Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jack Rants About Richmond Social Issues

*Written at 4 AM after more than a few drinks.

I hear a lot of talk about downtown plans and awesome growth schemes for Richmond. I hear about new skyscrapers and new parking decks and new blah blah fucking blah. I hear it mostly from 3 or 4 blogs and a smattering of news-oriented sites....And...

For real Richmonders, the middle to lower class, the people unaffected by growth plans and money being pumped into worthless revitalization projects, it means nothing.

Coming from a solid middle class, second generation, Richmond person, heres what (some) of us feel:

There are bums sleeping under overpasses downtown (I see them frequently, including tonight) and there are multiple assaults and murders. I speak and drink with extremely underpaid cops. I drink and sleep with teachers who are way under the poverty line. They tell me about kids coming to school with black eyes, kids with weapons, sexual abuse, etc.

It seems to me and multiple other locals, that revitalizing downtown Richmond only matters to a handful of people. Mainly: Wealthy Richmonders who live downtown or near downtown. Bringing new business into Richmond doesn't pay the bills for A LOT of people. In fact, it doesn't pay the bills for anyone except the greedhead contractors, new businessman and politicians. I know that growth brings jobs to the area...I know this! But face it, it ain't bringin shit until new companies come and set up shop, which is not an immediate answer.

Fine, fine, fine. I guess you have to start somewhere. There are no immediate answers....I know. I also guess that pompous windbags don't do shit for immediate Richmond "growth". It's a good thing that people who need the most help probably don't have the internet. They don't have to read stupid shit about "revitalization" and "growth".

What really sucks is the fact that I can visibly see what's wrong, and I don't really know what I could ever do about it. I'm sure that no one really knows exactly what to do. The only people who can immediately respond are the people with the money.

Clearly the best solution is more parking. "I mean, fuck...I drive 6 miles from Short Pump everyday and I'll be damned if I have to park anywhere less than 100 yards from my building. Oh and can you throw a Caribou Coffee in the parking deck? I need 400 extra calories before breakfast....stat!"

( Poverty on the homefront (Richmond) is numero uno on my list of social problems... You don't agree? Do me a favor and don't let me know about it.)


Anna said...

God, you're so naive. Trolleys in Downtown Richmond could really turn things around for everyone.

Anonymous said...

oh thank god we are taking a break from the wanna be Tucker Max Jack...i was beginning to lose all's good to mix it up. peace.

Jocelyn Testes-Harder said...

Anna, are you being sarcastic? An expensive trolley installation would accomplish almost nothing.

There's nothing that Trolleys can do that buses don't already do. Maybe GRTC could make a few trolley-shaped buses and leave it at that.

But you're entitled to your opinion, which is what the Downtown plan was really supposed to be about. Giving the citizens, developers, and everyone else a voice in the future development of Richmond.

Richmond will be developed whether we plan it or not. Just look at how much has been done since the flood in Shockoe bottom. I think the point is to put development in check, to a certain extent. And also to encourange certain parts of the city grow the way we want it to.

There should of course also be plans for taking care of our public school problems, our local government problems, transients and panhandlers, crime problems, etc.

Jack Goes Forth said...

ummm, take this post as crazy REALLY DRUNKEN nothingness. I got up this morning to reread it and realized that it doesn't really make much sense.

When reading just imagine that I'm standing on a street corner with my pants at my ankles, drunkenly shouting these words to anyone who passes by.



Jeff E. said...

Downtown revitalization = Economic growth

Economic growth = More jobs and a larger tax base to pay for programs to get folks on their feet.

If we make writing checks to the homeless and impoverished our main priority then we'd be bankrupt in the matter of a year. It may sound cold but you have to look at this practically. The income has to come first and revitalization offers that. I don't condone the massive amounts of money the City is willing to pour into what should be private ventures while they ignore simple things like the conditions of our streets and sidewalks. I do condone the City encouraging private investment through tax credits and infrastructure improvements.

HEK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HEK said...

Ugh. I had some typos. "Outside the plan" "edifice complex," etc. Thought I got'em.

R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
in vino veritas said...

now that, hek, is some kind of comment.

jack: great rant. nothing like alcohol-induced city revitalization chats.

Jack Goes Forth said...

Hek- Wow. You know what your comment reminds me off- The scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman gives a 5 minute monologue on social reform to a bewildered table of his peers.

That being said, I appreciate the time it took and I completely agree with your many many points. You seem to be educated in the ways of city government and genuiely concerned for Richmonds welfare.

Unfortunately I was completely bombed and refused to look at the real hard facts as I wrote my post.

This could be the start of a "Jack gives back to the community" era in my life...maybe.

If we can organize some sort of function where I can meet women who don't normally frequent grimy bars and still do something about poverty in Richmond, count me in.

JTH- The first thing we have to do is go back and watch the fantastic Simpsons episode: Marge Vs. The Monorail, written by none other than Conan O'Brian. That should teach Richmond all we need to know about the pitfalls of public transportation.

Anna said...

Yup. That was sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

White reclamation! Let the west enders use our city for their fun and entertainment then run away the moment the sun sets!

HEK said...

Well, Jack, you titled it a rant, and so it is, and that gives you a pass.

Seems to me that's kind of what blogging is, drunk or not.

And you're not wrong, but not all the way right, either. Now permit me to commandeer the comments section, if just for a few, OK, more than a few paragraphs.

Your basic premise about poverty is correct. Not much can be moved from the starting line until as a region is addressed. Having said that, I'm not sure what and all can be accomplished.

The hard facts are these: for the first time, 50 percent of those living in poverty within the immediate vicinity of Richmond-Henrico-Chesterfield now reside outside the city. You read that right.

Take a drive out Williamsburg Road or Chamberlayne Avenue, or the J.D., and if you can't see the "Welcome To" signs, you can't tell where the city ends and the county begins.

On top of this, around 23-25 percent of the city's population is at or below poverty. 70 percent of the city's school children are at reduced or free lunch.

The warehousing of the poor in so-called projects where generations of people have come to live in a way not intended is one part of this equation. How you take them apart, and where then do the people go --that's the rub, isn't it?

And what about substandard housing occupied by immigrants and the new working class? And how do you revitalize a neighborhood without out pricing the residents?

There are ways to work on these issue; Richmond needs just to accept innovation -- for her own safety and well-being.

Now it took about 50 years for this situation to deteriorate, and it won't get fixed overnight, and the complicated causes cannot be abated by simple solutions. There is no such thing.

And I'm sure, Jack, if you held an informal Solve Richmond's Problems summit at your bar one night, you might be surprised by some of the responses -- in a positive and negative way.

Now, Richmond tends to think of herself as the worst in the world and flagellate herself, then, as she slaps the cat-o-nine tails against her bare back, curses someone else for mistreating her in such a way.

To frame the metaphor another way--and Jack you've met these kind -- Richmond is the witty,gorgeous woman at the club -- she's not a flibbertijibbit, by the way--though she somehow has yet to recognise all of the charms and talents she possesses. She is full of self-doubt and requires constant assurance. And because of her poor esteem, she often gets taken advantage of by those who are far less unscrupulous than she -- and then she's back at your bar, wondering why this happens to her.

She knows there's a problem. She doesn't want to keep repeating these mistakes. But old habits...well. They become comfortable vices.

And here is the thing; Richmond seems to enjoy its unhappiness, or rather, somebody is enjoying her plight. And of course, we all pay the price, through jacked up utilities rates, crime,crumbling schools and some good teachers placed in impossible situations, and you name the trouble-of-the-week.

This is why voting in the November council and mayoral elections is vital, perhaps even more important than the general -- because these matters affect each and every Richmonder at the most fundamental levels. Getting involved at the basic civic starting line is one way to accomplish results, block by block.

There are overarching and greater issues that Richmond cannot solve by herself. The national economy and the cycles of commerce. But we can't just let bad local conditions worsen. Otherwise, what's the point? Why are we here? We may as well put up the drawbridge and leave the city for the wolves -- if we do choose to nothing but despair, or hope for some magic solution. Neither is desirable.

We must allow for and encourage Richmond to be the best Richmond she can be. For decades, our city officialdom has wanted her to be something else -- like a family who demands that their artist study business administration. That person may not choose her art,only to become an unhappy manager who makes everybody miserable. Now, the artist's course isn't easy, either, but being a good manager is challenge all its own, too.

No, capital projects like high rises won't solve these intractable problems--not in a direct way, and not with immediacy. But the historic tax credits have refurbished or are in the process of allowing the rehabilitation of most major and many vernacular downtown buildings. (If, like the old Murphy Hotel, they're not getting torn down due to years of state/city allowed demolition by neglect, viz. West Hospital).

Jack, the present master plan to which you refer is edifice complex-free. Yes, clamoring outside the plan, there are developers eager to transform Richmond into a glass-and-plastic Charlotte or Atlanta-on-the-James. Say what you will, while these towns are new and "clean" they lack much of Richmond's soul.

The greatest barrier preventing Richmond from joining the great sorority of Charleston, Savannah and the wounded New Orleans is -- Richmond herself.

Like our lady in the example above, sitting at your bar and wondering why she makes bad choices in search of a good life, she needs to understand she's got everything she already needs, and when she realizes that, so will those who should matter most in her life.

If besides some cranky bloggers greater numbers of people demanded accountability, transparency and creativity and imagination--married to practical outcomes--there'd be no limits for Richmond.

Jack, up until the mid-20th century Richmond's motto was--"Sic Itur Ad Aatra" or "Thus, the way to the stars." Doesn't this beat, "Easy To Love" all to tarnation? Doesn't this phrase - Latinate though it is and from a dead Greek guy named Homer writing about some violent feat on the battlefield-- give us an indication of what Richmond should be like, instead of how she perceives herself?

Slogans of course don't alter patterns--not by themselves. Deeds must follow words.

Richmond's focus on the petty and picayune have led her to stare at her sinking feet, and not to look up for a branch, or a hand, and to lose sight that there is an open world of possibilities. It's tough to gaze dreamily at the stars if you think the ground is about to swallow you up. I understand that.

Richmond's mid-20th century junta-style government --mostly white guys in collusion with other white guys on Main Street--managed to bollix the city but good.

These were the guys who allowed our streetcar system, established in 1888 and the first in the nation--maybe in the world--to be ripped up, paved over and burned in 1949--just when we could've used it the most to assist suburban expansion with transit directed development, instead of the reverse.

And in a city so fond of anniversaries, imagine this: 2008 would be the 120th anniversary of our light rail, which by now would've been modernized and sleek and wonderful. (With some heritage cars left for the tourists and those who like them).

Today, light rail can cost $20 million per mile, but, in major cities that have them, they can make back 35-45 percent on their farebox.

Trolley-shaped buss are not trolleys. And they are called trolleys because of the "troller" that Mr. Sprague devised here that hooks to an overhead wire and powers the car.

Still, almost every city in Virginia is at the very least either implementing downtown circulators or planning for them: Roanoke, Alexandria, Charlottesville, and Hampton Roads. Richmond is looking at Bus Rapid Transit as a possible precursor to light rail. But that requires federal funds, which is available, if we ask for it.

In 1977, when the white guy government establishment was replaced, the bollixing and botching proceeded apace. We had loggerheads.

Whites ran the businesses end, blacks the government, and Sixth Street Marketplace's bridge was supposed to symbolize the union of our most visible divider--Broad Street.

When the mistake of Sixth Street was finally realized, in an almost Soviet manner, the Marketplace was obliterated as though it never existed--including the vaunted bridge that Richmonders had actually gotten used to. What remains is the husk of the Marshall Street food court, where retailers are getting kicked out.

City planners of the 1960s and 1970s ought to have known better, and sought to preserve the city fabric. They instead adopted a "bomb the village to save it" planning view. Rather than seeking historic preservation and conservation avenues, just tore stuff down and gave us the pathetic Coliseum, a City Hall that looks like it belongs in the former East Berlin, a barren Fulton, a wretched waterfront(that citizens and a few farsighted naturalists have fought in the past 30 years to rescue), and the beat goes on.

The ruling elites dismissed direct public opposition to the "Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike"/I-95 extension that curves around Main Street Station and demolished the heart of Jackson Ward to save 10 minutes of drive time by destroying more houses than the 1865 Evecaution Fire.

Likewise, the Great Ditch of the Downtown Expressway which further divided the city and ripped through parks, Randolph and Oregon Hill, and destroyed five canal locks cut off the city from the river. Again, residents and civic organizations protested to no avail.

This was bad planning (it was known even at the time-- basically, engineers drawing a line on a map),and even bad feng shui.

But we could overcome this. Check out "Removing Freeways-Restoring Cities" at

The carpers will croak about "convenience" and getting to the outer burbs, but I'd ask those people: do you want a city, or what? If you desire a suburban lifestyle, go there.

We should have a city to run -- not to run away from.

Thanks, Jack, and I apologize for my own rant.

Anonymous said...

Hek, couldn't you just have written your own blog about that and posted a link here? Seems a bit long winded...

Anonymous said...

You're such a humanitarian JGF. You already were helping inform the cities female youth about new and depraved sexual positions, and now this?

Bravo young man.

John said...

Kollatz, don't you have a different book to write? You just burned up 1,500 words!

I think if the Downtown Plan had held its public hearings in bars, the results would have been much different. And Jack would have gone on a few more dates.

Anonymous said...

The Richmond Greens call for an end to downtown corporate welfare, and demand attention for Richmond’s schools and neighborhoods on behalf of its citizens.

Paul H said...

HEK - 1600 word comment? You really should republish elsewhere. It's really well written, but worth a discussion in it's own right.

Jeff E
"Downtown revitalization = Economic growth

Economic growth = More jobs and a larger tax base to pay for programs to get folks on their feet

I've been saying that for month, years. Glad to see someone else understands that.

the shootist said...


Great post. And utterly true, as blog posts go. If only we could make it true in reality ...