Re-examining the role of architects and planners

  • In 1968, Whitney M. Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, delivers the keynote speech at the American Institute of Architects annual convention. Nearly all of the audience was white, and Young lambasts them for allowing discrimination and oppression to continue.
  • Two white University of Virginia architecture students propose to increase the population in the Garrett Street area from 10 people per acre to 40 people per acre.
  • The UVa proposal calls for a staged construction process that would include a public park, a recreation center and a total of 890 new units: 150 public housing units, 240 units for low income residents, 155 for lower-middle income, 280 for middle-income, 115 for high-income and 40 units for the elderly. The plan never advances.
  • As part of urban renewal, an appraiser issues a report about the neighborhood: “Within the confines of these structures are owner occupied residences in fair condition, and rental units generally in poor condition. The area reflects a blighted influence on the city, furnishing a diminishing tax base. …The generally depressed economic conditions within this area exemplified by the high deterioration of the structures tends to block any future economic growth.”

You are employers, you are key people in the planning of our cities today. You share the responsibility for the mess we are in terms of the white noose around the central city. It didn’t just happen. We didn’t just suddenly get this situation. It was carefully planned.

— Whitney M. Young Jr.


Is community-engaged design a new way of design?

The Reimagining of Friendship Court

By Jordy Yager

The redevelopment of Friendship Court is slated to be the largest new construction of low-income housing undertaken in Charlottesville in more than two decades. The plan alone is groundbreaking, having been directly created by current Section 8 residents in partnership with Piedmont Housing Alliance. City staff calls it the most nuanced and complex plan they’ve ever encountered. It ambitiously attempts to balance promises of zero resident displacement with the city’s broader affordable housing needs, while also calling for hundreds of new, likely higher-income, residents to move in, as residents hope to de-stigmatize the lasting effects of poverty born out of generations of racist government policy and neglect.

This year will be the make-or-break year for Friendship Court’s redevelopment efforts. Millions of dollars in city, federal, and private funding stand between the massive plan and the highly anticipated 2020 groundbreaking. And while the green lights have begun to align and most residents are excited, the plan has its critics — those who call for greater levels of resident autonomy, greater security measures to guard against social and cultural displacement, and greater reparations for past wrongs.

In crafting this project, we’ve tried to tackle all of this and more by separating the longer narratives into five major questions:

Part 1: What is the plan?
Part 2: How did we get here?
Part 3: Does mixed-income housing work?
Part 4: Who does Friendship Court belong to?
Part 5: What’s next?

But we also wanted to give you access to as much of our reporting as possible, so we’ve created a timeline that details the history of this area, dating back 150 years, through the use of more than 130 maps, documents, archived articles, and photographs. Similarly, we wanted you to actually hear each of the two dozen long-form interviews we conducted, and not merely the portions we’ve included in the individual stories. So we’ve included more than 300 audio clips throughout the story: in the articles, the timeline, and on each person’s profile page. Our hope is that with all this, more of the picture will begin to emerge, and that, as we stand ready to make powerful and significant changes in the city, we all can help craft the solutions.