Two studies: Towns surmount man made woes

In 1995, the 134 residents of Bayview, an impoverished African-American community on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, learned that a maximum-security prison was slated for construction in the middle of their 350-year old settlement. They had not been consulted. They had not been informed. Resolving not to buckle under to the latest indignity, two local women led a grassroots effort to oppose the prison. Residents who had never before left the peninsula found themselves in the halls of the General Assembly. Amazingly, three years of struggle paid off. The prison was repulsed.
Not only was the prison scrapped, but the community of Bayview joined forces with the Nature Conservancy to acquire the land they live on and eventually won state and federal funding to transform their town from a collection of shanties into a viable community of solid homes and social amenities.
After hundreds of years of utter neglect, Bayview would be transformed… starting with indoor plumbing and electricity, and ending with a daycare center and a laundromat. The most poignant symbol of this blighted community’s newfound empowerment was the inclusion of porches in the rebuilding budget – Bayview wanted more than a double-wide. Bayview wanted quality of life.
UVA architecture professor Maurice Cox became engaged in the technical design team for the rebuilding of Bayview five years ago. Today, as the mayor of Charlottesville, Cox has additional insights about the fragile and resilient nature of communities facing man-made disruption.
Cox will present the Bayview story as a case study in a daylong conference sponsored by UVA’s Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction.
He is joined by Ricardo Ainslie, a psychologist at University of Texas who has studied the experience of Jasper, Texas, another dirt-poor rural community threatened by a different sort of threat… racial violence.
How the leaders and families of Jasper responded to the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in 1998 has more in common with the NIMBY resolution of Bayview than one might expect. Both occurred against the backdrop of economic deprivation and racial disparity. Both featured an activist leadership who resolved to put the community’s welfare ahead of the immediate gains of new jobs (in Bayview) or retribution (in Jasper).
And both were reactions to the most devastating types of threats: man-made disaster.

Bayview and Jasper are case studies for the Conference on Community Resilience, April 11, 8:30-4:30pm in UVA’s McLeod Hall auditorium. Cox and Ainslie will be joined by Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell of the Institute for Global Policy Research, and Lisa Aronson of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction. Registration is recommended. 982-1045.