Are there Two Charlottesvilles?

A reader wrote:

A lot of the people I know don’t think of living outside of the city as an option for them (I live in the city and work at the University).  One couple on my street has two professional incomes and doesn’t own a car. They take a cab to buy groceries and walk or bus everywhere else.  Another couple on my street buys all their groceries at Feast! so they won’t have to drive.  These are extreme cases, but every year a few more seem to move into renovated old houses down the street.  These folks along with the poor and undergrads (despite attempts to woo them with luxury and a free shuttle) seem to compete for space in the city and only in the city.  I think of this every time I see you mention the CharlAlbemarle market, because it seems like there are really two markets, those who are willing to sacrifice a great deal of size, sfr, yard, parking, safety, etc. to live near downtown and the university and those who are not. The perception, fed by the C’Ville and the Hook, is that these “young professionals” and “urban hipsters” are taking over, but I wonder how significant that market really is.

Charlottesville and Albemarle. I refer to CharlAlbemarle frequently as I consider the two real estate markets to be the same, the political needs and desires are very similar (whether politicians want to admit it or not) and do exist in a symbiotic relationship. When relocating clients say that they want to move to Charlottesville, 90% of the time, they mean “the Charlottesville area” rather than within City limits. Frequently they will say that they want to move to Charlottesville but want to live in the County (Albemarle).

The HooK ran a comprehensive story last week detailing the apparent similarities between Charlottesville and New York City. (be sure to read the rebuttal) In many ways, this article bodes ill for those who simply want to live and work in a nice place. Serendipitously, Patience has a mighty relevant post.

Where is Charlottesville?

Where are we? This is Central Virginia. And the second picture is CharlAlbemarle.

Central Virginia    Charlottesville & Albemarle
Wikipedia says it well:

Charlottesville is an independent city located within the confines of Albemarle County in the Commonwealth of Virginia, United States, and named after Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of King George III of England.

But are there two Charlottesvilles? Certainly. There are probably more than two.
Many people help define their identities by where they live. There is the “Charlottesville” that is comprised of the CharlAlbemarle area. There is the Charlottesville that exists in the creative minds of those crafty folks developing Four Seasons in Charlottesville (Four Seasons Ruckersville just doesn’t convey the same je ne sais quoi). There is the Charlottesville inhabited by students and professors at the ever-expanding University of Virginia.

There is a Charlottesville that is confined to life around the Downtown Mall.  Several years ago I met somebody who had no idea where my office was, next to the (now defunct) Krispy Kreme, one of the most heavily-trafficked roads in the area – 58K/day as of 2003 (pdf).  He never left the Mall area, rode a bike everywhere – he existed without need for outside influences.

Condos, condos, condos!

Part and parcel of this “City lifestyle” may best be depicted by the recent condo boom that has defined the Charlottesville (City of) real estate market for the past couple of years. While the rest of the market has experienced a shift, the condo market has plugged on.

Consider this – between May 1 and September 1, 2002, 11 new construction condos sold in the City of Charlottesville. In the same timeframe in 2006, 25 new construction units sold – more than twice as many. Referencing the condo conversion craze: same dates as above: 155 non-new construction sold in 2006 versus 9 in 2002 and 13 in 2004.

In the County of Albemarle, 10 new construction condos have sold in 2006, and zero sold in 2004. 79 non-new construction sold in 2004 and 247 have sold so far this year. (Source: CAAR)

What defines Charlottesville? The culture, the real estate, the politics, the occasional reference to the similarities to Boulder, Colorado. Charlottesville is a destination for many who read the glowing press reports but do not dig and further. “Charlottesville” is the City, the County and the surrounding counties that all contribute to Charlottesville.


There is more to Charlottesville than the 49k people living within the City limits. Finding the City limits is a task in its own right. Public services such as fire and police have significant overlap. The City of Charlottesville does seem to be overtaken in parts by Urban Hipsters, but there is more to the City than condos and coffee shops, although we have plenty of ’em. And it really is a great place to live!

But yes, there is a Charlottesville within Charlottesville, but we all have to live together.

Update 11-21-2006: Patience starts the “5 pillars of Urban Living Series” – Part I – This should be fun.

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Charlottesville Fact sheet, Albemarle Fact sheet.

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  1. Eliot (Amy) November 20, 2006 at 16:03

    This is very interesting. I loved Patience’s post about Cville. It is not THAT hip and not at all that urban – I don’t get all this crazy narcissism!!

    And how wierd is it that in this very small place people don’t know about relatively nearby areas? But it’s true. I work with people who live in Greene or Fluvanna counties, and they don’t go downtown, or to the Corner, or care to. And yet they “live in Charlottesville.”

    Since I want to buy a house in town b/c I am not a country person, but not because I want to be near the university, I deplore all these supposed hipsters for driving up the costs of housing. If they don’t engage in the wider community, and just live off trust funds drinking coffee and martinis and riding their scooters around, can we just ship them to an island somewhere? They obviously don’t need much room. The rest of us real people need somewhere to live.


  2. Jim Duncan November 21, 2006 at 08:17

    I think that the reality of Charlottesville has become far too colored by the City’s perception of itself and the image that it likes to perpetuate. Real people happen to live here too, and many who live “in Charlottesville” actually live in the County or elsewhere. There is far more to Charlottesville than the Downtown Mall. Heck, Monticello is located in Albemarle County!

    BTW, if you’re looking for a house, I know a good Realtor. 🙂

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