Although Charlottesville Virginia has many assets, it also has one of the lowest social mobility rates in the country and a history of racial disparities.

Friendship Court is the only privately held, large affordable housing development in the city, includes 150 apartments on 11.75 acres in the heart of Charlottesville’s downtown and in the middle of the City’s Strategic Investment Area. Because Friendship Court was one of several housing complexes built as a part of local urban renewal, and its location has become increasingly desirable for speculative development, there is a well-founded fear of displacement among residents. The site also functions as a de facto storm water basin for the entire downtown and hosts one of the most vibrant community gardens in the City.

With so much at stake this ERI sponsored research team worked to empower lower income residents of Charlottesville to use science to argue for resilient land use and transportation. The goal, build new platforms for community-engaged research and ecological stewardship. This multi-year community engagement process in tandem with the creation of their redevelopment plan, enlisting top practitioners from around the country to ensure that the design and development processes engender leadership, build trust, and inspire learning among its lower income residents—especially the 266 children living there. Residents were invited to participate in joyful outings that further engender leadership development, while also soliciting their vision of what a redeveloped Friendship Court could be.

Research with under-served resident youth on water resources, air quality, connectivity, and on-site food production helped forward knowledge of the methods available for democratic data collection on resilience in cities, but also contributed to the literature on ecological stewardship and governance in vulnerable communities.