Elliewood Block Party to focus on innovation and community design
Two new groups — one supporting aspiring student-entrepreneurs and the other the application of knowledge from the University of Virginia to community challenges — will anchor the next Tom Tom Founders Festival block party.
HackCville, itself a startup less than 6 months old, will be hosting the grill at Saturday’s Tomtoberfest Elliewood Block Party. UVa’s OpenGrounds, which launched in March, will host a design challenge brainstorming what an “innovation plaza” might look like around the original gates to the university on The Corner.
Tom Tom co-founder Paul Beyer has organized a day of live music, craft beers, dance and comedy. However, as the Tom Tom franchise demonstrated at its inaugural annual festival in April, fun is just part of the agenda. Beyer also wants to facilitate innovation and civic engagement.
“As with most Tom Tom events, there are a few prominent themes,” Beyer said. “One is exploring Charlottesville and encouraging people to experience the city in new ways. There is also an element of gathering people to have fun, but focusing on the how these events can bridge communities and publicize new ideas and new projects.”
With a block party idea percolating, Beyer approached Bill Sherman, the founding director of OpenGrounds, and Spencer Ingram, the founder of HackCville. Beyer suggested some “tactical urbanism” might lead to a reimagining of the OpenGrounds patio and bus stop.
“We were talking about how OpenGrounds could have a community space in front of it,” Beyer said. “That led to a discussion of what it would mean if an ‘innovation plaza’ connected OpenGrounds as a gateway to the university.”
Sherman and Beyer have recruited City Councilor Kathy Galvin and Iñaki Alday, the chair of UVa’s Department of Architecture, to participate.
“This is really an exploratory ideas charette,” Sherman said. “It is not reflective yet of any plans by the university or the city. A role of OpenGrounds is to be a place for brainstorming and ideas.”
Sherman said one goal is to think about the history of the building that OpenGrounds calls home.
“It was originally called the ‘entrance building,’” Sherman said. “It was up the hill and attached to the gate and contained the bookstore. It also had a train station, post office and tea room during Prohibition.”
Ingram has found himself just outside the university’s historic gates looking for ways to bring other student-entrepreneurs with civic interests into the community.
Ingram received an undergraduate degree from UVa in engineering followed by a master’s degree in environmental sciences in 2010.
“Students are exploding with drive and curiosity,” he said. “HackCville is where the rubber hits the road. We have a great network of mentors and provide students access to experts, work space and a structured program to keep them on fire.”
Ingram sees HackCville as a “collegiate venture creation model.”
“When we say ‘hack,’ it means you get your hands in it and build a prototype,” Ingram said. “You take the resources within arm’s reach and exercise them.”
Sherman and Ingram both describe finding strength in the diversity of people, disciplines and ideas all mixing with the broader community of Charlottesville.
“OpenGrounds’ core goal is to facilitate the kinds of conversations around society’s complex challenges that require a diverse group of people contributing,” Sherman said. “That will facilitate new ideas that will have an impact in the world.”
“The name ‘innovation plaza’ is just an idea as a trigger to think in fresh ways about that space and how it might have a stronger identity,” Sherman said. “It’s a signal that Charlottesville is a place where new ideas are being generated, in a growing culture of entrepreneurship, building new businesses that are part of the economic synergy with the city.”
HackCville also seeks to build diverse and cross-disciplinary student teams.
“We want a diversity of ideas and a cross-pollination of interests,” Ingram said. “Who knows what an architecture student might bring to a civic engagement project.”
The Tomtoberfest Elliewood Block Party will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday on The Corner. Seventeen bands will perform on stages on Elliewood at Para Coffee, Biltmore Grill and Pigeon Hole.
Many Corner merchants also will participate in a Tomtoberfest Cup & Passport, which grants discounts at Corner stores and at bars providing craft and seasonal brews. The branded Tomtoberfest cups will be sold for $5 with proceeds benefiting the Community Investment Collaborative.
The public may participate in the design challenge for “innovation plaza” at OpenGrounds from 2 to 4 p.m. HackCville’s open house and grill will be from 3 to 6 p.m. on Elliewood. WTJU and UVa Innovation will host a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. at OpenGrounds.