We hope that our project sheds light on the complex, interweaving histories of UVA’s and the UVA Foundation’s land development and expansion in the last forty years and the effects these activities have had on surrounding communities. More than that, however, we hope that these stories influence future decision-making of the University, helping to hold it accountable to its lofty goals. To this end, we have also sought to highlight the excellent work that has been done or is currently underway regarding the history of (in)equity at UVA and in the greater Charlottesville area. Many of these projects can be found in our Other Digital Projects page.
As described in Foundations, in response to both spatial constraints and federal and state cuts to higher education in the 1980s, the University of Virginia created a legally separate 501(c)3, non-profit corporation to manage and grow its real estate investments. The creation of the UVA Foundation (UVAF) expanded the University’s presence throughout Charlottesville and Albemarle County and provided it with an important alternative revenue stream. UVA’s presidents have explained the University’s expansion between 1980 and 2020 in terms of investment in the community and preservation of the University’s academic and social values and functions.
However, community responses to real estate acquisitions by UVA and the UVAF throughout the decades suggest that local communities have not always welcomed or benefited from these investments. Investment’s four case studies illustrate how the University’s and the UVAF’s acquisitions have sometimes conflicted with their stated goals: for example, the practice of overpaying for properties and land-banking has displaced communities and distorted the housing market, negatively affecting the community at large. Finally, as described in Legacy, UVA’s desire to link its growth and its ‘Jeffersonian’ heritage has had subtler, though no less significant, ripple effects—from concealing historical narratives of dispossession and racial discrimination, to an insufficiently critical approach to Jefferson’s architectural legacy at the University.
Based on the findings of our project, we want to recommend the following:
- We suggest that UVA consider the actions and policies of the UVA Foundation and its subsidiaries when evaluating the impact of the University on local communities. Though legally distinct, UVA and the UVAF have a tangled, mutually beneficial relationship, leading many Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents to perceive them as the same entity. Therefore, the activities of the UVAF, its subsidiaries, and its tenants should be transparent and not contradict nor undermine the University’s stated values. We celebrate UVA’s recent announcement that it will build 1,000 affordable housing units on UVA and UVAF land, and we encourage UVA to continue seeing the UVAF and its subsidiaries as instrumental in how the University can be a “good neighbor” moving forward.
- We recommend that UVA and the UVA Foundation put structures in place to more thoroughly vet its growth and expansion. For example, prior to purchasing real estate, UVA and the UVAF should conduct thorough community impact studies and make these reports accessible to the public. Moreover, in this moment of financial uncertainty, we call on these institutions not to see the possible economic downturn as an opportunity to take advantage of low real estate prices, but to think creatively and long-term about unimagined alternative revenue streams that could more directly benefit surrounding communities.
- We commend the University for its recent efforts to grapple with its history and impact on the region, which have resulted in multiple Presidential Commissions and material changes in operations, and for its recent emphasis on equitable community-engaged scholarship and support of community-initiated projects, such as Mapping Cville. We hope that this approach to interrogating the history of UVA and its relationship with its neighbors will grow and continue. We would like to see these initiatives extended to the recent past in the vein of non-institutionally driven projects, such as Black Fire, Charlottesville 2017, and Housing the University. Studying the University’s recent past not only helps UVA students and staff better understand the place where they live and work—it also helps UVA, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County decision-makers better appreciate the work left to do for the University to become truly both “Great and Good.”
- We encourage the University to take seriously the recommendations by current students to recontextualize and/or rename certain buildings and spaces within the UVA landscape, especially those associated with white supremacists and eugenicists who no longer represent the values espoused by the University. The current names—the people, their ideas, their actions—are physically elevated and, therefore, celebrated in the landscape. We applaud recent and ongoing efforts of faculty and the administration to work with students to evaluate the representation of UVA’s history within its existing and growing landscape, many of which are acknowledged in Legacy. Renaming and recontextualizing areas on Grounds is a valuable opportunity for UVA to continue increasing the visibility of historically marginalized groups that are important to the University's history. We believe these efforts are necessary in order to better represent the diversity and stated values of the University today.
Avenues for Future Research
Like many research projects, Land and Legacy has created more questions than it has answered. Here we identify additional research questions regarding land, legacy, and equity in Charlottesville and Albemarle County that arose during our project, but for which we did not have the time, data, or expertise to address. The scope of our project, as usually happens, also grew beyond our expectations: starting out with a fairly self-contained set of queries about land development, we ended up with a sprawling narrative that includes legal, financial, historical, and aesthetic questions. We hope others will take up and explore these areas:
- In what types of buildings and infrastructure has UVA invested in the last forty years? What is the function of these buildings? What percentage of square footage constructed is in support of UVA’s primary programs? What percentage is community-oriented? Some of the data to answer these questions is already available, but more work would need to be done to make that data more comprehensive. Based on the available data, we focused on the total square footage added to the University and the cost of construction, choosing to highlight particular case studies to help illustrate broader, thematic conclusions.
- How have peoples’ experiences of the landscape changed as a result of UVA’s expansion (e.g., population density, building density, traffic)? And, how has peoples’ access to essential goods and services changed as a result of UVA expansion? The answers to these questions will require at least two different types of data: testimony of personal experiences obtained by interviewing residents and spatial data analyzed in GIS of, for example, the number and location of grocery stores in the Charlottesville region over time.
- Building on findings in Case Study #4 of Investment, what are the profiles of the various businesses with whom the UVAF has chosen to associate by having them as tenants at their Research Parks? How does this reflect on the University? And with whom should the University do business?
- Given the complicated relationship between UVA and the UVAF, and in light of the massive hospital construction projects in the 1980s and 1990s, what are the legal, financial, or other practical relationships between UVA, the UVAF, and the UVA Medical Center? Their relationships should be scrutinized to encourage transparency and uniformity of their stated values and goals, especially given the recent revelations about the hospital suing patients over their medical debts, actions UVA doctors have decried.
- What is the history of the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC)? Has it functioned as originally intended? Do UVA, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County representatives perceive “coordination” differently? Does the proposal to replace the PACC with a Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee (LUEPC) that is not subject to open meeting laws need to be revisited given this history?
- How does UVA’s tax-exempt status affect Charlottesville and Albemarle County? Recent scholars, such as Guian McKee, have begun answering this question. We encourage digital humanists to consider how digital tools could help people visualize the impact of UVA's tax-exempt status and its payments in lieu of taxes. It might be worth comparing, for example, Charlottesville city and Albemarle County budgets over time to see if cuts have been made, to what, and why, and how much money could have been contributed by the University should it have paid taxes, instead of payments in lieu of taxes.