Petersburg is, arguably, in much worse shape than Richmond. The national trends of white flight, sprawl, and downtown neglect hit Petersburg hard. But some committed individuals are doing an amazing job of creating a community that’s truly invested in the future of the city.

In fact, they’ve just released a comprehensive plan for redeveloping their downtown and waterfront. Here’s where Richmond should pay attention. Instead of bowing to the whims of every corporate executive with an idea (whether for their company or some “public interest” group like the VAPAF)- Petersburg did something remarkable- they used experts and talked to residents:

For four days, a group of volunteer architects, students, urban planners and community development experts from around the country scoured downtown Petersburg while interviewing locals, examining the cityscape and looking for ways to invigorate change and growth within the city.
From a Richmond.com article

They invited a group called the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team program, or R/UDAT (pronounced roo-dat).

From R/UDAT’s website:

What can R/UDAT do for your community?

Communities across the country are constantly changing. Some of the challenges they encounter include the loss of major employers, new bypass roads, gridlock, unfocused suburban growth, crime, loss of open space, regional conflict, unaffordable housing, abandoned mills and industrial plants, environmental problems, vacant storefronts, and loss of identity. A R/UDAT can help you to respond to these kinds of issues, develop a vision for a better future for your community, and implement a strategy that will produce results. Because the R/UDAT process is highly flexible, it is effective in communities as small as villages and urban neighborhoods and as large as metropolitan regions.

Why does the R/UDAT process work?

The process works because it relies on three simple principles.

Quality: Team members are highly respected, interdisciplinary professionals selected on the basis of their experience with the specific issues facing your community. The energy and creativity that are generated by a top-notch, multidisciplinary team of professionals working collaboratively can produce extraordinary results.

Objectivity: Many communities are immobilized by conflicting agendas, politics, personalities, or even the overabundance of opportunity. The R/UDAT process ensures that all voices are given a fair hearing and that options are weighed impartially. The lack of bias, professional stature of the team members, and pro bono nature of the work generate community respect and enthusiasm for the process.

Public Participation: The process encourages the active participation of all sectors of the community. A common sentiment expressed after a R/UDAT is: “This experience really brought the community together. People who never talked before are now working together.”

How revolutionary is that? Using experts and asking for residents’ input! Contrast that with how Style reports that plans for redeveloping the Boulevard corridor are being made:

[Council President] Pantele has been working behind the scenes for more than a year with developers interested in the Boulevard area for retail development.

Or, if you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t already, head to SaveRichmond.com to read in-depth criticism of the rich-white-men-behind-closed-doors approach to supporting the arts community and redeveloping downtown.

Kudos to Petersburg, and to whoever got R/UDAT involved. To quote the co-chair of the Downtown Harbor Initiative, “This is the result of a public planning process. This is the community’s vision for its city.”

Oh, and here’s their plan – and here’s hoping it comes to fruition.

And maybe Richmond will take notice.

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