Monday, January 20, 2014

RVA Love

Whether you park your car in Hanover, Henrico, Chesterfield, or even Goochland, you probably claim Richmond as your home.You may even have an RVA sticker on your car. We all enjoy the laid back summer evenings at Friday Cheers on Brown's Island, we all take visitors to Carytown for tasty food and unique shopping, we all delight in the stately homes of Monument Avenue and the mix of tasteful and tacky lights they wear during the holidays. 

What we don't all enjoy or share equal interest in are the needs for improvements within the city limits. The LovingRVA proposal and other discussions around the location of a ball field engage city residents with little effort because there are immediate concerns of taxes, parking, and changes to their neighborhoods. Those of us living in the counties sometimes add our two cents to the discussion, but feel little pressure to engage because, hey, it's not our decision. I don't live within the city limits (anymore) but I do spend a great deal of my time in Richmond. I love the city, I love the people I've met and the places I've discovered, and I love the opportunities I've been afforded in my time here. I feel responsible. 

There is a great deal of controversy around the proposal to put a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom. Costs, historical significance, and the location itself (hello floodplain) are top of everyone's mind. This is a given- you'll always have both sides of the fence with such a complex, transformational, massive undertaking. What distresses me is the amount of apathy and sheer disinterest that also surrounds the plan. Nine and a half times out of ten, when I ask someone what they think about the idea, their response is "Yeah, aren't they talking about moving the ball park to Shockoe Bottom?" or "I hadn't really heard anything about it." People aren't taking the time to learn about the proposal or the alternatives. They don't know what it would cost to build downtown, what it would cost to stay on the Boulevard, who is or isn't committed to coming to Richmond with the plan, or what the implications are either way. They haven't driven by the proposed site for the ballpark (currently a parking lot in disrepair), tried to visit the Lumpkins' jail site (primarily underground, to protect it from flooding). These are people who have families, who go to Flying Squirrels' games, who have eaten at Havana 59 and Juleps.

I feel responsible when I walk through the fan and know that I'll probably never live there with children because too many of the city schools are struggling, and I can't afford private school tuition. I feel a little guilty when developers point out that there is no place in the city of Richmond, north of the river, to purchase a TV. When I spend large chunks of change (rare though it may be), that tax revenue is going to the counties. We fret over crime in Shockoe Bottom and sidewalks in disrepair, yet we leave them no fighting chance (and no budget) because we spend our money outside the city limits. We don our black and gold every March to show our VCU pride, but we forget that no property tax is being collected on that those 88 acres of city land.

I love the city. I want to see the river become a destination for more people and businesses. I want to see small businesses thriving, I want to feel like I am supporting the infrastructure I use every week with my tax dollars.

A great many people have put a great deal of time, energy, and passion into this plan. They no doubt have different sources of motivation and reasons for wanting to see this through. Whatever those reasons, they have made a significant effort on behalf of and benefiting the city of Richmond, and I want to encourage people to make an effort of their own. 
Learn about the plan. Ask questions. Share your opinion. Encourage others to educate themselves.

Politics and government are not words that have ever given me warm fuzzies or want to take time away from things I enjoy. I have been disgusted by shut downs, maneuvers, smear campaigns, and scandals. I struggle to conceive how anything ever gets done with so many hidden agendas and egos in the mix. 

To me, this isn't politics and we aren't the government. We're people. Citizens. Heck yes, I have an agenda: 
I want my city to be better. 
I don't want to have to explain to people why Richmond, Virginia is an amazing place to live- I want them to know it, the way people know Austin, Denver, and Nashville. 
I want people to be able to appreciate the impressive aspects of our history, along with the sobering and the tragic. 
I want people to understand how we arrived at where we are, how much has changed, and feel inspired to support positive changes for the future. 
I want a place in Shockoe Bottom that is like the downtown mall in Charlottesville- a town square where you can sit outside and drink coffee for hours, window shop, hear music, run, walk your dog, see and be seen. 
I want Shockoe Bottom to be a source of pride, not one of shame we simply rush by on 95.
I want to have excuses to go inside that beautiful old train station. 
I want my brothers and my favorite people to have to come up with reasons NOT to move to Richmond.

There are a lot of things I want, but this is long enough already. I hope you'll take the time to learn about the plans. If you like them, do something about it. If you don't like them, do something about it. It's not just about your commute to work, where I want to send my future children to school, or the threat of big box stores on Boulevard; It's about the space we inhabit and the communities we create.  

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