Set in the rolling green hills of a cherished historic landscape, home to one of the nation’s great universities, Charlottesville, Va., has become a favorite home in recent years for young professionals, families and retired people, who are drawn to its college-town vibe, great restaurant scene, vineyards, history, and celebrated intellectual and cultural life.
With a population just under 50,000 and an enviable location two hours’ drive from Washington, D.C., two or three hours from Atlantic beaches, and an easy Amtrak ride to other East Coast cities, Charlottesville offers convenience along with a tempting array of entertainment and arts options, shopping, and enough bustle to keep things interesting.
“First and foremost, though, it’s the people in Charlottesville that make it a great place to live,” says City Manager Maurice Jones. “We have people from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of places, and they contribute to the quality of life here.”
No. 21 on our list of 2015 Top 100 Best Places to Live, Charlottesville ranked high in nearly every measure of what makes a great community, but especially shone in the areas of amenities, education, health and infrastructure.
The city is proud of the amenities it offers, from free downtown trolley service and a comprehensive bus system to well-maintained streets and roads, hiking trails, parks, and recreational facilities. Charlottesville maintains 26 parks, including several popular “spraygrounds,” four swimming pools and four fitness centers, all part of the city’s commitment to community well-being.
“Our residents are committed to health and wellness and making sure that everyone has a chance to take advantage of these amenities,” Jones says. “We have scholarship opportunities and lots of free programs for people who may not have the means to use our facilities without assistance.”
The city’s opportunities for entertainment and recreation are plentiful, too. The rich experiences provided by the presence of the University of Virginia can’t be overstated, from music to film festivals to theater and more. Charlottesville’s downtown mall is a fixture of its dining, entertainment and retail scene, and has become perhaps the city’s most popular meeting place for students and non-students alike. More than 120 retail shops and numerous restaurants keep the mall bustling, as do venues for music, theater and film. The city has partnered with various organizations to foster the arts, from the nTelos Wireless Pavilion to the restored old Paramount Theater.
“Charlottesville has without question become the cultural center of our region,” Jones says. “We have a thriving, healthy arts community that we continue to try to support. It’s very involved and growing, and we have recognized not only the enhancement of the quality of life that happens with a good strong arts community, but also how important it is in contributing to the economy of the area.”
Investing in Education
Education, too, is important to the long-term health of the area’s economy, Jones believes. In addition to opportunities for higher education through UVa and its outreach to the community, Charlottesville maintains a highly rated public school system that non-residents are willing to pay tuition to attend. The system is intentional in its efforts to meet the differing needs of students, offering plenty of Advance Placement classes for high schoolers and pre-school programs for 3- and 4-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten. The city also recently decided to spend $4 million on upgrading STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) facilities in its middle and high schools.
“We recognize the need to promote and educate our kids when it comes to STEM, and we are putting our money where our mouths are,” Jones says. “Every single student will have access to the science labs – it’s not just for high achievers, it’s for every kid in our school system. We really do see it as an investment in our future, in our community.”