Loving Where You Live with the Festival of the Book

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Melody Warnick presents “Loving Where You Live” (Photo: Clover Carroll)

“Good towns don’t just happen,” explained Melody Warnick to a large crowd at the Crozet Library March 22. “People help to create their towns and cities; our towns are what we think they are.” In a community as active and beloved as Crozet, Ms. Warnick was preaching to the choir—we don’t need reasons to love where we live!—but her presentation explored how we can make our community even better.

The Virginia Festival of the Book program, titled “Loving Where You Live,” was sponsored by Charlottesville Tomorrow, the Crozet Community Association, and the Tom Tom Founders Festival. Ms. Warnick, author of This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, was joined by Anthony Flaccavento, author of Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change. The library meeting room was packed with local dignitaries and regular residents, including Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek, Crozet Community Association president Tim Tolson, Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin, JMRL supporter Bill Schrader, and board members of the Crozet Trails Crew. Ms. Mallek pointed out the appropriateness of holding such a meeting at the Crozet Library, one of the “crown jewels” of the county. Tolson offered Crozet family crest stickers and magnets as an example of our strong sense of place. Anne DeVault of Over the Moon Bookstore in Piedmont Place sold books in the lobby. All of these attendees, as well as the book festival itself, exemplified the speakers’ message.

Warnick outlined three categories to describe how we decide where to live: Mobile, Stuck, and Rooted. Currently, a large portion of the American public falls into the Mobile category; the average American moves 11.7 times in his or her lifetime, and 36 million people move every year. The Stuck category is comprised of people who do not have the ability to relocate—in terms of job, income, and other resources. Those who are Rooted, she explained, choose to live where they do and take action to make themselves part of the community. They exhibit “place attachment,” which has proven benefits such as deeper relationships, more social capital, and health benefits including living longer. In other words, a rooted life can be more meaningful and satisfying.

To gauge our level of place attachment, Warnick asked the audience a quick quiz, with ten statements with which we were to agree or disagree including “I feel like I belong in this community,” “I can rely on people in this town to help me,” “If something exciting were happening in this community, I’d want to be involved,” and “My town isn’t perfect, but there are a lot of things that make me love it.” When she asked how many in the audience agreed with 8 or more of the statements, she was surprised that a large majority of the audience raised their hands; only two answered yes on fewer than 3 statements. This audience member scored a perfect ten!

In her book, Warnick proposes several strategies for becoming more rooted, such as getting involved in town activities, shopping local, eating local food, starting businesses, and spending time in nature. The Crozet trails are one of the many things that makes Crozet feel like home. She discussed several examples of towns that had been rejuvenated by “creative initiators” who found ways to make the town what they wanted it to be, such as opening art centers and starting farmers markets. “Say yes to opportunities,” she advised.

Flaccavento enlarged on Warnick’s message with economic strategies for strengthening local communities. He began by echoing Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s Friday presentation on income inequality at the Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center, with some eye-opening statistics. While the U.S. population has grown by 42 percent since 1980 and the U.S. economy, as measured by the GDP (gross domestic product), has grown by 530 percent, individual wealth has declined because 93 percent of all new wealth produced has gone to the top 1 percent. Flaccavento roundly rejected the myth that “trickle down economics” works. If wealth distribution were the same as it was in the 1950s, he maintained, we would all be much better off. “How can we create an economy that, in its normal functioning, tends to create fair and just outcomes?” he asked. “One that benefits the many rather than the few?”

In his answer, Flaccavento offered strategies to shift from a top down to a bottom up economy. We need to transform our economy from “consumptive dependence to productive resilience,” he argued, by encouraging local startups and diverse businesses. He gave examples of “living economies” based on small, home-grown businesses that have revitalized local communities and spaces; this newspaper is a great example! We should begin, he advised, by changing public policy that rewards big-box stores over small, local enterprises. He described his family’s “annual Christmas tithe” in which, for every dollar spent on each other’s gifts, they donate a dollar to an organization that helps others. If you want to know more, watch Flaccavento’s video blog, “Take Five With Tony,” on YouTube.

The 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book, which “brings readers and writers together for a five-day celebration of books, reading, literacy, and literary culture,” brought over 400 authors to Charlottesville for over 260 programs from March 22 to 26. Produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, this local treasure is a program of the Virginia Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. The majority of Festival programs are free to attend. Other events in the Crozet area this year included a fascinating behind-the-scenes presentation by Program Director Jane Kulow at Old Trail Lodge on March 16, an author panel discussing “Crossing Boundaries in Young Adult Fiction” at the Crozet Library on March 23, and 15 author presentations in western schools.

“We have prepared a feast of authors” for the community this year, Kulow declared to the Old Trail audience of more than 50. “We try to present new worlds that cater to a variety of perspectives”—from sci-fi to romance, from food & travel to sports, from current issues to history, with plenty of children’s programming, both public and in the schools, added to the mix. The Festival provides attendees the opportunity to hear the author’s voice right in the room. They will learn more than if they had just read the book; they will have a personal and direct experience.

“I am immensely proud of the work that we do at the Festival,” Kulow said. “This opportunity to encourage reading and conversations with polite discussion adds to the quality of our lives by bringing in creativity.” The festival takes a full year to put together, so work on next year’s, to be held March 21-25, 2018, has already begun. Kulow invited us to get involved by contributing “time, talent, or treasure.” Whether you attend programs, volunteer to drive authors, preview books by joining the Readers’ Circle, or make a financial donation—all at vabook.org—you will be richly rewarded. The Virginia Festival of the Book is certainly one of many reasons I love where I live!

The Attachment Statements

  1. I feel like I belong in this community.
  2. I’ve lived here a long time.
  3. I know a lot of people here.
  4. I know my way around.
  5. I feel comfortable here.
  6. The friendships and associations I have with other people in this town mean a lot to me.
  7. I feel rooted here.
  8. I like to tell people about where I live.
  9. I grew up here.
  10. I rely on where I live to do the stuff I care about most.
  11. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live here.
  12. If something exciting were happening in this community, I’d want to be involved.
  13. I’m really interested in knowing what’s going on here.
  14. My town isn’t perfect, but there are a lot of things that make me love it.
  15. The people who live here are my kind of people.
  16. I hope that my kids live here even after I’m gone.
  17. I feel loyal to this community.
  18. I like to attend events that are happening in my town.
  19. Where I live tells you a lot about who I am as a person.
  20. I care about the future success of this town.
  21. I don’t want to move anytime soon.
  22. I can rely on people in this town to help me.
  23. There is no other place I’d rather live.
  24. It feels like home.

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