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June 10, 2012

Placemaking: Peter Thompson

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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.

Peter ThompsonName: Peter Thompson
Age: 52
City/County resident? Albemarle County
Occupation: Executive Director, Senior Center

How long have you lived in Albemarle?
35 years this fall!

Why did you come here?
I’m a ‘came to UVa and refused to leave’ resident.

What do you love most about where you live?
So many things, but I think the driving force is that people who live here care about our community and making it great today and for future generations. I don’t agree with everyone but people care, do their homework, voice their opinion, give their time, talent, and treasure to build our community. I think this comes from our strong sense of place which is based in large part to our history and those who settled our area originally. 

Any takeaways from the Placemaking event?
I was inspired by the Placemaking event for many reasons. I was impressed to see the depth of the research that was presented in what makes a community great, and how those key ingredients are also tied to positive economic development. I was reassured of the importance of a community being open to a wide variety of people and viewpoints, and of the value of maintaining the natural beauty that surrounds us in greater Charlottesville. And I was honored that the work of our Senior Center in being a vital public place to enhance gatherings and community is valued by the concepts of Placemaking.

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?
Albemarle is a beautiful area but it is under the normal tension of growth which brings both costs and benefits and we need to consistently value the aesthetics of our area. While we have some great social places like the downtown mall and the City Market, we are sorely lacking in stewarding the City Market to better things, and to building from those places with parkland and other options for all. While many in our community are highly educated we need to do more to support our public schools and resources such as CATEC and PVCC.

If placemaking was central to our decision-making, what might this community do differently?
Just a couple examples: We’d be more diligent about developing a City Market space that was utilized more than just half a day a week half the year. We’d support a state and local tax structure that ensures our public schools have the resources to educate all our children. And we’d celebrate and support community resources that provide public spaces for gatherings and community building like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Senior Center, Jefferson School City Center, and more.


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