ROBERTS: It has to “both and.” And in Charlotte, we have this can-do attitude: We know the odds can be stacked against you, but we believe that if you get the right number of organizations and groups together and focus on a problem and put some real collaborative effort into it, then we can improve it. Statistics are challenging when you have high concentrations of poverty, so what are we doing? We’re looking at our housing policy. We’re constrained by our state in many ways, but we have some tools—for instance, inclusionary housing, trying to get more workforce and subsidized housing in some areas of town. So we want to work with the private sector to help that happen. We’re looking to rewrite our zoning ordinance, which is one tool we have for trying to get that mixed-use development. How do we work incrementally to bring about some of those changes so that we get more of our students in diverse settings?
BROWNSTEIN: What is your view of the process the school system is going through now, examining the options for trying to break up concentrated poverty?
ROBERTS: Well, it’s a big community conversation. If you’re happy with your school, then at any sign of change, you’re terrified that you’re going to have teachers that aren’t as qualified or results that aren’t as high when grading our schools.
BROWNSTEIN: But do you think there needs to be change to break up the level of economic isolation that we’re talking about?
ROBERTS: There needs to be incremental change. And we look at everything, including grading and assessment, including how we empower principals to do more with the resources they have. I’m also all about local control when you look at our state, because we’re not a one-size-fits-all state, and we’re not a one-size-fits-all school district.
BROWNSTEIN: As we’ve talked about this challenge of creating broadly inclusive growth, you’ve talked about early childhood, you’ve talked about transportation, you’ve talked about housing, you’ve talked about education. When you think about how you’re going to grapple with those issues here in Charlotte, what’s the role you see for the federal government? Are you expecting anything out of Washington?
ROBERTS: Well, we actually have been helped by the federal government quite a bit. If you look at housing, if you look at education, magnet programs, free and reduced lunch—that’s federal dollars. If you look at our transportation, of course it’s never enough, it’s never fast enough—
BROWNSTEIN: You do have a friend in the Transportation Department [Secretary Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte]…
ROBERTS: (laughs) We do. He’s been very helpful, but we’re competing with cities all across this country. Look at our blue line: That’s our first light rail, opened in 2007; our next segment of that is going to open next year, 2017 in August, on time and on budget. And you look at the transformation that has happened along that line: $1.4 billion additional private-sector investment that really sped it up. And we’ve got multifamily, we have mixed-use, we have young people. Half the people moving to our community are under age 35. And they want that transit option. They want the arts and culture. They want to see innovation, and they want good schools.