Wednesday, September 29, 2004

An Update! So, affordable housing. This is something I've been thinking about since writing a research paper (“Affordable Housing in Charlottesville”) at U.Va. I've got a few ideas, but the one I'm excited about most is called split-rate taxation. The way property tax is now, there's a flat tax applied to the value of a piece of real estate. This taxes land and improvements equally. So, people who build on their land, pay more tax. People who do nothing with their land pay the same tax. This makes land speculation very attractive, since taxes are easily covered by the increasing value of property in places like Charlottesville. So the property tax system encourages people with wealth to buy up land and sit on it, waiting for the price to go up.


    1. Prices go up in town, staying low in the suburbs.

    2. Long-time homeowners are priced out of their own neighborhoods, as taxes rise on homes that might not have changed in decades.

    3. Development continues to sprawl outward at low densities, increasing traffic, air pollution, water pollution, etc.

    4. City revenues slowly increase along with the cost of housing.

    5. Some wealthy speculators are given a fairly safe investment.

    6. The pace of development in town is slowed, temporarily preserving some nice places.

The way split-rate taxation works, is land and buildings are taxed at different rates. Land is taxed at a higher rate. This turns real estate investment rightside up. In this system, there is great profit in developing, by offsetting high land taxes with low-taxed and high-revenue development. Existing homeowners benefit from lower taxes, especially as housing supply begins to meet demand. City revenues increase along with increased investment in taxable property. Overall urban density increases, improving transit, walkability, and bikeability, reducing travel times, and protecting outlying areas from development. This is also something I recommend for Albemarle's Development Area, but absolutely not in the Rural Area. If anything, the Rural Area should tax homes higher than land, giving farmers a break and slowing down sprawl. Outlying counties should do something along the same lines.
This was done with great success in Pennsylvania.
Also, I have completed a professional website. Behold: Coactive Counseling.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Progress. I went to a fundraiser for John Kerry and two good things happened. First, I learned more about Al Weed. He's running for Virgil Goode's seat in congress. For that reason alone, I support him. Because Goode is a bad, bad man. The other good thing is that I told people about my ideas for Vinegar Hill, and they got excited! I've kept my ideas restricted to my family and this blog up until now, and it's immensely comforting to know someone else agrees with me.
The way I laid it out went like this:
1. The history of Vinegar Hill. A thriving, mostly African American community is leveled. Housing projects to replace some of the eliminated housing are put in many years later. African American-owned businesses are never replaced. African Americans, unlike other minorities (Jews, Italians, Irish, Koreans) in America, have been unable to rise out of poverty as a group. Some argue that this is due to a genetic defect. Others blame institutional racism. In fact, African Americans attempted to do exactly what other minorities in America accomplished: create their own neighborhoods with their own culture and support each other out of the ghetto. All that progress was eliminated when places like Vinegar Hill were destroyed under urban renewal.
2. Race issues today. Charlottesville is the best place to live in America. If you have enough money. Segregation and lack of opportunity for young African Americans persist. There is more awareness of the problem since the recent outbreaks of racial violence, but no solutions are apparent.
3. University-Downtown. Charlottesville has been talked about in terms of its brain (U.Va.) and its heart (Downtown). Local elites have wanted to make the connection through West Main for some time. Coran Capshaw has been most successful with Starr Hill and the housing across the tracks. The city put together the free trolley to support this connection. However, this connection isn't possible, because there's a gaping hole between the two: Vinegar Hill. Heart and head are cut off, because the soul has been ripped out. The intersection with the Lewis & Clark statue is one of the worst intersections I've seen, making bike and pedestrian travel extremely uncomfortable. Car travel moves to two main destinations: either Downtown, or the University. This is all made possible by the Ridge Street connector that was rammed through the Vinegar Hill neighborhood.
4. Downtown's decline. Part of the rationalization for destroying Vinegar Hill was to eliminate competition with Downtown businesses and create opportunities for major new construction to bring people downtown, like the Omni hotel. This kind of worked, but it also routed most traffic around downtown, eliminating its visibility. Tourists visiting downtown can find the Omni, but the pedestrian mall is hidden. This was fantastic for the sprawling growth of 29 North, making it easier to get there from the city.
5. Shadow of the Meadowcreek Parkway. The official rationale for the Parkway is to ease traffic on 29 North and the Rio Road shortcut. In fact, this will happen. However, this will also dump an enormous amount of traffic in city neighborhoods, thanks to that Ridge street connector. It will also make it even easier to get to 29 N from the city, sucking even more business out into the sprawl north of town and worsening traffic in a short time.

1. Reclaim Vinegar Hill. Vinegar Hill is a powerful place. Rich with history and heartbreak, and pivotal to the past, present, and future of Charlottesville. The built form should reflect this. The neighborhood needs to be bought up and redeveloped.
2. Kill the connector. The Ridge street connector only makes sense given the priorities of the 1950s. Given Charlottesville's modern needs, it does more harm than good. The old neighborhood grid will be brought back. The pedestrianized street between Omni and Downtown can be reopened to traffic. This will eliminate some awful pedestrian space and give Downtown excellent visibility.
3. Hold the neighborhood in trust. An urban land trust gives residents all the rights of their land, save actual ownership. This gives them much greater resistance to rising land values due to gentrification. This makes a rich neighborhood of mixed incomes, backgrounds, and perspectives possible.
4. Support local African American business. I'm not sure how yet, but I'd like to see the richness and variety of Vinegar Hill's economy restored. If it's all Starbucks and Blockbusters, it'll be sad.
5. Develop with the community. Vinegar Hill needs to be brought back by Charlottesville working together, rather than by a few developers. Everyone needs to have a say in what happens here. The way to do this is with a design technique called a charette, where everyone involved gets together in a room and hashes it out over a few days, creating something we all want to see happen.

So that's what I've got. If you like it, hate it, want to help, or have a suggestion, e-mail me at

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Finished, finished. I completed my graduate school application to U.Va.'s Department of Urban and Environmental planning. They didn't read my application because it was late and they had a full class. This is great news.
I didn't want to go to graduate school yet. I was frustrated because all of the decent jobs in my field required a masters, but I've realized that isn't a problem. None of the things I want to get accomplished (Helping Friendly Book, Soul Walk, Eco-Industrial Heating Plant, Message) will be at all assisted by having a job in my field. In fact, a job with the city might even be a straightjacket. I'm happy where I am, and I have all the resources I need. Here we go.
I don't think I've mentioned the Soul Walk or the Eco-Industrial Heating Plant here. The Soul Walk is inspired by the Spirit Walk they do every Halloween on the Downtown Mall. The difference is that this takes place in Vinegar Hill and is about that defining time and place in our city's history. It occured to me that if Vinegar Hill hadn't been destroyed, there would be no pressure for the Meadowcreek Parkway. It's amazing how one terrible thing can create opportunities for more terrible things. Destruction supports destruction. On the other hand, wise, humane acts support more of the same.
The Eco-Industrial Heating Plant comes from my studies in sustainability. The U.Va. heating plant burns coal, and is one of the largest polluters in the area. The plant produces steam to heat the University, and as a side effect, it creates acid rain, mercury in our streams, a haze that reduces visibility, and global warming. Which is a shame, because everything that comes out of the coal plant's chimney is a valuable input to other industries. Much of it has to be mined out of the ground and/or created chemically and paid for. So I think there's an opportunity to eliminate a major polluter, cut costs, and create jobs for Charlottesville.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I just finished reading an excellent article by Kurt Vonnegut about the mess we're in. Essentially, he believes, and I agree, that part of what's going on is the end of an intense and destructive national addiction to oil. It's been almost a hundred and fifty years, which is a pretty good run for any addiction, but the good stuff is running out. There's a lot of reason to be worried about that, but I personally find it exciting. Times of transition are challenging and dangerous, but allow for amazing things and historic moments. End oil empire, enter solar economy.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Wow, it's been a month since my last post, and what a month it's been. First, progress on the culture jamming I mentioned. Thanks to the crucial assistance of Mr. Justin O'Dell, I have managed to acquire the majority of the lawn signs from the city council election. I can't remember the exact figures, but the democrat to republican/Meredith Richards write-in ratio was very close. I am lumping together the Richards campaign with the republicans because both happened to use the same kind of lawn sign. Which is interesting. This reminded me of the funding the Bush 2000 campaign provided for Nader ads in swing states.
I noticed a large degree of clumping with the signs, with most neighborhoods having a small number of democrat signs and a few neighborhoods (notably the more wealthy ones on the north side of town) having many republican signs within a small area. We began our collection by sharing a bike around the Woolen Mills neighborhood, stopping repeatedly to grab signs, then hopped in my car for the rest of the neighborhoods.
Since then, my mind has been occupied with returning to school for my graduate degree. I have been struggling with the application for U.Va.'s urban and environmental planning department. I have stressed out far too much over this, but it's almost done. Wish me luck! Once it's over, I promise I'll update more.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I'm doing some Adbusters-inspired culture jamming around the national election. The concept is the posting of terms relating to the Bush record, but without actually mentioning Bush. So you might see a sign that said "Enron" or "Weapons of Mass Destruction" or "Excessive Secrecy" and nothing else. The intent is to create questions and dialogue, about the meaning of the terms, who displayed them, what the intent itself is. I feel a great number of issues are being left out of the national debate, and I'd like to create an alternate forum for them to get out. If you'd like to work on this and other related projects, sign up for the Charlottesville Adbusters Meetup here:

If you'd like to order a FREE sign for your lawn, e-mail me at Yes, it's a lame e-mail address. I have to wait 60 days for the address to transfer to my new provider.
I'm worried about the city council campaign. I went to the NAACP-sponsored council forum and was struck by the low turn-out and the poor quality of the Republican candidates. Kenneth (Ann Reineke kept calling him "Kenny") Jackson was offensive and ill-informed, and yet powerfully condescending. Reineke actually made some policy statements, focused on the city budget. She said that property taxes were too high and business taxes were too high, and this hurt affordability and the job market. Which I agree with. She also said that police and teachers should get better pay and benefits. Which I also agree with. She also said that the city shouldn't spend $6 million on new software. I think she means the city should stay outdated, but I think Waldo Jaquith's suggestion of pursuing freeware makes a great deal more sense. So I agree with everything she said should happen, but the only way I can imagine her achieving these conflicting priorities of lower taxes and better pay and benefits is by cutting critical social services. As Kevin Lynch pointed out, Charlottesville is the main provider of social services for the entire region of central Virginia. We provide a crucial public good that benefits us and especially our neighbors. This was fine when the nation funded the states and Virginia funded Charlottesville, but since the state went into a budget crisis of its own, and Bush's unfunded educational mandates, we've been left with greater responsibilities and fewer resources to meet them. So I heard two options. The Democrats propose that we maintain the line. We suffer high local taxes and keep Charlottesville a world class city. The Republicans didn't make a clear proposal, but it appears that they wish to mimic the federal and state governments by lowering taxes and cutting services. I understand their position, we've definitely been put in an unfair spot, but I'm unwilling to budge an inch and give up the things that the city pays for that make Charlottesville great. Like the wonderful work that city landscaping does, or what little social safety net we have that keeps homelessness low enough for affluent people to be comfortable in public spaces. This is one of the many things that make the Downtown Mall work, like Friday's After Five. So, I'm backing the Democratic ticket, but I really think that we're going to need some creative solutions and major lobbying at the state and federal level to get Charlottesville back off the financial razor edge that it's been left at. None of candidates seem to be saying this, but my impression of the Republicans ability to work well with city Democrats is very poor. Also, I've been noticing some Meredith Richards write-in signs next to Reineke and Jackson signs. If I were Meredith, I'd be offended. Though it would be ironic if Meredith were elected by Republicans.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I am worn out. The bake sale went great. We raised $811 for campaigning against Bush and other good things. The Free Store went well. It turned out to be part of an Earth Day celebration. Earth Day meant a lot to me when I was a kid, but I feel very disconnected with it now. I'm not sure it's effective any more. There was a time when corporations would use it as an opportunity to showcase the paltry attempts they made to be environmentally friendly, but I'm not sure if even that happens anymore. I'm glad the event happened, but overall I was very discouraged. Still, it gave me the idea to start a permanent Free Store somewhere. I'm trying to think of who would be willing to donate space. I'm looking for a location near downtown that has some visibility and some public awareness. I'm thinking either a church or a charitable organization.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Coming Up: This is going to be a busy weekend. I'm doing two exciting things.
Saturday, April 17th, 12-2 PM Downtown Mall by the water fountain + Cha Cha's: MoveOn's Bake Sale for Democracy! A few dozen friends and I will be selling delicious baked goods benefitting a delicious movement for democracy and regime change in DC complements of!
Sunday, April 18th, 12:30 PM Tonsler Park, corner of 5th and Cherry: Food Not Bombs Feed In! I think, I'm not totally sure what's going on. But I do know that I'm running a Free Store! What's a Free Store, you ask? Aren't the terms "free" and "store" mutually exclusive? Probably. A free store is a place where people leave good things that they don't want and take things that they do want. So if I get tired of my red chair, but don't have anyone to sell or give it to, I would put it in the Free Store. Then if I saw a good book there, I would take it. When I finished, I would put it back, and someone else would take it. A Free Store saves money and the environment by reducing waste, extending the use of products, and providing useful goods at an unbeatable price. Of course, a big part of what makes a Free Store work is it being in the same place for a long time. Otherwise it's just me giving away my things and talking about how nice a free store would be. But hey, it's a start.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I'm making progress on the Helping Friendly Book. I've purchased the webspace from I should be using as my main e-mail soon. It's long, but memorable. The concept of the Book comes from a song by jam band Phish's lead singer, Trey Anastazio. In Trey's myth, a peaceful people called the Lizards are given a book by their god Icculus. The Helping Friendly Book contains all knowledge and "the ancient secrets of eternal joy and never-ending splendor." The theft and retrieval of the Book form the narrative of Trey's first album, The Man Who Fell Into Yesterday. I think a Helping Friendly Book would be a very handy thing in these desperately unhelpful and unfriendly times. Unfortunately, I'm not Icculus, so the best way I could think to make this happen was to rely on the wisdom, experience, and insight of many. The Helping Friendly Book is based on the online forum, with people posting material and noting where in the Book it should go. Superimposed over the forum is an editing program, where members (people who logged in with a name and valid e-mail) can discuss posts, suggest edits, and come to a consensus on them using a moderated chatroom system. The editing program will display the current book from the content and the edits, and the Helping Friendly Book can be browsed by anyone or printed out. All material is under copyleft, as part of the agreement to participate in the project.
This project is inspired by , , , and . Like those groups, I'm hoping to carve out some public space on the internet with some value to humanity. I think there's room on the internet for a little spirituality, philosophy, creativity, and helpful everyday hints without a commercial motivation.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

What an amazing day. Yesterday I met with Richard Collins, who helped me decide to pursue my graduate work here in Charlottesville at the University's planning department. Then I met Ben Kweller and his band. They were great guys. We talked about indoor air quality inside a touring bus. Then I set up for this outstanding party above Plan 9 that I DJ'd. It's been my dream for years to run music for a party. Thank you, George, Andy, JR, Swen-Yu, and especially Ian for helping me make this happen. That was by far the best party I've ever been to or heard of, and I was at the Ben Kweller show when it was really kicking. I gotta say it was a good day. Oh, my dj name: DJ Telepresence. I rock the party even when I'm not there.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

It begins. I'm starting this weblog as a symbolic beginning to my adult life and career. This is also the beginning of the Helping Friendly Book, a website concept I'm working on with my brother, Ian Solla-Yates. More to follow.