Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA. Photo by Bob Mical via Flickr
Charlottesville, VA, is setting itself apart from other college towns through a focus on equitable development. The city, which comprises just 10 square miles in central Virginia’s Albemarle County, boasts a rich heritage with connections to Thomas Jefferson and colonial America. Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia as well as many historic sites, most famously including Monticello.
For nearly 30 years, Albemarle County has protected its rural areas through strong preservation practices—and residents have felt the benefits. The city has a strong downtown and walkable core, including the downtown pedestrian mall—one of the most successful in the country—and much of the city is within a 15-minute drive from nearby natural areas. Councilmember Kathy Galvin, a long time Charlottesville resident and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is committed to further strengthening the city’s core and making sure it in an equitable place for all current and future residents.
One of Galvin’s biggest projects has been working with residents to create the master plan for a former industrial area south of the downtown pedestrian mall. The area currently has a high concentration of assisted living and public housing, sports few public amenities, and is medically underserved. Completed about a year ago and recently added to the Comprehensive Plan, the Strategic Investment Area (SIA) plan calls for targeted investment and improvement with a focus on equitable development. Its strategic goals include: one-to-one rebuilding and preservation of assisted and public housing, creation of mixed-income residential developments, assessment of interconnected challenges like adult educational and economic opportunities, and creation of urban amenities like parks and libraries. The plan has already won APA and AIA awards.
Of these goals, the biggest challenge is the one-to-one replacement of affordable housing, but Galvin and the rest of the council are committed to giving the residents what they need. “I believe equitable development is the next big frontier of smart growth,” says Galvin. “We have to show that we can maintain diverse communities and diverse economies so that we can all lead a sustainable life in cities.”
The second project Councilmember Galvin has been involved with is the redevelopment of West Main Street, a narrow colonial street that connects UVA to downtown Charlottesville and the surrounding neighborhoods. Decades of studies done on the corridor have all failed to result in improvement, so Galvin began the initiative by establishing the Place, Livability, and Community Engagement (PLACE) Design Task Force, to fuel on-the-ground redevelopment. The City-led project will result in an updated master plan for the West Main Street corridor focusing on better connectivity, beautification, increased pedestrian and bike infrastructure, improved parking alternatives, and economic assessments of land use and zoning. The last of three community meetings was held in August, and the Master Plan is currently being finalized.
Galvin and the residents of Charlottesville are optimistic about the city’s future. “We have moved from having a great Comprehensive Plan full of smart growth measures to creating concrete working plans for implementation,” she says. As the SIA plan and the West Main Street project are finalized, Charlottesville residents want to keep equitable development on the forefront. Galvin says, “I want to see that we have been able to maintain a diverse population, both racially and economically, as we continue to grow and be the beautiful city that we are and want to be in the future.”