Editor’s Note: The Tao of city planning


Grandmaster Wang Fu-lai makes notes during an interview. Photo: John Robinson. Grandmaster Wang Fu-lai makes notes during an interview. Photo: John Robinson.

Last week one of our online contributors, Jim Duncan, predicted that 2013 will be the year the real estate market turns. Jim is a Realtor with Nest Realty, so he’s not exactly a dispassionate observer, but market indicators around the country and locally are supporting his claim. Prices, at least in the residential market, are rising again.

Having just weathered the most intense economic boom to bust cycle in my lifetime, I hope it’s true. I think it is. And if it is, it means that the issues of planning and development that dominated our news section for nearly a decade will come back to the fore. The story won’t be one of ravenous expansion in the county pitted against strictly regulated smart growth policies in the city, if it was ever that simple. Never has the alignment of principle and self-interest been more relevant. Everyone wants to make money again. No one wants to end up where we ended up last time.

In this week’s news section, Graelyn Brashear, Laura Ingles, and freelancer Shea Gibbs tackled four stories that point to some of the challenges involved as our community tries to unfurl its green buds after a harsh winter. Two of them look at how the city is beginning to engage private partners in its efforts to maintain its affordable housing base, which is intimately tied to its public housing stock. How we define “affordable housing” and how far we go to ensure its availability will be a primary conundrum moving forward, particularly as the topic relates to the potential displacement of existing communities with deep roots. As a friend told me in a conversation over the weekend, “You can make all the rules in the world, but Adam Smith’s invisible hand is going to do what it does.”

Another story, on local business owner Richard Freeman, is more subtle still. Under pressure to sell out, how far should we go to preserve cultural continuity? And then finally there’s a story on the Piedmont YMCA’s court victory, which paves the way for a new facility in McIntire Park. How do we use our public spaces, money, and planning efforts to add value to neighborhoods? To make a fast-growing city feel less-crowded, more liveable?  We are blessed with leaders who desperately want to make decisions informed by the long view. But the future of Charlottesville will unfold one project at a time.

As Grandmaster Wang Fu-lai, subject of our cover story, told me last week: “There is an old saying. You don’t try to go to the sky in one step. Confucius says if you want to go far, you must start from the near. If you want to go high, you start from down low. When you do everything step by step, you are very joyful. If you try to go to the sky in one step, it will be painful.”—Giles Morris