Monticello with Broadband

Joel Garreau, of “Edge Cities” fame, has penned another penetrating analysis for the Washington Post, this time of Virginia’s piedmont. He describes what he calls the “Santa-Feing” of the Piedmont, in hommage to an earlier transformation of the area around Santa Fe, N.M. Urbane refugees from the big city are settling in the towns and hamlets of the Piedmont — and bringing their upscale, yuppified culture with them. Says Garreau:

This Santa Fe-ing is marked by a profusion of high-end and inventive food, wineries, shops, restaurants, theater, moviemaking, film festivals, bookstores, music and the arts in landscapes that don’t look too different from the way they did a century ago, albeit better kept up. Think of it as Monticello with broadband. It’s a combination of the 21st century and the 18th century, the Information Age and the Agrarian Age.

Garreau is an acute observer of cultural details, and he does a marvelous job of contrasting the white wine-and-laptops crowd with the rustic, shotguns-and-moonpies locals whose families have lived there for decades, even centuries. To understand what’s happening in this corner of the state — and its intense opposition to the wave of dysfunctional “suburban” growth lapping over from Northern Virginia — the article is must reading.

(Hat tip to Tobias Jodter for bringing the article to the blog’s attention. Readers can pick up on some of the commentary on Garreau’s article in the thread originating in Ed Risse’s “Where the Jobs Are Not” post.)

The phenomenon that Garreau describes is not limited to the Piedmont, however. Similar trends can be seen in the Shenandoah Valley as far south as Staunton and Lexington, and it can be seen in Nelson County, where the Wintergreen ski/golf resort has created an enormous colony of alien, urban culture in a traditional rural community.

Garreau does not emphasize it, but these cultures are coming into conflict. Most instructive is an article today published by the News Virginian over the future of Nellysford, a blue-collar hamlet at the base of the mountain from Wintergreen. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission presented a draft development plan for the community right out of the Bacon’s Rebellion play book: “traffic roundabout, nature trails, a townhouse subdivision and commercial/office complex, and a sector reserved for community resources like a ball field, community center and library.”

As writer Alicia Petska wrote of a public hearing, in which 50 attendees blistered county officials:

It’s a picturesque, bustling little village the planners have laid out. And the residents hate it.

“Can I make a suggestion?” asked Bonnie Hughes, who’s lived on 9 acres in Nellysford since 1954. “That we let Nellysford alone. Leave it like it is and let it develop itself.”

Residents are stubbornly attached to their rural way of life: detached houses and stores strung along a winding valley road… no core, no nucleus, no defining boundary between settlement and countryside… an auto-dependent community in a world of rising gasoline prices.

Personally, as a bona fide member of the wine-and-laptop crowd, I’ll take Wintergreen over Nellysford any day. But, as long as they are willing to pay the location-variable costs associated with their lifestyle choices, people should be left alone to live as they want.

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4 responses to “Monticello with Broadband”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    You think the laptops and white wine crowd is more dysfunctional than the shotguns and moonpies crowd?

    And by the way, there are some families that have been out here for centuries and also have some semblance of culture.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Residents are stubbornly attached to their rural way of life”

    well… perhaps better stated – they fear outsiders coming in and changing their rural way of life in ways that will not benefit them or worse will result in increased taxes for things like E-911, libraries, water/sewer, etc – things they cannot afford with their local salary-scale jobs.

    Locals don’t see “rural character” as an amenity but rather a way of life.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, Wintergreen has been there for thirty years now and Stoney Creek in the Valley for about 20, so the transition there has moved very slowly. I remember what Fauquier was like thirty years ago and it is very unlikely that Nelson will match that. Spiking gas prices will put a real crimp in that real estate market, because the jobs are far, far away.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    What do you call “far, far away?” It’s about 30 miles (maybe 45 minutes drive time) from C’ville to Nellysford – and C’ville has plenty of good jobs.

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