaired by city council member Dimple Ajmera, was responsible for developing the city’s Strategic Energy Action Plan, which was approved by city council in December 2018.

“While the committee was active, it was extremely successful,” Stevens said, “and so if we can bring that committee and put power back in the hands of Dimple Ajmera and other city leaders, that would be wonderful.”

A wide range of speakers addressed the crowd on Friday afternoon, including Ajmera, N.C. Rep. and former Charlotte City Council member John Autry, and a number of local students ranging from elementary to high schoolers.

Some spoke on issues regarding inclusion. For instance, high-schooler Constanze Knox pointed out that, while you may not often see people of color at climate change protests and rallies like the one held on Friday, that’s because such actions aren’t often accessible to working class people due to time and transportation constraints.

“Just because you don’t see them here, people think they don’t care,” Knox said. “That’s not true. We are aware of what is happening.”

Greta Thunberg was the final speaker of the day, and despite one heckler’s attempts to distract her, she got her point across cleanly, speaking for about eight minutes. After acknowledging that she was standing on colonized indigenous land once belonging to proud Cherokee, Catawba, Sugeree and Congaree people, Thunberg launched into a succinct speech about why it would take grassroots efforts to confront climate change.

“The people in power … continue to ignore us and to ignore the current best-available science. So we have no choice but to go on for as long as it takes,” she said. “The last couple of months, I have had the privilege to travel around in North America. I have visited so many incredible places and met so many inspiring people, and it can be hard in times like these to find hope, and I can tell you, I have not found much hope in politicians and corporations. It is the people who now are our biggest source of hope.”

Election Night Brings Disappointment for Sales Tax Supporters

In a local election night that didn’t bring many surprises, the one race that inspired the most discussion (and division) was a referendum on a proposed sales tax hike that would have sent 45% of all revenue to a restructured Arts & Science Council to spread around to different arts organizations around the city. The referendum failed by nearly 18,000 votes, with more than 57% of voters going against it.

At an election night party held Tuesday at Free Range Brewing in support of the tax, ASC President Jeep Bryant addressed the crowd as it became clear that the tax would not become a reality.

“We worked incredibly hard to make sure voters understood the potential for these investments,” he said. “The work of the Arts & Science Council continues tomorrow, regardless of which way things go tonight.”

Unsurprisingly, Mayor Vi Lyles won reelection on Tuesday night. No other city council incumbents were closely challenged, with all four at-large incumbents comfortably keeping their seats. Julie Eiselt gained the most votes of any at-large candidate, meaning she will more than likely keep her position as Mayor Pro Tem.

On the school board, Elyse Dashew, the only incumbent running, led in votes with 34,903. Taking the two positions behind her as newcomers to the board were former ESL teacher and current International House education director Jennifer De La Jara and former CMS principal Lenora Shipp, who edged out Stephanie Sneed by less than 200 votes.

New Library in the Works for Uptown

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) unveiled new plans for a $100 million, 115,000-square-foot Main Library in Uptown Charlotte this week. The library will remain on the 300 block of North Tryon Street, where some version of the Main Library has stood for more than a century.

The plans include five levels above ground and one below, two outdoor terraces, an extensive lobby, a vendor-operated café, advanced technology capabilities including two immersive theaters, collections spread throughout the building, flexible meeting space, a revamped Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, a main entrance on North Tryon Street and more.

“The new Main Library will be an architecturally-distinctive, state-of-the-art, technologically-advanced knowledge center and public commons, where everyone in our community can access the resources of a 21st century library, use them to learn and grow to the best version of ourselves, connect with others and participate in the public life of our community,” Lee Keesler, CEO of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, stated in a release. “This will be the gateway to a re-imagined North Tryon Street corridor, and a catalyst for additional re-development to be announced surrounding our block. The new Main Library helps further our mission to improve lives and build a stronger community by strengthening public engagement, supporting economic opportunity and connecting community resources.”

Construction on the new building is expected to happen between 2021 and 2024. The building will include environmentally friendly features such as energy-efficient lighting, air conditioning and heating. The CML Foundation hopes to raise $50 million for the building and $20 million for library service needs via a CommonSpark campaign. According to the release, total public and private funding needed for the project is $135 million.

“The new Main Library will be a remarkable place and space where the entire community can gather as it has since the original Carnegie Library opened at this site in 1903,” CML executive director Jenni Gaisburger stated in the release. “The Library Foundation invites our entire community to invest in the next generation of readers, leaders and learners.”

Microsoft Announces “Smart City” Partnership with City

Following last month’s announcement that Microsoft Corp. will be expanding in our city, adding 430 new jobs and investing $23.9 million in a new Charlotte office, the city announced this week that it will team with Microsoft to launch a new three-year sustainability effort. The partnership will follow a “smart city” approach, with several pilot programs focusing on five digital means of improvement: upward mobility for residents, smart transit systems, public Wi-Fi connectivity, public safety infrastructure and safer neighborhoods.

Roy Cooper at announces Microsoft’s expansion at a press conference in October.(Photo courtesy of North Carolina Dept. of Commerce)

According to Techopedia, a “smart city” is a city that incorporates information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs. The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology.

“Inspiring innovation and applying data science to make better decisions makes resident quality of life better,” Charlotte City Manager Marcus D. Jones stated in a press release on Wednesday. “We are excited to work with Microsoft and value their commitment to our sustainable city strategy.”

According to the release, the goal of this effort is to create a regional center of excellence in workforce development and innovation, with a sustained commitment to regional smart city startups and innovators.

The announcement makes Charlotte only the second U.S. city to make comprehensive moves toward becoming a smart city, according to the release, although it does not clarify what other city came before. Due to the vague nature of the “smart city” definition, the claim is subjective.

In the coming three years, Microsoft will take part in technology training initiatives as a way to educate the public on digital skills.

“Microsoft is proud to continue delivering on its promise to empower every person to achieve more. Building on the momentum of other smart city digital alliances like Houston, we’re excited to provide the City of Charlotte with the platform for regional growth for generations to come,” Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft U.S., stated in the release. “Charlotte has built a range of exciting and sustainable strategies that shape both the region and its residents though the use of the latest technology. We are committed to helping them bring this to life.”

Man Killed in Ballantyne

A man was shot and killed in the Ballantyne area of south Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, bringing the total number of homicides in Charlotte this year to 95. Officers responded to Paperbark Circle near the intersection of Lancaster Highway and Providence Road West just before 4 p.m. on Thursday and found 45-year-old Alvin Jenkins dead of apparent trauma. It’s unclear at the time of this writing how he was killed or who killed him.

Elizabeth McGuire contributed writing and reporting to this roundup. 

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