Sunday, April 3, 2011

Civic Action

We live next to a large abandoned building known as Comyn Hall. As I understand it, it was most recently a nursing home populated largely by women. It is also a stop on the haunted Charlottesville tour as the site of one of the town’s most grisly and murders. In 1904 the former mayor supposedly killed his wife in the bathtub and hung for the crime. I learned this story from Rebecca and Jonathan when they were five. They draw the story out with lots of blood and guts; even my oldest son who found the Frog Princess too scary to sit through. Eli called it the ghostly house for a long time.

The site now stands as a kind of neighborhood playground for softball, running, snow man building, elaborate battles, fantasy pioneer games etc… We knew when we bought the house that this would eventually end; at that point it was slated to be turned into a condo building with an underground garage. It went back on the market for an obscene amount of money—and it looked like it could easily need a million dollars to fix it up. The place is a disaster and Eli is not the only one who thinks it’s haunted. For a while we even had some squatters living on the porch. My fantasy involved someone turning it into a women’s only spa/bar. I envisioned yoga classes followed by a nice martini. Neither husbands nor children would be allowed in the vicinity. Everyone I told this to thought it was a great idea but I don’t know anyone with three million bucks to pull it off.

Needless to say there’s no spa coming and when the apartments and the parking lot go up about three inches from our driveway our yard will not seem so grand. There are many people in the neighborhood who have worked hard to prevent this from happening and who know a lot more about it than I do so I’ll refrain from talking about the process or the details. The kids have meanwhile decided that this whole thing is unacceptable and have decided to take action. Their first plan was a war and they started gathering sticks. As a rule I think a bunch of scrawny kids declaring war on large men with power tools is a bad plan for a number of reasons. So they have now resorted to a kind of war of roses and are carefully making signs. “we don’t want your building.” “stay off our land” (it’s actually not our land but such details seem irrelevant. They put them all over the property. The latest weapon is sidewalk chalk and they are saying things like “playzone” “we want playspace” “save H20 don’t make CO2”

This is one of many moments when I’m not quite sure what to tell them. We have always taken our children to political events; they have held up signs in the cold for Obama, being to the big IMPACT meeting in Charlottesville, gone to a living wage protest etc… My mom took us to various protests as kids and I knew I was pro choice, anti apartheid, for nuclear disarmament etc…. So I thought it was important to do that with my kids. The good news is that in the words of my sister’s dissertation they know about civic action and are ready to do it. And they genuinely think that their sidewalk chalk is going to stop a developer. Their reasoning is sound; it’s bad for the environment, bad for kids, bad for the neighborhood. I think they may have even used the words affordable housing. The current action team includes children of an architect, an environmental scientist and a political theorist so they have good rhetoric. But this is a done deal. I don’t have the heart to tell them that their well-organized efforts will have absolutely no effect. And I worry that too many lost causes will stifle their political enthusiasm. When Tom Periello lost the election they were truly stunned.

1 comment:

  1. you should blow their minds and teach them that compact infill development is actually one of the best things for the environment.