Up to Pasture: local artist has vision to turn Landmark into vertical farm

vert gardenTurning the abandoned and blighted Landmark Hotel into a vertical urban garden may sound like a fanciful, farfetched idea, but at least local artist Russell Richards has an idea. The same can’t be said for the City or the hotel’s various owners, who have offered only empty promises.

“I suspect the Landmark is never going to be completed,” says Richards, who has informally presented his idea to City Council, and is scheduled to give a TEDx presentation on the idea. “The longer it sits exposed, the more it deteriorates and devalues. But that’s what’s happening, for whatever reason, so I personally believe the thing won’t go forward.”

Earlier this year, current owner John Dewberry “swore” to one city official that he would begin the project before the end of the summer, but as anyone can see, that isn’t happening.

“I have admittedly gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact that everyone, everyone hates that hotel,” he says.

Richards says there’s a trend now among architects and engineers to design farms ‘up’, as kind of vertical greenhouses, and it strikes him that the Landmark could be an ideal candidate for such a thing.

As Richards points out, the walls are largely open and permit a lot of light to penetrate the interior, it faces southward to the sun, which strikes it throughout the day, there are no nearby buildings casting a shadow on it.

“A vertical farm would actually be a bit different from how I rendered it,” says Richards. ” It’d be closed off, like the greenhouse levels I depicted on the upper floors, permitting crops to be grown throughout the year regardless of weather conditions.”

Richards says that hydroponic and aeroponic growing methods allow crops to be grown quite densely- all the way up to the ceiling of any given floor, essentially- and use a minimum of water, and no soil. So the crop output of such a space would be far greater than the footprint of any given floor.

“It’s an amazing model,” he says. “I’m indebted to the research of Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, who is credited with the idea- specifically his book “The Vertical Farm”, which is a wealth of information. In ten or twenty years, vertical farms are likely to be relatively commonplace.”

Though Richards admits a feasibility study would have to be done, and that the structural integrity of the building would need to be checked, he think it could work.

“If they can still build a hotel, they can build a vertical garden,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether or not the Landmark has been structurally compromised.”

Still, Richards admits he could be wrong.

“I try to be a realist,” he says, ” even with something like this, which might seem like a fanciful notion. But we’ll never know if we don’t have a look at it. I believe the idea has merit, and deserves further study.”

Knock at the door: Protesters accuse C-Ville Weekly of “inflaming racial tensions”

Protesters held up a banner referring to an editorial comment made by Cville Weekly editor Giles Morris.

Protesters held up a banner referring to an editorial comment made by Cville Weekly editor Giles Morris.

A crowd of protesters gathered in front of the offices of Cville Weekly today, outraged by a December 29 story the local paper ran that, according to one protest organizer, “threw gasoline on the fire of racial tension in our community.”

Indeed, the story, titled, “Knockout: Victims of brutal Downtown Mall assault want arrests, and answers from police,” told the dramatic and frightening story of a couple, Marc Adams and Jeanne Doucette, who claimed they were randomly targeted during a “late night stroll” on the DTM and brutally beaten by three black males in what they characterized as a “knock out game” style attack carried out for nothing more than vicious sport and fun. The story, after the Drudge Report linked to it, quickly went viral, prompting comments so hateful and racially charged that Cville Weekly had to shut down their comment section. Indeed, the story for many readers, commentors and bloggers across the country was evidence of a frightening kind of “black mob violence” in Charlottesville.

There’s just one problem. It didn’t happen that way.

As a police investigation revealed, there was no random “knock out” style attack by three black males, but rather a “verbal altercation” that escalated into a “physically confrontation” between the couple and “two” black males. Police also reported that Adams, who originally claimed to have been beaten unconscious, suffered “a loose tooth and some soft tissue damage.” What’s more, in a DTM interview with the two men who were charged with simple assault and released, it was revealed that they were both college educated, had no history of criminal violence, and were members of the gay community. According to the two men, who believe they have been unjustly charged, it was actually the couple (who they described as being “plastered” drunk), who were the aggressors. Both men recently filed assault charges against the couple. The two men also claimed that a third black male, who was not a part of their group, intervened during the altercation and struck Adams.

At the protest in front of the Cville Weekly offices, one of those men, Malcolm Stevenson, a UVA grad and a former manager at Eppie’s Restaurant on the DTM, recalled his dismay at how he was portrayed in the original Cville Weekly story.

“When the [Cville Weekly] story came out,” he told the largely African-American crowd, “I thought, ‘of all people how is this happening to me?’ I am so not like that. I’ve walked through this life privileged. I don’t hit people, I use my words. And I don’t tell lies. But this can happen to any of us.”

“We have a social crisis in Charlottesville,” said Kiara Redd-Martin, who organized the protest. “I’ve lived here for 24 years, and I have never felt more unwelcome. The race problem is real. And we must fight it.”

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Jeff Winder, a coordinator for Wayside Center for Popular Education, which helped organize the protest, criticized Cville Weekly, and its editor Giles Morris, for “inflaming racial tensions” by publishing a story in a “racially charged way” without verifying what was reported.

“When you portray the news in such a way,” Winder told the crowd, “there are real consequences for real people, and real people get hurt.”

Winder helped organize a previous protest against Cville Weekly last year, when the paper ran racist comments in its former “Rant” section. Cville Weekly eventually removed the Rant section from the paper. Winder called on Morris and the Cville Weekly staff to seek further sensitivity training to better understand racial issues and how to report on them.

So far, Morris and CVille Weekly have been unapologetic about how the story was originally covered, despite the evidence that Adams and Doucette’s account of the incident appears to have been grossly inaccurate.

Indeed, given what we know now about Stevenson and Spears, and the fact that the police investigation revealed that there was no random “knock out” style attack, the accounts of the incident that Doucette and Adams post on Facebook prior to the publication of the Cville Weekly story are hard to ignore.

“We had never seen these men before and have no idea who they are. They just enjoyed punching, kicking, and hitting us. They laughed while they attacked us, high fived and gave the distinct impression that they just thought beating on us manically was a really good time. They didn’t even want our money,” wrote Doucette. “They were out to really hurt somebody and they picked us. It was like it was a game to them and it was fun for them to brutalize us. I realized they would hit me more the more times Marc told them to stop hitting me. It was surreal. I’m posting them [photos] here hoping somebody; somewhere will recognize these animals that need to be caged. This could happen to any of us in this community.”

Adams, too, described events in similar fashion, “I had never seen these guys before they were laughing an high fiving while they kicking me and punching Jeanne I truly believe it was straight up sociopathic violence a la clockwork orange without prejudice or rhyme or reason…..they didn’t hit me out of anger or to so me from doing anything they willfully Ganged up and decided they weren’t t stopping until I was seriously injured.”

Morris has, however, expressed dismay at how the public responded to the paper’s dramatic portrayal of these claims by Adams and Doucette, with many using it as evidence of “black on white violence” in Charlottesville, saying he simply read it as an “unresolved crime story that led into a number of complex local issues.”

Winder also took aim at Morris directly, referring to an editorial Morris penned that said that the city’s historic black neighborhoods would eventually “melt away” and solve the race problem, and that the “educated, mobile, professional class that is Charlottesville’s future doesn’t have a race problem.”

“What about Giles Morris telling us what the future of Charlottesville looks like,” he told the crowd, “This white, privileged male who just moved here from Wisconsin tells us what the future looks like?”

Winder then led the crowd in a chant:

“Hey, C-Ville, we’re here to stay, we are the future, we will build the way!”

Spears and Stevenson are scheduled to appear in court on February 5 for their involvement in the incident, while Doucette and Adams are scheduled to appear on March 21.

Long time coming for Lee Park Pride Festival

Interesting quote from Amy Sarah Marshall, president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network in a Newsplex story:

“I think it’s been the mode to kind of go with the flow, keep things on the down low. People are still afraid to hold hands on the downtown mall,” the groups president, Amy Sarah Marshall, said. “People are still afraid to tell people at their job that they’re gay.”

Man, that’s stinks…gay people afraid to hold hands on the DTM? Come on, Charlottesville!

Well, the folks at CPCN are planning to do something about this. The first Pride Festival will be held in Lee Park on September 14 from 2 to 6pm. There will be music, food vendors, and a general big celebration. They are also looking for volunteers, sponsors, and performers. Contact festival organizers at festival@cvillepride.org to help out.

Protest in front of Bank of America

Could be the reason Bank of America hired a security guard to stand outside the building not long ago. As the Hook reports, members of a group called Blue Ridge Council for Conscious Action gathered outside the bank today to join other folks protesting the bank’s practices at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. While four were arrested down there, it appears the folks on the Mall today were protesting peacefully.