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


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I know nothing about urban planning and also very little about much of C-Ville so I can't offer any helpful critisism. From where I stand though, it seems like a great idea. I'm not sure if this factors in at all, but by far my biggest deterent concerning downtown is lack of parking. I'd probably hang out there everyday if I had a way of getting their quickly without having to worry about finding parking and shelling out cash to use it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how you go about enacting all those projects, but good lcuk when you do.

Lyle Solla-Yates said...

As far as parking goes, I hear you. I hate paying for parking, which is silly because I've already paid so much for my car, so the costs of parking are relatively tiny. Still, I don't like it, so I usually hang around in the free lot on Water Street near the amphitheater until a space comes open. There's a two-hour limit, but I rarely need to be downtown more than two hours at a time. I would take a bus, but they don't run often enough, the problem of paying comes up again, and I already own a car. When you own a car, everything looks like a parking space. Or something. Sometimes, I bike. I'm trying to do that more often. Oh, there's also some parking north of downtown. It's on-street, and there isn't much of it, but it's free.

As for making this all happen, I'm working on it. Telling people about it and working on the Soul Walk seem like a good start. I'm working on getting my computer (which runs Linux, which I'm starting to get good with) to a place where I can put together some nice presentations on this.