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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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cities + Nature

There's abundant nature where people live their daily lives but do they experience it? I took this shot during a vacant-lot safari with Sebastian at the corner of Monticello and Carlton Road, a block from our home.
As part of my professional development, I’m taking a class called Cities + Nature at the University of Virginia. It examines the importance of interaction with Nature and ways for planners to make it part of the everyday experience. This post is part of a series on the subject.

My professor invokes the notion of a Nature Pyramid to describe a practical diet of exposure to the Natural World. At the top, one finds rare but intense lifetime experiences such as a safari or a raft ride down the Grand Canyon; in the middle trips to state parks; further down daily or weekly rituals like gardening; and all the way at the bottom views through windows or even looking at art. When I worked in a downtown financial firm, the productive people all had flyers for cruises or postcards pinned to their cubicle walls so they could rest their eyes several times an hour. A pet or a houseplant serves a similar function.

From an urban planning perspective, it makes sense to focus on the bottom half of the ladder, seeking ways to improve the quantity and quality of experience in towns and neighborhoods where people spend most of their time. Do we hear birds or see butterflies? Smell flowers or leaf rot or a skunk’s nocturnal passage? Do possums cross our yard or robins nest in our porch? Can we see the sun rise or set or clouds pass overhead? Feel fresh breezes or crunch on a frosty path?

These are not man-on-cliff confrontations with the Sublime but through a lifetime they add up to a connection with something much larger than ourselves, a centering force that makes us better and healthier.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The People of Monticello Road: Aimee Hunt

Aimee Hunt has lived on Monticello Road since 2007. An artist and educator, she works at the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia while also studying art education at Virginia Commonwealth. She enjoys, and is part of, the neighborhood’s creative community.

Aimee has made an intriguing contribution to the physical environment through an unconventional home renovation with results that somehow manage to be both subtle and audacious. I spoke with her about it over tea as her two children assembled her daughter’s 12th birthday cake.

I first learned about Aimee’s project when I was visiting her then-neighbors Dan and Serena a few years ago and noticed that her small cinder block home had a tarp where the roof should be. Because of the lot’s wedge shape, it did not make sense for Aimee to build back into it, so she built upward. That decision was in some ways made for her when she discovered structural issues that would have doomed the existing hat.