Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Rickshaw

There is now a pedicab business in Charlottesville. UVa grads and pro cyclists Ian Ayers and Christoph Herby have had Happy Rickshaw up and pedaling for over a month. They had a great open house on Wednesday at their Ix Building location, to show off their various cabs (room for up to 3 people) and introduce their very fit drivers. So far they run on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, mostly working the downtown - UVa corridor and local events. Mike Gaffney told me that he and friends took a rickshaw from Eric Clapton and thought it was fabulous. Currently you need to get lucky and flag one down, but soon they will have their phone dispatch up and running.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

CHS Orchestra

The Charlottesville High School Orchestra is going to London! At the end of March they have been invited to participate in the Heritage Festival of Music competition at the Royal Academy of Music. The CHS orchestra is outstanding - best in the state, I have heard - and routinely comes home with top honors after competitions. They had a very successful trip to Vienna in 1998, and now orchestra director Laura Thomas has another ambitious trip planned.

As you can imagine, taking an 125 member orchestra to Europe is expensive, and yesterday they had a big event on the mall to kick off the fundraising. The challenge is made greater by the success the orchestra has had in attracting members from all parts of the student body. All students at Clark and Jackson-Via elementaries - schools with higher numbers of low-income students - now learn violin, with many staying with it into middle and high school. And former orchestra member Boyd Tinsley sponsors a program to provide private lessons to those who otherwise could not afford them.

If you would like to learn more about the trip, here is a link.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Virginia Film Festival

One of my favorite events, the Virginia Film Festival, starts on Thursday.

Since it started in the mid-80's Jean and I have been fans of the festival. What do I like about it? Well, you get to see films that you (or at least I) would never have even considered seeing. Small, independent films. Often with the director or producer there, or with a thoughtful panel. And every year someone interesting is featured, such as Robert Duvall and Morgan Freeman this year. (Tender Mercies, which is showing on Friday, is one of my alltime favorites).

So what is on my list this year? Well, we are going for the glitz, with tickets for Duvall's "The Apostle" and Freeman's "10 Items or Less" on Friday. We will also see City resident (and Academy Award winner) Paul Wagner's new film "God of A Second Chance" on Saturday, and the screening of the Adrenaline Project films on Sunday. And I hope to fit in "A Flock of Dodo's", a film about intelligent design vs evolution in Kansas...


Now it is official. Besancon, France has joined Pleven, Bulgaria and Poggio a Caiano, Italy as a sister city to Charlottesville.

Thanks to Louisa Dixon and former councilor Blake Caravati, Charlottesville has had ongoing exchanges with Besancon for a number of years. Numerous school groups have been exchanged, as well as gospel choirs. In 2004 Besancon sent an exhibition from their outstanding museum to the University of Virginia Art Museum, and it looks like our museum will soon send an exhibit to France.

Sister city relationships offer a great opportunity for citizens, and offer tourism and business possibilities. For our sister city relationships to flourish, there needs to be an advocate - thanks Louisa and Blake.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

From Poverty, Opportunity

From Poverty, Opportunity: Putting the Market to Work for Lower Income Families by the Brookings Institution is a fascinating new publication about the high cost of being poor, and strategies for communities to help with this. Banking is almost prohibitively expensive for the poor - monthly charges are high if you do not have much in the bank, and charges for overdrafts are, well, ridiculous. Consequently the poor pay high prices just to cash checks ($400 - $800 a year for a family making $30K a year, depending on where they live). Grocery stores in low income areas tend to be small and expensive. Auto loan prices are higher for lower income borrowers - hundreds of dollars per year more. Same for home mortgages. Same for auto insurance. Rent-to-own businesses flourish in low income neighborhoods - a new $400 washing machine can cost $1000 if bought rent-to-own.

Strategies to help level the playing field include promoting market opportunities in lower income neighborhoods, curbing unscrupulous business practices in the lower income marketplace (by the way, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Association of Realtors is having a course on "Avoiding Predatory Lending" on November 14), and assisting lower income consumers to become educated and savvy.

The Metro Section of the Brookings Institution regularly provides useful and thoughtful publications for local governments; this is one of their best.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Walk Bike & Run Update

When I started this blog I announced a goal to walk, bike or run on every street in Charlottesville while a member of council (actually I'’ve included the walking I did campaigning). Some observations...…

1. The smaller streets are often hillier than the main streets, which are generally on the ridges. And there are a lot of long dead-end steep streets, almost always entered going downhill.

2. It is very hard to methodically run the streets. My map has lots of small sections of streets missed, so at some point I will spend a long afternoon or two or three on my bike getting these done.

3. There are a number of county streets that are only accessible from a city street. Brenda Court and Virmira off Brandywine and parts of Willoughby, for example. Not exactly convenient for county schoolbuses.

4. This goal needs to include the Rivanna Trail. A couple of weeks ago I did the trail from Quarry Park to Woolen Mills. Very interesting, but the trail is on the far side of Moore's Creek and there is no crossing except at the beginning - which means backtracking (or taking off your shoes and fording Moore's Creek, or illegally crossing the rickety train trestle).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Woolen Mills

Amid all the issues about trucks and traffic in the Woolen Mills neighborhood is an exhibit at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. An opening reception was held last night, and the show runs until early January. A great opportunity to learn about the one of the earliest textile mill villages in the south, and the families that worked the mills.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Charlottesville Peak Oil

The last 3 city council meetings (and, I think, recent County Board of Supervisors meetings) have had a stream of speakers during public comment from Charlottesville Peak Oil. This very earnest group – like similar groups around the country - is urging the City to prepare for what they forsee as a rapidly approaching time of oil shortages. The argument, as I understand it, is that oil production worldwide either has, or soon will, peak, and that the remaining oil is going to be much harder to extract. Prices of oil will spike, they predict, with overwhelming impacts on transportation, food production and distribution, and of course the economy. And they urge us to prepare.

I don’t know how accurate their crystal ball is, but I think that our efforts for the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement should address at least some of their issues – increasing alternative transportation, and decreasing community energy use. Another big concern for them – creating more local food production – is one I strongly support, but am not sure of the city role.