MOVOTO.com’s blog—which dubs itself “the lighter side of real estate”—recently named Charlottesville as the #2 Friendly Small City in the nation. What exactly makes a city friendly? “When we decided to tackle this question,” the blog says, “we realized that we’d need to look at it in some unique ways,” They decided some measures such the per capita number of high-fives in a week or cups of sugar given to neighbors, are pretty tough to tally.
Instead, they chose some not-necessarily-traditional criteria for evaluation including violent crime (friendlier residents commit fewer crimes), percent of income given to charity (friendly folks spread around the wealth) and Facebook likes (friendly places make more digital friends.)
They also looked at per capita data for farmers markets and bars (good places to socialize and interact with others), religious organizations (since loving one’s neighbors is the foundation of most religions), and gift and flowers shops (because more demand for gifts means more stores.)
With this mix of “serious and fun data points,” they looked at 100 cities with populations under 50,000 and gathered statistics from sources as diverse as the FBI and Philanthropy.com to arrive at their rankings.
“Charlottesville was the first city I experienced with a truly cosmopolitan view that was also friendly,” declares REALTOR® Katie Corish, Owner/Principal Broker of The New House Company. “It’s friendly, neat as a pin, and immensely evolved by southern standards. I was happy to move here as the environment felt like what I wanted as a home for my then-small sons.”
Corish’s “desirable environment” is exactly what MOVOTO.com was winkling out. The region does have a number of the bars identified as being good places to socialize. Cville undoubtedly trumps many cities with the Downtown Mall and summer-long Fridays After Five where people cheerfully jostle with neighbors and meet new people through a common friend.
Farmer’s markets definitely abound in the area. There are nearly 250 across Virginia with a number in Charlottesville and the seven-county area surrounding the city. They are not only a fresh-food source, they serve as today’s village square where people see friends.
“I always run into people I know on Saturdays at the City Market,” confirms REALTOR® Kelly Ceppa of Nest Realty Ceppa. “Besides I want to know where my family’s food comes from, because it’s important that what I put on our table is healthy, locally raised, and fresh. At City Market, I’m on a first-name basis with the farmers raising that food.”
And certainly we have a number of gift and cards shops—most locally owned. Add in the numerous art galleries and studios in town and on the Monticello Art Trail where artisans welcome visitors and you have a friendly way to find gifts.
The religious life mentioned by MOVOTO is important to many people in our area as well. Corish, who likes Charlottesville’s environment, says, “My story is as personal and unique as everyone’s. After a health crisis in 2007, I was drawn to the Unitarian church on Rugby Road where I learned about IMPACT.”
IMPACT, begun by local clergy in 2006, has a mission “to empower the faith community of greater Charlottesville to create significant social change through unified direct action.” It is spiritually, racially, and economically diverse and works to build strong relationships among its 26 congregations, which include more than 15,000 people in Central Virginia including Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Unitarian, and Muslim traditions.
“What better idea could there be,” Corish asks, “than to combine the moral force and impressive numbers of the collected faiths of our community in the interest of changing lives for the better here in this city we love?” As an example, she cites initiatives addressing homelessness, youth unemployment, and mental health care.
“IMPACT is one of the evidences that we are indeed a friendly and a justice-oriented community,” she emphasizes. “The work with others of the caring mindset is life-enhancing—both for those for whom the work is done, and for those who do it. I love this community. I feel this deeply about my physical and my faith communities and consider myself a fortunate person indeed to experience each.”
Generosity is another trait MOVOTO deems friendly. The Charlottesville community gives well over 4 percent of their money to charity and there is no better example of that generosity than Give4Good effort last May 6th. The program was organized by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF) to encourage online contributions to nearly 150 non-profits in Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson, and Orange Counties, and Charlottesville.
The non-profits included: Arts & Culture, Animal Welfare, Education, Community Enrichment, Environment, Health, Human Services, and Children and Youth services. It was part of a national event to inspire our community to come together for 24 hours to maximize its philanthropic impact and we were definitely inspired. Here’s just one example.
“Seniors Safe At Home is a partnership between CAAR, the Blue Ridge Homebuilders, and AHIP [ HYPERLINK “http://www.ahipva.org/” Albemarle Housing Improvement Program],” explains Charlottesville REALTOR ® Pam Dent of Gayle Harvey Real Estate. “We started out the day not knowing what to expect from our initial experience with Give4Good. And by starting out, I mean one minute after midnight. It was so exciting to watch the numbers climb.” While the group had hoped to reach $5000, by the end of the 24 hours over $20,000 had been raised for that program alone.
“It shows that Charlottesville is a generous, caring community,” Dent says. “It was truly a group effort and a heartwarming experience with folks from different organizations all over the area working together to raise more than a half million dollars for their favorite nonprofits.”
The impressive results were announced online by CACF: [Is it possible to use a different font to depict internet posting?]
Final Total: $507,086.47 from 3,764 gifts!! Thank you and congratulations to everyone that helped to make Give4Good such a great success!! YOU ROCK CVILLE AREA!!!
Central Virginians aren’t just generous with their wallets, they are generous with their time and for many, volunteering is an important part of their lives. From the Jefferson Area Board on Aging (JABA) to local hospitals, animal shelters, schools, theaters, and many other organizations, people serve.
“Volunteering is a good measure of a friendly community,” says Mary Jane King, who retired from the Development Office at PVCC where one of her responsibilities was managing the college’s scholarship program. She is now Vice President of the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle. “People want to make connections,” she says. “They want to help in their community and also have the experience of getting to know people in a different way. This speaks to the whole business of being a friendly city.”
There are several Internet sites listing nearly endless volunteer opportunities in our seven-county area. For example, the United Way website posts 19 alphabetical pages of groups seeking volunteers from 100 Black Men of Central Virginia to Yancey Elementary School. VolunteerMatch.org lists more than 70 flexible-hour volunteer assignments ranging from playing the piano at the Habitat for Humanity Resale store to visiting seniors with a pet to doing laundry at Charlottesville’s Ronald McDonald House and many more.
A distinctly friendly aspect of the region is music, although surprisingly it wasn’t among the categories that MOVOTO explored. Music brings people—from law enforcement to REALTORS®, educators to gardeners, healthcare workers to students—together in a unique way.
A remarkable number of local enterprises serve up live music along with food and drink including many eateries such as the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, Escafe, and Fellini’s #9. Regional wineries, breweries, and cideries host musical performances from casual combos to concerts. Carter Mountain Orchard has a Thursday Evening Concert Series during the summer.
More formal venues range from the John Paul Jones Center for major performances to Charlottesville’s Southern Café and Music Hall, Jefferson Theater, and Paramount Theater to Rapunzel’s in Lovingston.
The nTelos Wireless Pavilion is another popular spot for concerts, festivals, benefits, and the free Fridays After Five programs that feature a variety of artists all summer long. In addition, the Pavilion engages members of non-profit groups as workers with their hourly “pay” going to their respective groups.
Music also brings local amateur musicians together in a wide variety of activities from Rapunzel’s open mic on the second Friday of each month to a dramatic partnership of the Charlottesville Oratorio Society and the Ashlawn Opera presenting Candide last month [May] at the Paramount Theater.
The Charlottesville Municipal Band is certainly one of the oldest musical organizations in town, performing together since 1923. Members are accomplished volunteer musicians ranging from students in the eighth grade to PVCC enrollees to retirees. The group offers a number of free concerts during the year and always plays inspiring patriotic numbers at Monticello for the Fourth of July Naturalization Ceremonies.
“Music is my community within the community,” says Ceppa, the City Market shopper who is also a member of the Charlottesville Women’s Choir, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary of singing for the environment, peace and justice. Their annual concert raises funds for a local non-profit and this year the beneficiary was the Barrett Early Learning Center.
Then there’s the Charlottesville Threshold Choir which sings at the bedsides of hospice patients and others in need of comfort, healing, and peace. Add in the our local Sweet Adelines (known as the Skyline Harmony Chorus), the Virginia Consort, FIRE, the Senior Center’s Second Wind Band, the Charlottesville Jazz Society, the varied musical organizations of UVa, many other organized groups as well as plenty of casual jam sessions and gatherings and Central Virginia is alive with music. Some musical groups require auditions while others welcome anyone interested in music. Many have websites for more information.
Nowhere is this musical community better demonstrated than at the annual December Messiah Sing-In at UVa. Singers come with friends to sit in soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sections in the house, while instrumental musicians take to the stage with their strings, brass, and wind instruments. You might even spot a mandolin.
As the final notes of the Hallelujah Chorus fade (and it is often sung twice, simply for the joy of it), there is a wonderful moment of community that is the essence of Charlottesville.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle Country near Charlottesville. She sings with several groups. Her sister, Gloria, lives in San Luis Obispo, the #1 Friendly City.