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June 03, 2012

Placemaking: Ruth Kastenmayer

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20120426-Placemaking

Our 2012 annual community conversation took a look at the concept of placemaking and the  findings from the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community project which reveal how attachment to place drives economic vitality – and how understanding those attachments can direct the ways in which a place chooses to change and grow.

This series features reflections from community members who attended the event. We hope their stories will inspire you to define your version of this community’s narrative and use it as a lens through which to view decisions that will impact the character of this community.

Name: Ruth Kastenmayer RuthK
Age: 69
City/County resident? City
Occupation: I am a retired college webmaster and instructor in Web Design and Development. I am currently a Web/WordPress volunteer for several Charlottesville schools and nonprofits, as well as a volunteer tutor/mentor for ESL students at Jackson-Via Elementary School.

How long have you lived in Charlottesville? My husband and I came to Charlottesville for a weekend in the summer of 2006 to celebrate our anniversary and left the city having signed a contract on a new home, much to the surprise of our family and friends! We got organized, downsized, and moved here in January 2007.

Why did you come here?  
We met here in the early sixties as graduate students at UVa so we were familiar with Charlottesville, but the impact of staying at a downtown motel and walking through the Grounds, exploring the Corner and then walking down West Main past the impressive UVa Health Center and on to the Downtown Mall and the Pavilion was huge. We both knew that this was the PLACE we wanted to move to for retirement - IF we could find a walkable neighborhood, near a grocery store and pharmacy, on the bus lines, and close to both UVa and the Downtown Mall.

We located a realtor and were very fortunate to find one of the last units available in our townhome community on Fifth Street Extended. We have loved it here from the start! Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking describes this kind of spur-of-the-moment decision as often better than those made with a lot of forethought, and in this case, I have to agree. "Spirit of Place" probably influences our decisions more than we might realize at the time.

What do you love most about where you live?
There are so many things we really enjoy here! Our Saturday morning bus trip to the City Market and Downtown would be high on the list as would our involvement in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UVa and the Senior Center. My two days a week as a JABA FISH volunteer at Jackson-Via Elementary School have given me a new intergenerational "family" to work and play with as well as an impetus to start learning a little Arabic to be more in tune with the Arabic-speaking ESL students I help. Though fairly new at the school, I am catching up with the past as I help teachers and staff remember Jackson-Via in cvillepedia. In addition, my position as webmaster for OLLI at UVa has put me in touch with a community of Web and IT enthusiasts of all ages and makes it possible for me to enjoy workshops and classes both downtown and at UVa so that I can keep up with the latest and greatest in those areas.

We have found everything we wanted in a neighborhood, including the convenience of the Willoughby Square Shopping Center across the street and our two bus routes. We enjoy exploring the unique Fry's Spring neighborhood as we walk to get pizza or ice cream on Fontaine Avenue, but we can also forego the 10-minute bus ride and walk downtown for all that is offered there. The Jefferson School City Center will be a very attractive new addition to our Charlottesville PLACE as will the proposed botanical garden in McIntire Park East and proposed market district. Since CAT expands our neighborhood to include the whole city, I am hoping in the future to see more frequent service that is also available on Sundays and holidays.

I expect my answers will change and my list of things I love will continue to expand as the years go by and my attachment to our wonderful Charlottesville PLACE grows.

Any takeaways from the Placemaking event?
I was impressed by the diversity in ages of the attendees and their obvious devotion to helping to make this city the very best that it can be. Overall, the attendees with whom I spoke were very positive! I heard many ideas and very few complaints.

The Soul of the Community research says there are four happiness drivers which connect a person to their place: aesthetics, openness, social offerings, and education. Of those four things, where are we most successful and where do we need more work?
Most successful: Education. Everyone can find exactly the right learning opportunity here!
Needs more work: Openness. I am looking forward to new, very diverse groups coalescing around the soon-to-open Jefferson School City Center because they are attracted by the interesting mix of nonprofits in the building.

If placemaking were central to our decision-making, what might this community do differently?
Rather than splintered decision making with small special-interest groups fighting it out in public forums, perhaps we might see more attention focused on planning for Charlottesville as a whole PLACE. 

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