03 May 2005

Small Blessings

Among the small blessings I count in my life is a city council that has a sense of humor. They certainly needed it last night.

Kudos to Stratton Salidis, who knows how to put on a good show. My bad that I didn't bring enough popcorn. The issue at hand: Development the Meadowcreek Parkway and the eastern connector. Specifically, the $1.5 million set aside to do yet another study on how it can be accomplished. This is a road project which has been debated and rejected for 30 years. Stratton's cast of characters who spoke before Council last night included a woodchuck who moved his family into McIntire Park and would be displaced if the Parkway was built and a "developer" who wanted to spend more money on sprawl and needed the roads in order to bear the traffic of new housing and shopping center plans on his table. Most of the councilors could not keep a straight face through the procession. (Rob Schilling, the exception and the sole Republican, looked as if he thought the dignity of the council was being affronted by such tactics.)

I do not want the Parkway. I understand why it is needed, but, IMO, there's a better way to handle it.

We have made Charlottesville City a very attractive place to visit, to hang out, to shop, and to live. Unfortunately, this attractiveness has resulted in a very expensive place to live. Because of this, Albemarle County is in genuine danger of becoming overdeveloped. Certainly the road system from the County into the City that exists now barely bears the traffic required of it.

Instead of using the monies set aside for the study, or for the project itself, on paving over sections to relieve traffic congestion, why not use the money to create the kind of environment in Albemarle that Charlottesville has in abundance?

We don't need more shopping centers and residential communities, so much as we need more neighborhoods, with work and amenities within easy walking, bussing, and biking distance. Charlottesville has the Downtown area, with it's charming street mall, the University area, with its kitschy stores and trendy bars, and Barracks Road, while still a strip mall, manages to attract foot and bus traffic by the virtue of combining easy accessibility with diversity of storefronts and services.

Albemarle and Charlottesville, if they are truly concerned about traffic, should work harder to make such community settings in Albemarle territory. No one wants to go to Albemarle Square, Seminole Square, Rio Hill, or Fashion Square Mall. One needs to shop at Circuit City, Office Depot, TJ Max, or Sears. These malls are driving destinations: not a joy for window shopping, hanging out with friends, or grabbing a quick bite or drink at the local pub. They represent everything that is wrong with current development. If Albemarle had more user-friendly destinations, business, and, thus, traffic would want to develp around those neighborhoods instead of everyone driving into C'ville. What C'ville has is the ambience which makes people want to make the trip in for the day or evening. C'ville will lose that ambience unless smarter development takes place.

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