There is a lot of debate going on at the moment about the best way to revitalize the areas surrounding Downtown Richmond. The major gripe people have seems to be that certain areas, such as portions of Broad, Hull, and Marshall Streets, are cut off from the rest of the city and are marred by unsightly scenery such as vacant lots, chain link fences, overhead utility lines, damaged sidewalks, and so on.
If you search the internet or attend a community workshop, such as the one that will be held on Thursday September 27 2007 at The Renaissance Conference Center, you will be presented with plans for eradicating these eyesores that include: new sidewalks with no cracks, buried utility lines, street trees, special lighting, bold crosswalks, new buildings with large windows, stoops, and awnings, and on-street parking.
During the presentation you will see dismal photos of vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and empty streets – the current state of the areas in question. You will then see doctored photos that show the same scenes, “revitalized”. The lots and abandoned buildings have been replaced with new, pretty buildings with pretty storefronts. The power lines and swinging traffic lights are gone, and the streets below them are no longer empty. They are populated by leafy trees and meandering shoppers. It looks like a very nice little world.
My problem is that even though the world of the doctored photos looks nice, it also looks boring, and the same as a million other worlds. There are countless cities in America with the same storefronts, the same special lighting, the same bold crosswalks, and the same people. These days, an unused lot is much more of a rarity than a Pottery Barn or café.
I’ll tell you what I see when I look at the undoctored photos. I see a landscape that is beautiful, and lonely, and haunting. Being in a city where you can see the horizon is an amazing and rare thing. Being in a city where a lot of any type – vacant, parking, etc – isn’t immediately replaced by a high rise condo featuring a mix of high end retail space and luxury loft-style apartments is refreshing. I suppose it is futile to argue against any plan that involves the term “revitalization”. I can only hope that any changes are tasteful and that they do not homogenize the neighborhood to an unbearable degree.