Jane Jacobs at a 1961 press conference Credit: Credit: Phil Stanziola / New York World Telegram & Sun / Library of Congress

As residents of Albemarle and Charlottesville contend with the effects of an increased population, one city councilor wants to use a November event at the University of Virginia as a public lesson in how to expand the urban economy.

“You need a lot of different kinds of businesses and different kinds of buildings to generate a healthy economy,” said Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin at a meeting Monday.

On Nov. 18 and Nov. 19, the University of Virginia will hold a symposium on the legacy urban planner Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs, who died in 2006, is best known for her 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

“Her connection to UVa is that she received the Thomas Jefferson Medal in 1996,” Galvin said. “Her bigger impact on the city of Charlottesville can be seen just by reading our Comprehensive plan. She talked 50 years ago of the importance of walkable cities and having diverse cities.”

The School of Architecture has requested funds to help pay for speakers. Galvin suggested city funds could be contributed to the Jefferson School Center for African-American Heritage to help them host the symposium.

Galvin brought the matter up at the end of Monday’s City Council Meeting. She said one of the topics the symposium will address is how to make cities more equitable.

“The goal is to make this [symposium] much more connected to the city of Charlottesville,” Galvin said. “This segment of the symposium would be focused on equity and work in the city.”

Funding for such requests usually comes from an account set aside for “Council strategic initiatives.”

Council added $50,000 to the fund for the current fiscal year and $127,860 was allocated last year. Council did not discuss a specific amount of support Monday.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said he was concerned about whether this usage of the fund would set a precedent.

“I think about the university and the city and the hundreds of incredibly valuable events happening every year,” Signer said. “Every department is filled with luminaries and really remarkable events.”

Councilor Kristin Szakos said the fund was to be used to advance the Council’s priorities.

“I think in this case both land use and equitable development are things that we have talked about endlessly in this room and this is a way to bring a resource to us to be able to get city staff engaged in that by sponsoring it,” Szakos said.

Councilor Wes Bellamy said he had no issue with the symposium itself, but said he is becoming frustrated by a general lack of action.

“We have had countless symposiums, talks, speakers and we’ve got to get toward action,” Bellamy said. For instance, he said protests by public housing residents earlier in Monday’s meeting demonstrated that his frustration is shared by others.

“When people in our community hear that the city is sponsoring another event to bring another speaker, what is going to come up is, ‘Why are they paying to talk about it instead of using that money to do something about?’” Bellamy said.

Bellamy said he would rather talk about the specifics of redevelopment, job-training and fixing infrastructure.
Galvin said a part of the symposium could be a public lesson on community development corporations from people who have set them up elsewhere.

“We don’t seem to be able to get from the idea to the doing because we don’t seem to have a clue as to how begin the process,” Galvin said. “This is some more talking but a lot of the delay in doing redevelopment is because there’s a lot of fear and anxiety about what that might look like.”

Bellamy disagreed and said that groups including public housing residents have taken trips to other communities where redevelopment has occurred.

“I don’t think the reason we can’t seem to move forward in terms of redevelopment is because we don’t have the people who don’t know how to do it,” Bellamy said. “We’re lacking the fortitude to be able to just say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ That is what is lacking.”

Councilor Bob Fenwick said he could see merit in the symposium but wanted to make use of the fund more equitable.

“If each one of us has an opportunity to give our flavor or whatever, I think that would be a much broader contribution to the discussion,” Fenwick said.

Councilors will hold a discussion on whether to fund a portion of the Jane Jacobs symposium on Sept. 6.

They will also have a further discussion at a future meeting about how to more efficiently use the strategic initiatives fund.