Placemaking: Peggy Gilges

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: Peggy Gilges
Age: 51
City/County resident? County
Occupation: Editor of , a start-up website and app to educate about, and reduce, resource waste.

How long have you lived in Albemarle?
I moved to Albemarle in 2004. Lived in California for two years and returned here in 2011.

Why did you come here?
My mother spent part of her childhood in Charlottesville, and my parents retired here in 1996, so we were familiar with the area. When my husband was transferred to Virginia for work, we chose to live here because we felt it was a great place to raise our children.

What do you love most about where you live?
I love the spectacular beauty of Charlottesville every day.  Having lived in large cities for much of my life, I really enjoy the views of the mountains, the green fields, and the stately old trees in my neighborhood, just to the west of Charlottesville. And I love to hear the birds singing from those treetops!

There are so many things going on year-round in Charlottesville that are interesting, whether it’s the Festival of the Book , lectures, performances, concerts, or sporting events.  It’s fun to stroll the mall and go ice-skating with the kids.  We also share the community enthusiasm for local food, and we participate in a CSA. I feel very fortunate to be part of a community that sees value in preserving open and agricultural land in proximity to a lively urban center.

Any takeaways from the Placemaking event?
The idea that a strong local economy results from an engaged and inclusive community resonates with me. If you don’t feel attached to the place you live, what’s your incentive to protect the features that distinguish it, or to get involved to improve the things that will make it even better?

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?
Aesthetics: Charlottesville/Albemarle has aesthetics in spades! We are so fortunate to be surrounded by so much natural beauty. For me, that’s what makes Albemarle a unique place. However, I think we tend to take this for granted sometimes.

If placemaking was central to our decision-making, what might this community do differently?
We humans are blessed with big brains that can contemplate and imagine the future. In general, I think we need to exercise this ability to a much greater degree. We need to be thinking about long-term future consequences of the decisions we make today, and we need to think about how development impacts community and shared resources over the long haul.

There are ways to develop housing and improve transportation without constantly expanding outward from the hub. We need to be mindful of this, or we risk degrading our best natural features and the resources that make Charlottesville so livable.

Openness: I like to think that we have a good degree of openness in our society. I find there is a friendly and easy-going way amongst people here. However, in county government we’ve seen some failures, such as last year’s vote on the Western Bypass without prior public notice. Procedures exist in order to ensure transparent government, so they need to be vigorously upheld. Charlottesville Tomorrow is instrumental in keeping me informed about local issues that will shape the future of this special place.

Social Offerings: There are all sorts of things going on in Charlottesville. I hope that there are no groups that feel they are not welcome to participate in a wide variety of events, programs and/or causes.

Education: UVA , PVCC and Monticello bring so much opportunity to our community educationally. We also have good libraries that deserve our full support. And I’ve yet to sign up for an “Open Doors” course at Albemarle High School , but there are many tempting ones! I’m also interested in the educational events offered by groups such as the Local Food Hub , the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Cooperative Extension .

Regarding K-12 education, we’ve increased the burden on our teachers in recent years by expanding class sizes, and we’ve failed to give teachers any recognition in the form of a raise for several years running. A specific issue of concern to me is that the county School Board has been unable to produce its official minutes in a timely way so that citizens can actively participate in the decisions affecting our schools. We’ll have to do better if we want to maintain the reputation that the Albemarle County Public Schools have held for decades.