Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Community Feeling, from a commenter

From a supportive commenter! This is too good not to share!

I live in the city, but the time is maybe, possibly near for a move to a more residential location. When I think about moving, I worry about finding the amazing neighbors I have here and I have to admit that reading your blog has me thinking the community feeling I have in my little neighborhood can be found elsewhere.

I've been following your story from the start and will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing so much of your experience at Belvedere.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Belvedere Tracking Club

I am looking for a group of people interested in learning animal track and sign and applying their skills to Belvedere and Dunlora. Our areas of interest include the forest, Rivanna Trail, the flood plain and the riverside. I would love a committed group of 5 people ideally between the ages of 9 and 99. The work is very detail oriented and we hike although the physical activity is not rigorous with regard to difficulty or distance. You may have to spend time on the ground however, so knees are important.

I am currently interested in the red fox activity on our land here. Please email me of you are interested,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Big Snow

Belvedere (and all Charlottesville) got hit with a huge snowstorm just the weekend before Christmas. We were out last night cheering on the show and having a block-long snowball battle. This morning we all shoveled, and decided it was actually too deep for sledding. So it's inside to bake cookies and watch a few movies, then hopefully later we can try to build a huge snow fort.

Snow is nice when you feel like you're the only living human for miles, but it's also hugely fun with neighbors!

Here are some more photos on Flickr:

Making The Jewel Called Belvedere

I am sitting at my desk remembering the feelings of the early days of Belvedere. The design phase was extremely exciting and I became very committed to the project, every corner, every brick, every facet. Then came the execution phase, or rather the "doing," and the recession hit the new building sector as hard as it had been hit since the Great Depression. As we turned into that part of the story, I began to called the developer Jumping Mouse.

Do you all know that story? A small mouse hears a noise. It is the sound of the river that he has never seen and gathers courage to go and see it. While he is there he meets a magical frog who encourages him to have a vision and follow it. Against all pressures to stay the same and in the same place, the small mouse, now renamed Jumping Mouse, follows his vision. As he jumped, he saw the mountains in the distance and vowed to go there. But first he must cross the plain where he is vulnerable to predators. Along the way, he meets creatures that protect him only after he has made a sacrifice. In the end, he reaps the benefits of his sacrifice and gains new heights of experience and life goals.

I love this story and joked with Frank Stoner that Stonehaus was a Jumping Mouse. The developer and the builders had a vision, one that is different from the surrounding developments. Pelted by reporters, critics, naysayers, and holier-than-thous, Belvedere got started and then work stopped as the elegant builder Church Hill was folded into Eagle, and the banks halted work by Hauser Homes. Jumping Mouse, I said, you are in the plains, vulnerable to predators. Surely, there is a lot I don't know about the allies the developer found along the way. I am aware of the sacrifices as I watched Stonehaus let go employees and whittle itself down to a skeleton crew. I know that Church Hill and Hauser subcontractors also suffered. I listened to Bob Hauser passionately talk about his life as a builder at a meeting of Belvedere residents. I got tired of listening to and reading the critics of everything Belvedere, and am still hoping that one reporter will have the courage to write about the project for its innovation and its commitment to sustainability and community.

Yes, I am still here. Yes, I still think the project is going to pan out. Yes, I still believe in it. I think the project changed and is changing, adapting to the sacrifices that had to happen for the development to survive.

I have a new metaphor for you Frank Stoner and Bob Hauser, and everyone who is still here, still working, still believing, and emodying the vision. I have heard people say that Belvedere is a jewel among development projects. Yes, I agree. It is a beauty. I love the small city homes, elegant and small. They are like the old homes of the cities I travel in when I work. I see the same patterns. I love the bigger homes as well and look forward to really seeing the empty spaces fill in. Belvedere is truly not like any neighborhood I have been in anywhere. It is a beauty, at least to my eyes. It doesn't have lots of big yards that Americans are used to. But it does have sweet homes, community, green space, nature, and other amenities that really make it a home. A home is more than a house. A home is an experience.

Real jewels are a long time in the making, especially diamonds. It takes a lot of pressure to make a precious stone. And different ingredients. In the jewel metaphor, I would say that this phase of Belvedere is the pressure phase. The making of a diamond involved melting, chemistry and pressure. I think all that is here for Belvedere. The chemistry is the combination of the design and those of us that inhabit it. Committed Belvedereans put up their own playground while waiting for the design and building of the new playground. We are working on being a community with and for each other. Stonehaus and the various builders are working on new home designs that are affordable and beautiful. The original design still stands.

So, Stonehaus, keep going. I can see the outline of the jewel as it is being formed. Soon, there will be the mining phase, and critics, I know what you are going to say, and this is what I say to you: Any business owner is in business to make a living. That is, in part, what is happening here for those who are designing, building and selling. But Belvedere is more than houses, more than builders. It is a gutsy design with human development in mind, and includes a more-than-human world. I will hold Stonehaus to that if I can. I urge critics to think Big Picture. I would love to see what your creative minds can see and comment on, if you move beyond the tendancy to take apart and complain.

I pledge to write more and record more about Belvedere in 2010. AND, I need to get back to tracking!

Stay tuned!