Charlottesville’s downtown mall has an image problem. Long upheld by boastful city officials as a family friendly shopping, entertainment, and dining destination, reality speaks otherwise as those with young children increasingly are seeking alternate venues.
The downtown mall has weathered its share of controversy—pedophiles congregating at the children’s museum, violent teen-mob assaults, and reportedly random mayhem (reluctantly) have been covered by local media—yet the area remains “vibrant” and continues to attract core, teen and young adult constituencies.
What is the real image problem of the city’s “urban park,” a problem conveniently overlooked despite ongoing patent offense? Charlottesville’s Community Chalkboard: A Monument to the First Amendment.
A joint project of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the City of Charlottesville, the controversial slate slab, touted as an homage to free speech, instead has become an unmolested harbor for vile invective, personal threats, base profanity, and ugly racial epithets. The wall’s unfortunate proximity to the Virginia Discovery Museum compounds the city’s quandary.
While such problems were foreseen by project critics, objections fell on deaf ears. Star struck city councilors who coveted a nationally recognized “monument” for their downtown pedestrian experiment, enthusiastically embraced the concept, simultaneously dismissing detractors’ fears. Years later, the critics have been vindicated, but there are no winners here.
Most recently, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones faced harsh criticism for ordering city work crews to remove “lewd” images from the monument. Instead of public scorn being heaped on those who profane the public square, the city’s self-designated gatekeeper himself has been profaned by guardians of “free expression.”
Has Charlottesville City Government ceded its vaunted downtown mall to purveyors of free speech pornography? Is the Charlottesville downtown mall now appropriate only for NC-17 audiences? Can a family safely walk young children past the Community Chalkboard without facing embarrassing questions or risking loss of innocence?
How will we deal, if at all, with Charlottesville’s dirty downtown mall?
See the photo essay of graphic pictures taken at or near Charlottesville’s Free Speech Monument on the downtown mall (photos courtesy of Kevin Cox). Warning: contains adult content; no children, please.