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President's Page, Alumni News

Published in Alumni Magazine, Winter 2001

In its second century of existence, the automobile is an indispensable part of our lives. The largest part of the ground most of us cover in any given day, we cover inside a motor vehicle. It is an empowering machine that has very literally expanded human horizons. Occasionally, however, the automobile is a mixed blessing.

Over the years, the University has made an uneasy peace with the car. Thomas Jefferson intended his academical village to be a physically integrated community, accessible to all from homes on the Lawn, its original forty-three and three-quarter acres to be negotiated on foot. Today, our 3,462 acres are criss-crossed and divided by roads that are traveled by thousands of vehicles every day. The Virginia Department of Transportation's statistics on the volume of traffic on Emmet Street, the road that divides the University into two distinct and separate parts, tell the story: from JPA to Ivy Road, 18,000 vehicles per day stream past the University; from Ivy Road to Arlington Boulevard, 29,000 vehicles; and from Arlington Boulevard to Barracks Road, 24,000 vehicles. In the 2000-2002 academic year we issued 13,100 parking permits to students, faculty, and staff. We have built parking lots and parking garages to accommodate this traffic. But there is trouble in paradise.

All this motoring back and forth among the Central Grounds, the Health System complex, U-Hall, and the Law School and the Darden School on North Grounds turns out to undermine the very communal relationships that made the University distinctive in its early days. Contained and isolated in cars, people do not build the relationships that sustain the intellectual life of the academical village, and also strengthen the social ties necessary for community building beyond the University.

To recapture Mr. Jefferson's vision of the academic community and make it live in the University of the 21st Century, we are rethinking the values of traveling on foot, side-by-side with others whom we might never know except by walking the Grounds together. Making the Emmet Street corridor walkable is part of the strategy. Driving through this corridor today, one struggles to see its potential. From University Avenue to Barracks Road Shopping Center, each building seems unrelated to its neighbors. The University buildings and the private buildings along this street perform useful functions, but no one has reason to walk from one to another.

We maintain a University Master Plan as a means of addressing issues of this kind over the long term, and we think about development in the Emmet Street corridor in terms of the next 20 or 30 years. This plan proposes a system of pedestrian paths and bridges to connect the central Grounds, Carr's Hill, the Emmet Street administrative buildings, the new arena and University Hall, the North Grounds, and the Barracks Road Shopping Center, which most students now use as students of my own era used the Corner.

Along these new byways, a distinctive University neighborhood is likely to develop during the next generation. The Arts Grounds on the north side of Carr's Hill behind the house will place art music, drama and library facilities within walking distant of Emmet Street. The new arena near Emmet Street on the north side of Massey Road will release University Hall for other uses, including intramural team sports and individual recreation. With Klockner Stadium and the new arena, this neighborhood will become more intensively focused on recreation.

Although the Emmet Street corridor at present includes two University residential projects–Lambeth Apartments and University Gardens, relatively few University students live there. This is likely to change. The Master Plan identifies housing sites along both sides of Emmet Street, and the Law School has for many years wanted to develop housing for students and faculty in the buildings directly across from the school's entrance. These and other expansions of housing, mostly for students, will give a zone now committed primarily to work, recreation, and shopping the human character that Mr. Jefferson wanted to exist within the University.

The University continues to grow — indeed, state planners are now talking about still more of the growth that began anew in 1990. Part of our thinking has to address how to make a larger village livable, but a village made ever more diverse by the kinds of learning that take place in it. More alumni have been returning to the University in middle age and in later stages of life. Many are back in the classroom. Life-long learning has become the norm in professional, business, and civic arenas. This trend will continue and probably accelerate. Year-long learning is a natural partner of life-long learning, and not only for the young. If we do a good job with the several University projects–arts, housing, and sports–along and near the Emmet Street corridor, the University facilities there, as well as the private commercial activities, will complement one another. And they will work well in summer, as well as in fall and spring.

These several University projects, along with private sector projects that complement University plans, have great potential for advancing other University and social goals. Being within convenient or manageable walks of each other, new and long established areas of the expanded University will become a coherent whole. And instead of dividing the University, the new Emmet Street corridor, full of walkers and women and men on bicycles and even automobiles (in their proper places), can become the means of unifying it.

Walking will never again be as it once was the means by which all aspects of daily life are served. But having walking as a central value in our thinking about the University's future as a development goal makes for a better plan for the University, a more hospitable year-round setting for alumni, and more congenial interactions with the Charlottesville-Albemarle community.

John T. Casteen