MapLab goes with the flow

“A snapshot of the city.” In the words of Matthew Slaats, director of the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, that is what MapLab is all about.

Started by the Bridge PAI, the initiative has focused on discovering Charlottesville, not as a city of roughly 43,000 people but as the collective experience and knowledge of its inhabitants.

“July and August are usually quiet at the Bridge,” said Slaats. “We thought we should use this as an opportunity to go out and engage the community in a conversation about what the city means and do it in a way that is about the individual perspective.”

“We are interested in the stories that people tell,” added Slaats.

Slaats mentioned two influences on the inaugural MapLab program: Nicholas Felton and Lawrence Halprin.

Felton, a graphic designer, publishes a “Feltron” each year, which compiles personal data from the previous year into an annual report.

This report meticulously details his life, offering unusual insight into an individual person.

Halprin used vast public feedback and documentation of human movement when he designed Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, Slaats said.

“How could we do something like that for Charlottesville?” Slaats said. “How could we get people to help us document the city?”

So far MapLab has consisted of 13 events, or “urban investigations,” including neighborhood walks in Fifeville and Belmont and urban foraging in Riverview Park.

“We want to use that snapshot to understand the city in a way that I don’t think a lot of people take the time to do,” Slaats said.

MapLab comes to a close Wednesday with the screening of “Lost Rivers,” a documentary about suburban watersheds, followed by a candlelight walk of Pollocks Branch creek.

Slaats’ motivation to choose urban watersheds as a final theme stems from personal interest and previous experience.

“I had worked on this project up in New York redesigning an urban creek which had basically been this dumping ground for trash for years,” he said. “Watersheds are always there, we don’t always see them, until something happens to them.”

In recent years, conversations about watersheds have been changing, Slaats said. There is a growing push to daylight buried streams and rivers that flow through urban areas.

An example of a local daylighted stream is the Dell at the University of Virginia. That project also restored native plants and created an attractive public space adjacent to the university’s Curry School of Education.

“Before, [urban streams] were seen as problems. Now, they are being seen as solutions,” Slaats said. “They can become habitats for plants and animals and parks for us.”

“[‘Lost Rivers’] creates a really nice conversation about the environmental and social parts of our urban watersheds and buried streams,” he said.

After the film, a candlelight walk along Pollocks Branch will take place.

Slaats noted that Pollocks Branch starts just across Avon Street from the Bridge PAI’s office. It continues under Friendship Court and the Ix buildings, finally seeing daylight after it crosses under Elliott Avenue.

The creek also is the centerpiece of a linear park in the city’s Strategic Investment Area plan, currently being developed.

Pollocks Branch would flow through a central plaza on the Ix property to provide a public gathering place. Meadows and gardens would be created to filter stormwater.

Wednesday’s events begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Bridge office at 209 Monticello Road.