“New York is older / And changing its skin again / It dies every ten years / And then it begins again.” I love that line (from a song by The National) because it rings so true; New York is notorious for recreating itself, and to live there or ever have lived there is to know that your favorite haunts will one day became shoe stores or drug stores or banks, and every life you live there is constructed not only in space, but in time.
The truth is no city ever stays the same, and Charlottesville is no exception. Those who have been here for decades have seen the Downtown Mall transform, and outlying areas like Crozet get built up. There’s more people, more traffic, but also more restaurants and bars, more things to do. The Pudhouse and Starr Hill and Trax have been replaced by the Jefferson and the Southern and Magnolia House. Those who liked it better the old way may grumble, but cities can’t remain static; like sharks, they have to keep moving to stay alive.
The opening of the CODE building on the Downtown Mall, the expansion of WillowTree, and the growth of tech companies here generally is sure to change the city further. The question is, can we adapt—and maybe even be better—without losing what matters?
When cities change, they tend to bulldoze the needs of their least powerful residents. Charlottesville is shadowed by a history in which black neighborhoods were repeatedly destroyed to make way for development that largely benefited white people. Today, some of the few remaining African American neighborhoods are threatened by gentrification, and the city as a whole is at risk of becoming uninhabitable for all but the wealthiest residents.
If we really want to be innovative, we’ll figure out a way to grow without losing our soul; to use the city’s increasing wealth to make this a more equitable, more sustainable place to live, for everyone.