Mauling a Mall? Charlotteville’s Call to Action

Designed by American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin (1916- ) in the 1970s, Charlotteville, Va.’s downtown mall was the product of a community-oriented design process that included many of Charlottesville’s citizens and that aimed to respond to Charlottesville’s social history. It continues to serve citizen’s needs and serve as a vibrant, successful community gathering space.

The mall is one of a few surviving (and thriving) pedestrian malls in America created to revive a historic downtown after the demolition and displacement caused by urban renewal.

Now, proposed plans include alternatives that incorporate “cosmetic upgrades”–new design elements incompatible with the current design (smaller bricks, higher light fixtures, new fountains, new gathering spaces, 60’ high flag poles, sculpture bases, and semi-permanent enclosures for outdoor restaurant spaces, among others). 

Despite 10 years of planning this rehabilitation, a historic resource survey (and accompanying National Historic Register and Virginia Landmarks Registry nominations) that outlines the history, design components, and significance of the Downtown Mall has yet to be done. Without such a careful study, a proper rehabilitation cannot be undertaken.

Many are now encouraging City Council to consider this project as a rehabilitation of a significant landscape that requires proper research (in archival sources and in documentation of existing conditions) before the 2009 initiation of the project.

Thoughts? And actions? You can encourage Charlottesville City Council and the Board of Architectural Review to uphold the integrity of the original Halprin design by emailing If you live in the area, join the June 30 public discussion on the rehabilitation, sponsored by the city and held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at City Space (5th Street NE on the Mall).

Related links:

Story on The Cultural Landscape Foundation site:
The proposed rehabilitation design: click on Alternatives
The architecture firm hired to carry out the design:
Halprin and the original design process for the Downtown Mall:

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