Becoming a Real Uptown Girl: Interning at Charlotte Center City Partners – Sonia Birla ’25

Categories: Blog

Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl blasted through the speakers of my car as I turned onto North Tryon for another day working at Charlotte Center City Partners. I’ve always been a bit of a city girl; I love giving my friends amateur walking tours of the city riddled with fun facts about the history of Charlotte. I’ve always enjoyed learning about what makes Charlotte tick and how all of the little decisions that policymakers make can impact the tangible people and streets in each neighborhood.

Making sure scholars understand Charlotte is a big priority for the Levine Scholars Program. In our first year, we all have to take part in Charlotte Immersion, days spent touring the city and hearing from experts on the history and development of Charlotte. Immersion allows scholars to go beyond just researching the city. We get to go see where the events occurred and read the landscape to find some of the incredibly important hidden history of the city. In the Spring, one of our Immersion guides worked for Charlotte Center City Partners. After working a little networking magic, my summer plans were decided.

Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) is a nonprofit and community development corporation working to make the urban core of Charlotte an economically vibrant and culturally rich place to live, work, and visit. In my time at CCCP, I touched all aspects of the city: retail, public safety, parking, greenspace, nightlife, marketing, housing, transit, and more. I also worked with various members of the community, from law enforcement to HOAs to business owners.

During my first days at CCCP, I was just thrown into the thick of things, just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could. I went on walking tours with different staff members and learned about the lens through which each of them viewed the city. I handed out free donuts on the street to “bring a smile to people’s faces and thank them for coming to Uptown!” as my supervisor said. I attended very long parking meetings and went on a bike ride with the director of the city’s bike-share program. Every day was different and full of growth.

What was supposed to be 8 weeks at CCCP became 8 months. I worked part-time with CCCP through December of the year, spending many days of my semester light-railing back and forth between campus and center city. I loved bringing my friends to events and getting them involved as volunteers. Before the semester ended, I submitted my change-of-major form, officially becoming a geography major. And, while it may sound like that means I’ll be studying maps, it really means I’ll be studying places – urban planning.

Working at CCCP was a crash course on cities. I did not previously understand them the way that I do now. When I step onto any block of Uptown or South End, it’s not the stunning public art or the skyscrapers that catch my eye anymore. Without thinking about it, I internally analyze the space: “Where are people congregating? What does the small business environment look like? What times is it busy? When is it quiet? How are people engaging with the space? How are people getting here? How are people getting around? Are people safe here? Why are they here? What would make them stay here? What could be done better?”

Working with the community development team has helped me really learn how we can peel back the layers of an urban area and quickly understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why it is the way that it is.

CCCP also taught me that I love soaking in knowledge. Reading pages of ordinances, transit development plans, or staring at maps, quickly became some of the most interesting things of this internship. I doubt I will ever be in a place with such easy access to so many primary-source documents about the city’s current, past, and future development. I found that having knowledge about Charlotte and being able to apply it to the various issues we covered on a day-to-day basis was incredibly rewarding.

Overall, this internship changed the course of my undergraduate career and I am forever grateful to CCCP and the Levine Scholars Program for the opportunity. I am excited to see where this adventure takes me next.