2017 Francis Fife Scholarship

Silas Beers, Albemarle High School

As our community grows and more families move into local neighborhoods it becomes necessary to expand human developments further and further outwards. These expansions include new neighborhoods and new commerce centers.  I have lived in a hub of commerce near the Pantops shopping center for fifteen years, and I have seen the suburbs grow before my very eyes. Since I have resided in Albemarle County, four new neighborhoods have been built within a half-mile of my house. While I love getting new neighbors, expansion does not come without consequence.

    There are a few immediate drawbacks of constant expansion which have become a daily nuisance. First and foremost, the area surrounding my neighborhood has seemingly been under non-stop construction since my family moved here. This construction affects daily commuters by closing roads and slowing traffic to a halt in certain circumstances. The increasing residential framework on the East side of the Rivanna River highlights a poor piece of urban planning. For all those who work in downtown Charlottesville there is only one bridge that crosses the river funneling all the traffic onto one road. There are also no pedestrian crossing routes discouraging people from biking to work or walking into town and reinforcing the dependence on cars to get anywhere in the city. Discouraging alternative transportation practices is a dangerous pattern to get into because it leads to an unhealthy community reliant upon technologies harmful to the environment. Unfortunately this is a pattern that has already set in world-wide, and actions need to be taken to reverse it.

    Past the immediate consequences of expansion there are several underlying chain reactions that lead to unintended issues that will negatively impact the quality of life here in Albemarle County. As urban development increases, construction will interfere with more and more natural ecosystems. Under these circumstances the concept of One Health comes to mind. The Center for Disease Control defines One Health as the concept that the health of humans, animals, and the surrounding environment are all linked, and that the failure of the health of one group in the triad will negatively affect the health and well-being of the other two groups. As construction cuts down the surrounding ecosystems, the services provided by those ecosystems are lost. The loss of these services is a scary proposition because it is not easy to tell how reliant or how important the services provided by the ecosystem are until they are gone. Ecosystem services such as erosion protection and water filtration are very expensive to replace and the man-made versions of services are not as effective as the natural remedies.

    Another long term consequence of expansion is the increased contact between humans and wildlife. As more undeveloped plots of land are converted into homes and neighborhoods, the community pushes further into the habitats of local animals. Over the summer I will be working at Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary in Nelson County. One of my daily duties will be to drive around Albemarle County and surrounding counties to pick up wildlife that has come in contact with people. My other duties will include rehabilitation, feeding, and cleaning of all the rescued animals. Many of these animals are injured or orphaned by increasing human development, and it is important to rehabilitate and release these animals to maintain biodiversity within their ecosystems. It is also important to try and avoid human influence on the maturation process of these animals leading to their domestication. The increased exposure with wild animals is a dangerous situation for both humans and wildlife. Any time an animal is put in an uncomfortable situation it becomes a danger to humans and itself. In my own neighborhood I have seen deer, foxes, and even bears dangerously close to houses. However, the animals do not have to attack to be dangerous to the health of people. Increased contact between animals and people also will lead to increased transfer of diseases. Zoonotic diseases, or diseases transferred between animals and humans, range from lyme disease to rabies, and none of them contribute to a higher quality of life.

The spread of human development is expanding at an alarming rate and causing a plethora of issues. There are several immediate issues concerning construction and urban planning, but there are also several issues that are not as immediately apparent. The loss of ecosystem services and increased contact between humans and wild animals have the potential to be a lot more dangerous to humans and a lot harder to fix than some of the immediate issues. It is for these reasons that rapid expansion in Albemarle county concerns me. We need to set aside some green spaces both in and around the urban core of Charlottesville and Albemarle. If we don't, it's not just the wildlife that will suffer.