The City of Charlottesville's attempts to rename Emancipation and Justice Parks have been contentious. Controversy was again sparked this week when an analysis published by The Cavalier Daily that individuals outside Charlottesville were attempting to influence the results of the initial community poll seeking input on the renaming process. These outside respondents accounted for nearly two-thirds of the poll’s respondents. This overwhelming proportion is troublesome, as the initial survey was meant to gather essential information from local residents on what names they would prefer for the parks. The renaming of the parks should remain a task and privilege of Charlottesville citizens, as they hold the most interest in the issue. City Council should take initiative to ensure that these surveys represent citizens' interests without outside interference.
The controversy concerning these parks began last year with the renaming of the parks previously known as Lee and Jackson Parks. To rename the parks, a public survey was conducted and several potential names were compiled for Lee Park — the initial source of the controversy. The list included names such as Market Street Park, Festival Park, Central Park and Community Park. Unfortunately, City Council completely disregarded the names listed on the community survey and changed the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park.
This dismissal by City Council resulted in petition by local activist Mary Carey, who hoped to alter the name of Emancipation Park. In the petition, Carey wrote that the historical context of the word emancipation disrespected the local African-American community and appeared contradictory in the of Robert E. Lee's statue in the center of the park.
Given the context in which this decision was made and the subsequent reaction in the community, it is a step in the right direction that City Council is moving to rename the parks. However, City Council should redouble its efforts to engage with the Charlottesville community in the next survey cycle to prevent outside actors from influencing local politics.
In light of the outside individuals that are seeking to the survey — many of whom may have come from white nationalist forums — City Council must commit to limit how many individuals outside Charlottesville can vote in the most recent survey. Clearly the survey process needs to be revamped — an official even stated that the survey process had clear limitations. Considering that Charlottesville often receives national coverage, it is necessary that City Council focus on the community and ensure that the name that is eventually picked is chosen from within the community. To do this, they need to ensure the new survey exclusively collects responses from Charlottesville’s citizens.
In addition, City Council’s survey must reach under-represented members of our community, many of whom rightfully objected to the name Emancipation Park. Ensuring the respondents of this survey are not only from Charlottesville, but are representative of the City as a whole is incredibly important. Everyone needs to be heard in this process, so that the City Council can make the most informed decision possible and that no person or community is overlooked.
City Council must guarantee that during this current round of voting the park renaming process is as inclusive as possible. We also believe that it is imperative City Council picks the most popular name, chosen by the community, to rename Emancipation Park when the survey is concluded. Through this survey, City Council has an opportunity to cultivate effective citizen engagement with their government and show that the results can truly reflect the interests of the community — it is vital that they get it right this time.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the executive editor, the editor in chief and three at-large members of the paper. The board can be reached at email@example.com.