Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Conversation with Amanda Poncy

Three roads, each quite different, run parallel through the neighborhood. Belmont Avenue is a quiet residential street. Monticello Avenue (pictured) carries State Route 20 into town. Monticello Road is a hybrid, historic, pathway that predates colonization and is narrow, a little windy and a strangely compelling route for people pedestrian, bikes and autos.

I sat down with Amanda Poncy, Charlottesville's Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator for a conversation about Monticello Road and what makes a successful neighborhood street.

Peter Krebs: I saw you measuring Monticello Road the other day, what were your impressions?

Amanda Poncy: We were looking at some of the curb ramp locations because it is one of the tighter, less accessible routes. Virginia Industries for the Blind is right there so it’s one of the more important places to make accessible. And of course it’s right next to the school as well so we’re trying to provide that accessibility for a range of users of the street.

There are a lot of places that are really tight and the crossings are very tough, especially near the school and Tufton where there’s that blind curve. That’s a challenge and the sidewalks are very narrow, even more so with the utility poles. There’s a sidewalk on the one side but in many areas you have to cross over to get to the sidewalk and it’s definitely a challenge.

Peter: What would you describe as a successful neighborhood street?

Amanda: I feel like Belmont Avenue is a really nice neighborhood street. I was walking down it this morning with my son and it’s nice. You’ve got the parked cars and there’s a nice tree buffer separating the sidewalk. Front porches are on the street so if people are out you’re able to interact and say “hi.” I think all of those things make it a great street—one of the few really great neighborhood streets in Charlottesville.

How do you transpose that onto a road like Monticello Road that’s really constrained? You walk down it and even the sidewalks have a lot of constraints within them. It feels tight and it feels like the cars are traveling faster because the sidewalk is right on the road. The parking is sort of intermittent because some places have off-street parking so the cars parked on the road aren’t as frequent so it just feels like the cars are right on you, whereas on Belmont Avenue they don’t feel that way.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

DC deserves personhood status.

Detail, Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree for Washington DC" at the Hirshorm Museum and Sculpture Garden. Definitely feeling some love on this trip....

I just got back from a Fourth-of-July getaway weekend to Washington, DC—the place where I grew up and came of age. Meredith and I lived there during an unforgettable period—Marion Barry’s bitch-set-me-up heyday—and a pivotal time in our own small lives. Our first independent households, careers born, graduate school, married and identity frameworks forged. It will always be a special place and I love going back there but I was especially jazzed to notice something profound on this past trip: a new maturity, though I cannot say whose.

The DMV has arrived as a major metropolis, in ways that go beyond its enormous size. The Metro is still pretty clean but now it has buskers, rats, people selling crap—and a feeling of shared endeavor. There’s a lot going on around town, quite different from the easily exhausted scene in the eighties and nineties. It’s grown nicely and added many cool things—like the terrific Capital Bike Share, on which New York’s CitiBike is modeled. The infrastructure has improved and it’s even more pleasant to walk, run and ride about then it was before.

Even though much has been added through in-fill (enterprises ranging from garden shops to a baseball team), many of the institutions from back in the day are still there as well: stores, restaurants, bars, secret gardens, shortcuts through the woods, places to hear a guy play sax by the river.

By contrast, nearly all of my friends have moved on, which surprisingly does not bother me—it’s just the flow of life. It’s almost the opposite of New York where most people are still there, clinging to whatever branch or root they can find, while the landscape around them is blasted away by a flood of real estate money.

Meantime, DC has continued to grow and flourish, playing with new ideas and points of view. Being back this time felt like visiting a friend that has retained its main personality traits and is still very familiar and welcoming but has developed in the meantime, with new thoughts to share. The city had acquired personhood—or maybe I just noticed it.

I grew up a huge devotee of Italo Calvino, Armistead Maupin, Lawrence Durrell and writers who talk about cities as living, organic entities. But that didn’t really feel the case for my hometown. It was as if the abundant green space dispersed the energy too much for it to coalesce and ignite fusion, making it a pleasant place but not a real city.

The spark is definitely there now, but if Calvino taught me anything it’s the impossibility of knowing whether it’s the place that has changed or if the maturation I’ve noticed is my own.


I ran the concept by my friend long-time James, traveler, poet/philosopher Lawrence Durrell character. He just recently gave up his DC address but was back in town to work the Folklife Festival and couch surfing--much as I do for the Marathon. We watched the fireworks together on a rooftop with a partially obscured view, then went back to his friend's apartment and drank Virginia viognie and talked about the world. A typical evening. Anyway, when I texted my thesis to him, he responded:
I think DC is stuck in an adolescent purgatory and will never attain personhood. This is because it is a 4-year town. If we move the capital to St Louis,  DC will become Fred Sanford.
Well then.