What does it mean to BeCville?

screen-shot-2015-10-07-at-6-49-24-pmComing up with a name is always a difficult thing to do. Like when having a new child or starting a new business, the decision weighs on you. It is not something to take lightly, but at the same time over think. A good name sets a foundation for the future. Names create meaning. Get it right, and you are on your way. Get it wrong, and you will leave people wondering.

On a cold winter day in early 2016, a group of us, myself and several amazing members of a team from Leadership Charlottesville, sat around a conference table agonizing over a name for a project in which we had immense faith. The previous weeks had seen several ideas passed back and forth via email. Several possibilities were exciting. We were looking for a name that was just right. One that held all the hopes and desires we had for making an impact in our community. It must be simple and resonant. The name had to roll off the tongue and be easy to explain. We came up with three words – Bridge, Build, Believe – that summarized our core ideas. Bridge what divides us. Build the future together. Believe in one another. Everything was right in front of us. Now to synthesize three words that started with “B” into something meaningful?

In the end it was simple. Why not just Be Charlottesville! Which became BeCville. But, being Charlottesville is not that simple. Like most cities, Charlottesville is a complicated place. We have been designated the happiest city in the country, and yet, a quarter of our population lives in poverty. In the 1960’s urban renewal devastated neighborhoods, schools were closed in response to the desegregation of the schools, and gentrification has made it difficult for many to call this city home. At the same time we have a world-renowned university, a landscape that induces awe, and a wealth of resources that holds no bounds. We must constantly contend with our past and the immense privilege that surrounds us every day.

The vision that was held in our original ideas was firmly focused on moving forward. While recognizing the importance of the past and present, our aim was to create a future. This future was not about being who we are, but deeply considering who we want to become. BeCville was going to be a process for working as a community to achieve Charlottesville’s inherent potential. While we knew that the project was not going to solve all our problems, what it could do is create a process for strengthening important connections, building trust, and empowering residents to work together in define this future.

Moving from past to present, the vision that started in early 2016 is now becoming reality. Since the beginning of September, BeCville has been asking residents living south of downtown Charlottesville about how they would improve their neighborhood. Not everyone wants to participate nor have we been able to meet everyone. However, we have been here to listening and have heard over 300 ideas. This spring, we are inviting artists and residents to respond to these ideas with project proposals. Later in the year residents will vote on the projects they want to become reality. $15000 will fund projects based on the ideas of local residents.

At the center of BeCville are several important ideas:

  • Everyone has a role – Each of us has a role in creating Charlottesville and we must take every opportunity to participate. This can be as simple as talking to your neighbor or sharing an idea for how to improve your street.
  • We are all neighbors – When one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person succeeds, we all succeed. We must find ways to support one another and create opportunities for everyone to be successful.
  • Residents are the experts – Paramount to all that we do is a belief that those living in a neighborhood are the experts about their needs and issues. They hold the answers to improving their community.
  • Everyone is creative – No matter how it is expressed, everyone is creative and should have the opportunity to use those talents to show their humanity.
  • Invest in communities – Instead of investing solely in the physical and economic structures that make up Charlottesville, we must invest in the social and cultural assets that exist in our neighborhoods to strengthen what is already there.

We are not sure what the future holds. BeCville is still very much a pilot project with many hopes for the future. What we do know is that there are similar projects taking place around the country with significant success. Cities all over the country are placing millions of dollars in the hands of residents and letting them decide how those dollars are spent. Our intention is to grow this project in Charlottesville over the next few years in order to better hear the needs of our community and place the resources in the hands of residents. What if Charlottesville allocated $1 million and placed the responsibility of spending it in residents’ hands? Not only would residents spend it wisely, they would have a greater understanding for how their city works and could better advocate for its improvement.

Let’s do this together. Let’s all BeCville.

Matthew Slaats – Feb 2017