COVER- Why are we here? A literal look at an abstract question

Why are we here? The question has tormented philosophers for millennia, and this week, at long, long last, the great minds at the Hook will finally... nah, we won't even try to answer it. At least not the question in its most vexing, existential form.

The more concrete version of that question, however, is something we've wondered about as well– and it's something we're more equipped to tackle. 

Who are the people in our neighborhood? Why are they here? Where did they come from, and are they planning to stay?

According to the U.S. Census, while Charlottesville's population has remained relatively constant at approximately 40,000 since 1990, Albemarle County has grown nearly 30 percent in the same period– from 68,000 to almost 90,000 estimated in 2005.

Is Mr. Jefferson's university the driving force behind the growth? Maybe. There's no doubt that UVA is expanding– nearly 13,000 full and permanent part-time employees now work at the school, up from 11,614 in 2000– and each year nearly 5,000 new students arrive to fill the undergraduate and graduate programs.

But never mind coming here to study– it's what happens after graduation that may be driving up local population numbers. According to UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, at least 9,300 UVA alumni currently call Charlottesville home, making it one of the top five UVA alum roosts in the country. 

And while their effects are certainly smaller, other organizations also do their part to bring new residents to town. The International Rescue Committee places 150 refugees in and around Charlottesville each year, and companies including Lexis-Nexis and Northrop-Grumman (known to old-timers as the Michie Company and Sperry Marine), as well as newcomers such as MusicToday, draw beaucoup employees to the region. Government jobs are also multiplying with the National Ground Intelligence Center announcing it will soon add nearly 1,000.

In particular, the Hispanic population is booming in Central Virginia, with a new television program, Zona Latina, launched this fall on the local CBS affiliate in response to the growing number of Spanish speakers.

According to U.S. Census data, the Hispanic population in Albemarle grew by nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2005, from  2,029 to 3,247, much faster than overall growth. In Charlottesville– where the population has grown less than one percent in the last five years– the Hispanic population grew 14 percent, from 1,102 to 1,261.

Why are they coming? The low unemployment rate is one draw, says Quan Cai, director of demographics and workforce section for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy. While the Charlottesville area still has a Hispanic population of just three to four percent (compared to areas in Northern Virginia which have 16 percent Hispanic population), it will continue to attract Hispanics, says Cai, because of "chain migration," in which immigrants tend to relocate where they have friends or relatives. Fertility is another reason behind the growth, says Cai, since babies add to the count.

Bob DeMauri, head of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, says the need to fill low-paying service industry jobs also pushes the numbers up. "As the more affluent move to the region, demand for these services rises, and workers have to come in to provide them," says DeMauri. "The Hispanic population is the source of most of those workers."

While employment and family draw immigrants, Charlottesville is also a magnet for the needy. According to several homeless residents, Charlottesville is a "mecca" thanks to the resources available to the homeless including the Salvation Army, Region Ten, and churches that offer daily lunches.

"You can eat three squares here every day if you choose," says a self-described homeless man sitting in downtown's Lee Park, who asks that his name not be used. "There's no other place I know in Virginia like this."

As the Hook proves with its informal survey– conducted at various spots around town last week– jobs, natural beauty, and the welcoming population draw people to Charlottesville. But sometimes it's something more prosaic that lands us here, if only briefly– say, a broken-down car. For anyone who's had that experience, we advise vigilance: like the Hotel California, Charlottesville seems to be a place where you can checkout any time you like, but (all together now...) you can never leave!

Lynn Rubenoff (with daughter, Sarah)

In 1978, my husband and I came down from Westport, Connecticut. We'd wanted to buy a house there, but they were too expensive. We went down the coast on a vacation and came into Chapel Hill. At the end of the trip, we had a day left, so we came to Charlottesville. In one day, we found a house, and he found a job. I'm a midwife, and after making one phone call, I had more clients than I could handle. I think the Lord brought us here.

Sarah and Lynn Rubenoff

Todd Barnett

UVA brought me here as an undergrad from 1983 to 1987. I left several times, but I keep coming back. I got here this time in June, for the camp I run [Field Camp], and I'm staying to launch the Field School in fall 2007. I really like the proximity to mountains. It's a town of educated people. It feels like home.

Todd Barnett

Jeannine Orejudos (with Keaton)

I came here three years ago because my husband got a job in the area. We moved from the suburbs of Chicago. We like it here because we like hiking and the mountains.

Jeannine Orejudos

Lainie Allen

My family moved here seven years ago because we do leadership mentoring with college students, so we obviously wanted to be in a college town. My husband had an offer to do some work in Virginia, and we could live anywhere in the state, so we picked Charlottesville. It's a small town that feels like a larger city. We moved from L.A. to rural Tennessee before this, so this is a good in-between. It has great East Coast flavor– it's in the south, but it doesn't feel too traditional.

Anna Ma

I moved here five years ago from Denver because of my husband's job as a research associate at UVA. Charlottesville is very good for raising kids, except the housing is expensive still!

Harvie Linkous

I came down here and met a woman four or five years ago. I lived in West Virginia and retired about five years ago. After that, I went into the woods for about a year and hunted and fished. I got married a year ago, and I'm going to stay here. I like the mountains and the valley, and the people are pretty nice.

Clarence Stovall

I'm from Fluvanna, but I started living in Charlottesville when I was 24– about twenty-some years ago– until I got in trouble. I left and lived in Radford and Roanoke, and I just came back in May for my grandmother's funeral. I'm not going to stay for long– I'm going to go back to Radford or Roanoke.

Corbin Hargraves

I ended up here because I got a job with Wachovia. I'm originally from Danville, but I lived in Australia before this and did sports managerial consulting work. The job opportunity here came up, and I decided to get my investment license. Charlottesville is a beautiful place, and the people are very friendly here. But as far as the social scene, it's not up to my speed. I like city life.

Sarah and Lynn hargraves

Tom Bridgers

We're here because our car is being repaired. We live in Richmond, at Stony Point, and we went through Charlottesville on our way to visit our son over Thanksgiving. We stopped at Brown's to have our Mercedes fixed, and we came back up today to get it.

Cara Chambers

I grew up here. We moved from Virginia Beach in 1985 when I was five because my dad got a job at Sperry. Then I went to college in Arizona, and then I moved back here to be close to family and because I like Charlottesville. There are so many things to do.

Josue Salinas

I'm originally from Mexico City, and when I first came to America, I lived in Washington, D.C. Then I lived in Roanoke, where I managed a restaurant. I first came here 13 years ago to manage the Guadalajara, but I moved back. I didn't know I'd be coming back to Charlottesville, but I had the job opportunity and I came back three years ago. I didn't like Roanoke after living in Charlottesville; it's clean here and quiet.

Patrick Madden

I was born in Batesville, and I was homeschooled. I'm 18, and I'm looking to get out in the next couple of years, probably to go live in Richmond, D.C. or Philly. I'll come back after that.

Joan Schatzman

I've been here 30 years. I got here the day after I graduated from Boston College because my best friend got accepted to UVA engineering, and she said, "Do you want to move to Charlottesville?"  I said, "Okay." We're both still here. She left briefly but came back because it's "the hook."

Rachel Campbell

I moved here four years ago from Newport News to be with my dad for high school. I'm thinking of moving this June to Philly. I kind of want to get out of Charlottesville, see something new.

Noah Fiel

I moved here from San Francisco with my mom eight years ago. She used a pendulum over a map, and it picked Charlotttesville. I went to Western Albemarle High School, and I'm moving in the summer to Richmond for school at VCU– and for skateboarding.

Sam Lowe

I was born and raised here. My family moved up here from Salem in the early '80s, and then I was born here. I went to Monticello High School; now I go to Murray. Charlottesville is all right. I have a lot of good friends, but I'll probably get out of town because I've been here for 12 years.

Ed Lynch

How did I get here? It was a disaster! I was dating a girl 37 years ago, so I moved here, but it didn't work out. I never got married. Now I have to go to New York to meet women! I moved here from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and I stayed in Charlottesville because I got two jobs– each one better than the last. Now I'm working into my retirement for the Post Office. 

Dave Ackerman

I came for graduate school in architecture in 1989. I met the woman who became my wife, and she hadn't graduated yet, so we stayed. We've been here since, and I'm now with the firm Wolf Ackerman. I'm from Cleveland, so Charlottesville is pretty nice.

Tommy Parker

I've been around here about 22 years, maybe longer. I was sick, and I got treatment at the Blue Ridge facility. I'm from the Eastern Shore, by Virginia Beach. I like Charlottesville because people help you out. Good people work in churches. They believe in Jesus and God.

Rebecca Frischkorn

We came from West Virginia 10 years ago and planned to stay for one year so that my son Will, who was going to become a professional cyclist, could attend a private school and train in Europe at the same time. We rented a house, loved it, loved Charlottesville, and we stayed. Now I'm collaborating with Ruben Rainey on Garden Story, a series for public TV on American gardens.

Michael Ponzini (with wife, Adrienne)

We moved down to Lake Monticello from Staten Island this past summer. A friend also moved down, and we're going into the photography business together. We had been doing professional sports photography, but now we're going to focus on the beauty out here. 

I laugh whenever I read in the Hook or somewhere about people complaining about how expensive it is here. Our car insurance is one fourth what it was in New York. It's ridiculous that the quality of life is so much higher here.



Hmmm-- all this begs the burning question: when are you folks gonna LEAVE?

What a crabby comment, you old crab. You should go out and reprogram your Sony PSP. And get your spouse a new stereo this year!