RECOVERING GROUND is a vision for a regenerative urban framework that seeks to express the identity of the Charlottesville community over the next 100 years. The site includes a neighborhood previously known as Vinegar Hill, historically the center of African American life and commerce. In 1964, under urban renewal initiatives, this thriving community was razed to the ground, leaving 20 acres of land in the center of the city empty for the next twenty years. Today, uninspiring corporate businesses and parking lots cover up the foundations of Vinegar Hill, while the remnants of this community have been scattered across different neighborhoods of Charlottesville. RECOVERING GROUND seeks to reconnect these neighborhoods with the Jefferson School City Center, Downtown and surrounding City Parks.
Preston Avenue currently stands as a major thoroughfare dividing downtown neighborhoods, but could exist as a link, connecting green spaces, schools, and communities which reveal a rich cultural landscape of Charlottesville’s racial identity. Preston Avenue links Washington Park (historically a park for African Americans) and McIntire Park (historically a park for white citizens). The streetscape along Preston Avenue becomes a pedestrian and bicycle friendly network with public spaces for recreation, gathering spaces, sculpture, and stormwater infrastructure in a series of linear garden rooms. Also proposed are smaller scaled mixed-use buildings with opportunities for minority businesses, educational and job training programs, mixed-income housing, and designated work spaces with the intention to ameliorate cultural divisions in the social and economic heart of Charlottesville.
The Jefferson School City Center, currently a valuable community resource, becomes directly connected to the entrance of the Downtown Mall. The Omni Hotel is re-located along Preston Avenue, allowing the entrance to the mall to become accessible to the community to the west, where a pedestrian walkway from the Jefferson School bridges Ridge-McIntire Road, leading to a new Vinegar Hill Park at the entrance of the Mall. In the park, paving, planting, exhibition panels, and stone seatwalls trace the footprints and party walls of the lost structures demolished during urban renewal, giving the community an opportunity to experience the scale of the cultural and built fabric of Vinegar Hill, while also experiencing the heart of the Park as a plaza for small and large gatherings, ceremonies, celebrations, festivals and civic dialogue taking place for the next one hundred years.
Nestled within the southern-most edge of the Park are smaller contemplative garden rooms articulated by footprints of former Vinegar Hill buildings, with exhibits that recall the human stories, spaces and memories that were lost during the period of Urban Renewal. A Willow Oak grove will surround the entirety of the Plaza to provide a “clearing in the woods” and to extend Lawrence Halprin’s canopy selection through the western end of the Mall and along the pedestrian walk to the Jefferson School. The Oaks may also serve as a tree nursery (and successional plan) for the existing Willow Oaks on the Mall as they reach the latter part of their lives.