Monday, August 31, 2009

Children and Nature on the Wake-up Call


My good friend Jim Duncan got me on the Wake-up Call talking about Children and Nature. Give it a listen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Photos of Belvedere

Spent some time in the nice early morning light trying to catch images that show off the neighborhood. The link below is to a Flickr photo set I made.
Photos of Belvedere August 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

One Year

Sitting down to write this blog entry has been hard. I dragged my feet to this spot. I have been thinking about it for at least a month. I kept telling myself, it will be easy. But it hasn't been. I could easily cite a lot of excuses but I think it has to do with competing ideas. Belvedere has been, is and will be great for us, but there have been some losses, too. Here is my one year report.

I went in a few of the new houses the other day. The smells, the dust, the mostly finished state reminds me so much of when we were moving in a year ago. I remember the excitement of building the new house and see much of the same in the new families moving in. Ahh, nostalgia. How I wish sometimes I could go back to those heady days when Belvedere was just beginning. There were only a few houses up and it was a fresh idea and an innovative project. I was all over it (still am), seeing how nature, people, and development could come together in a new way. As promised, I made my permaculture garden. I also run small nature programs for my kids and their friends here and hope to run more if I ever get some infrastructure.

When Bret and I signed on to live in Belvedere, we went over worst case scenarios, so we were not fazed by the builder going out of business, the freeze in building in general, the struggles of the economy. We both knew and know that Belvedere will succeed. When you crest the hill next to the Fairview swim club and see all the pretty houses and the beauty of the land, it is so wonderful. The mornings are great, the breeze in the day makes you feel like you are at the beach, the natural world is right there at my fingertips, and the evening sky makes my walks after dinner a joy and a treat. I love everything about Belvedere, still. The front porches, the "cool space" as I remember the team telling me during our first interviews at Stonehaus, are really wonderful hallmarks of the community that is starting to grow here. We are friendly. We are given to nightly walks together with the dogs and children, playing in the alley, and spontaneous porch and sidewalk parties. I have pinch myself as I walk to the pool to swim, ride my bike or run along Belvedere's trails.

We have more than survived the nuclear winter of new building. We were the first family in August 2008. Now we have 12 families, and some new houses started, and more prospects on the horizon. There are a few families building that I have not met yet, so the numbers may even be higher. Despite efforts from the Hook and The Daily Progress to somehow paint Belvedere as a failing project, the project has not tanked. In fact, it is one of the few new projects in Albemarle county that is doing well.

So, what are the losses, you might ask? Here are my disappointments:

  • It was hard for me when members of the design team left the project. I notice I still struggle with that. Watching Stonehaus dwindle to almost nothing in staff was surprising.
  • The village green. The design really doesn't work. The amphitheatre makes it standoff-ish. We need play structures, too, either there or somewhere. Bret and I offered to buy a small one for the community but we haven't had much support from Stonehaus. I am guessing they are just too busy to help implement something, so it is really up to us to make that happen. We are working on it.
  • The landscaping. I know it is expensive, but one of the things that really sold me on Belvedere was this idea of all the native trees being planted. The development team just can't do that now with no money, so that is a big disappointment for me. I am guessing that at some point there will be more money for the trees, but right now, there is not. The infrastructure may or may not be there for the future.
  • The Civic Core. I don't know when that is going to be built but it would be nice to have the Town Hall for community events. One of the articles trying to paint Belvedere as a failed project did touch upon a sore point for me: we were promised a lot and now we don't know when all those promises are going to be fulfilled. Yet, we are consistently told they will be. That means Civic Core and Town Center. It is totally understandable that some of these things are not built, but I wonder, will Belvedere be finished after my children are grown?
  • The dumping and the trespassing. People come back here, dump their trash, neck, and get rowdy. We catch them periodically and suggest they might not want to do that. I guess this place was a habitual marginal land where these activities happened regularly.
That's my short brutal list of disappointments. Otherwise, I think that the future holds bright for Belvedere! We have plans to continue to grow and develop. Everyone seems satisfied. I have no doubt this project will adapt and go on to succeed. We are also clear that it will take the residents' energy to make Belvedere special, and there are some very special people here, people committed to the vision of the place. Here are some of the best parts of Belvedere:

  • If you live here, you gotta like people (and maybe dogs, too). We are here because we want to be in relationship. If you have read my blog for this last year, you will read how being in community increases your health. It is real.
  • Belvedere's design is supported by neuroscience. Perhaps known or not known by the designers, the New Urbanist design that includes green, sidewalks, and alley's are shown to be what humans need for optimal growth and health.
  • The houses are AWESOME. Now, I am not really a house person. I am an outdoor person. But living in this house has spoiled me. I go in a lot of houses with my job. I am a sensitive creature to my surround. I can go in houses now and feel the quality of craftsmanship. This house that Church Hill built for us is magnificent. The first night in it, I cried and said, "This house is too fancy for me!" I have gotten used to it, a liiitttllle bit. It still blows me away.
  • The trails. I am out there on the trails all the time. I LOVE them. Thank you Rivanna Trail people!
  • Another big and wonderful thing has been the passion, commitment and presence of Bob Hauser. I know that many people have opinions about Hauser Homes, and I was subject to many of those opinions and the realities associated with them. I will say that he has very much impressed me and I believe that this project will be different than things he has done in the past.
I know my neighbors have some disappointments, too, like the television and the telephone service (having the company for North Carolina manage all that probably was not the wisest choice), and the traffic from Dunlora whipping around our neighborhood, but overall, my expectations have been met and even exceeded.