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Ed McMahon traces connection between economic vitality, community character

A leading land use expert told a packed room at the Omni Hotel Monday night that the most successful American communities are those ready for the future while retaining a sense of the past. The event was sponsored by Charlottesville Tomorrow .

“We are entering a new era in America and the world, an era that will change our lives in ways no less fundamental than the industrial revolution,” said Edward McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute. “It’s about finding better, smarter, greener, more energy efficient ways to work and move around,” McMahon said.

The Urban Land Institute was founded in 1936 to study and develop best management practices for land use and development. McMahon advises communities nationwide about the importance of protecting their unique character as an economic development tool.

“I believe ‘sense of place’ is explicitly that which makes our physical surroundings worth caring about,” McMahon said.

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During his hour-long presentation, McMahon showed slides of how some communities have set
high standards for development to avoid looking like any other place in the United States.

McMahon’s talk was followed by a panel discussion.
 


(Left to right: Ed McMahon, Dennis Rooker, Kim Tanzer and Gaylon Beights

Supervisor Dennis Rooker called McMahon his “hero” and said he was invigorated by the presentation. He agreed that Albemarle County and Charlottesville are both poised to take advantage of historic resources.

“Here we’ve got the advantages of the beautiful mountain vistas, the history of Monticello and the University of Virginia , and those things are bricks to build on that most communities don’t have to start with,” Rooker said.

McMahon also advises communities on how to develop in a way that encourages and welcomes alternative modes of transportation. In the county, that form of development is called “neighborhood model” development and it is strongly encouraged in the designated growth areas.

Gaylon Beights , the developer of Old Trail Village in Crozet , said his decision to embrace  the neighborhood model has been profitable as people seek out walkable mixed-use communities.

“We have 287 current residents that love [Old Trail],” Beights said. “This year, we sold 70 houses, more than twice than we’ve ever done before, and it’s because people want to live where it is beautiful.”

Near the end of his talk, McMahon advised Charlottesville to make a special effort to develop the West Main Street corridor to become a more densely populated, urban environment.

“That could be one of the great streets in Virginia, but it’s not, it’s missing teeth,” McMahon said. He encouraged the University of Virginia and Charlottesville to work together to develop the corridor.

“Successful communities use education, incentives, partnerships and voluntary initiatives,” McMahon said.

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