The poison and the antidote were anciently understood to be of the same substance, so that the word pharmakon was used in Greek to name both toxin and treatment. The Asclepian medical symbol employs the image of the snake, a reminder of the principle underlying healing practices, which administer little deaths to preserve life. Inoculation and cure, then, are metaphysical pals, an idea that can be used to understand the perils of missionary vigor or, closer to home, the genesis of gentrification.
This week’s cover story—part of a series penned by J. Tobias Beard to recognize Charlottesville’s 250th anniversary—looks at how Belmont changed from an insular working class neighborhood with one foot in the country to a hip, young bungalow district with its head in the clouds. The story isn’t new, but it’s fundamental. Part of what we’ve wanted to do with this series is to bring some focus to the major ongoing creative tensions in town through the lens of history. It’s worth noting that the same type of people who gentrify neighborhoods—artists, grad students, hippies—are the ones who will most actively decry the act, particularly when their own lead is followed by, gasp, the yuppies.
I’m no sentimentalist when it comes to neighborhoods. I knew a dude named Buddie in Cambridge, and he’d lived in Central Square all his life, watched his neighborhood turn from Jewish to black to Harvard over 60-some years. He’d run his first touchdown back in the park I lived on, and he was still there, hustling public court tennis with a brace on every joint. Neighborhoods change, he said. No point in crying about it.
But there is a point to understanding what you’re losing. Charlottesville is not cool as an urban scene. It’s cool because of the intersection of what it was and what it’s becoming. It’s cool because of what Belmont used to be. City workers with country roots made the town go, and they brought the downhome character and values of the hills along with them. Last night when I was walking the dog, I listened to two old-timers in my neighborhood trade stories about getting a Christmas tree and a pony into the backseat of a ’60s ragtop. Then I passed a Volvo SUV with a “Baby yogi on board” sticker. If Austin is fighting to stay weird, let’s us fight to stay a little bit country.—Giles Morris