Rapid population growth, changing economies, and shifting demographics in some thriving Southern cities have reinforced stark racial and economic divisions between people — exacerbating long-standing issues related to inequality of opportunity, tension between groups, and distrust of local government and institutions.
While some Southern metropolitan areas continue to grow and expand, low-income people in these cities continue to face challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, transportation and affordable housing. There is a feeling that those who are marginalized are being left out of newfound prosperity.
Residents asserted that highly educated and well connected white residents mostly reap the benefits of economic growth. Many talked about the need for cities and local governments to have dedicated, ambitious strategies around equity of opportunity.
In places facing significant economic and social challenges, residents described the pride they feel in being part of a resilient community. They also shared their hopes for a more inclusive future, and their frustration with the oversimplification and vilification of their circumstances by outsiders. People feel pushed out of the places they call home, due to limited possibilities for themselves and their families. However, many feel a deep commitment to the South.
Residents identified the following as the key drivers of barriers to opportunity in their communities: systemic and institutional challenges, racism, a lack of relationships that support building opportunity within the community (both among community members and in relationship to government), lack of awareness, lack of trust, lack of empathy, and feelings of distrust and powerlessness.
“We’re attracting people that are filling these needs but we’re not really catering to people who are already living here.”
— Black female, 39, Charlotte
“There’s so much opportunity if you’re in the right place at the right time and you know the right people.”
— White female, 29, Bentonville