As city and county residents decide who should represent them next year, we sat down with someone who’s been there and back—former mayor Maurice Cox. In his time on council, Cox, now Detroit’s director of city planning, dealt with controversies like the building of the Warner Parkway and the proposal for Charlottesville to revert back to being part of Albemarle County.
Those crises seem quaint compared to the violence of Unite the Right. But Cox has also worked in post-Katrina New Orleans and post-bankruptcy Detroit, and he’s learned a few things about cities recovering from trauma.
For one, you’ve got to shape your own story. “I think that until the city constructs another narrative, it is going to be known for that day in August,” he says. “In Detroit…it’s only through the force of a collective will that a new narrative is starting to emerge.”
Whoever wins the Democratic primary, and whoever is seated on City Council and the Board of Supervisors next fall, they’ll be dealing with many of the same issues Cox was tackling almost two decades before: how to limit sprawl while adding affordable housing, how to develop a dense, valuable urban core without displacing longtime residents, how to build regional cooperation for an accessible, effective public transit system. And, maybe most importantly, how to address a legacy of institutionalized racism, in tangible ways.
They aren’t simple questions and there are no easy answers, but Cox offers the example of Detroit, a city that became open to experiment, to new energy and ideas, built on “hundreds of meetings with residents.” Whoever is guiding Charlottesville through its next phase, let’s hope they have the same humility to listen, and the same courage to be bold.