Apparently, Richmond has a disease. No word has been given on our prognosis. Will we recover? Is our case terminal? Are there any doctors out there who know how to cure us?

According to the headline of a recent Style article, we have a condition known as “Projectitis.”

The symptoms:

  • “searching for the Next Big Thing to save [our] downtown”
  • “sinking millions in scatter-shot mega-improvements that attempt to lure people back downtown”
  • building a ” festival marketplace”
  • “one-way-street mania”
  • “tearing out a chunk of your city to make way for superhighways”
  • building convention centers

Well, Richmond certainly has these symptoms. Style calls them “the urban planning equivalent of a boob job.”

So to sum up: we’re desperately ill with projectitis, getting implants instead of medically necessary surgery.

The cure?

Master planning “acupuncture.” (I’m not making these medical metaphors up- this one’s in paragraph 11 in the Style story if you don’t believe me.) I didn’t follow how acupuncture works as a metaphor. Let’s try another one.

Richmond’s community development director, Rachel Flynn says Richmond needs to turn itself into a healthy ecosystem.

She sees a successful downtown not nucleating around a single grand project, but a batch of mixed-use buildings in a variety of sizes: “It’s kind of like biodiversity. You need insects that the birds eat.”

Hmmm. So high-rises eat mid-rises, which eat single-family homes?

I’m totally lost now.

The treatment I’d choose for Richmond is best described by the urban planner Victor Dover, without the use of medical or biological metaphors. He describes his experience in another city, South Miami. (It’s unclear if S. Miami had projectitis or not):

“[South Miami’s] Main Street had been de-designed by engineering and road-widening projects that resulted in boarded-up storefronts because it was pedestrian-hostile,” he says. “Three hundred and fifty citizens in a chorus said we want Main Street back.” So they helped draft a plan that called for wider sidewalks and on-street parking, and every time a project gets proposed, the citizens can point to that plan and hold the decision-makers accountable to it, Dover says, because they helped write it. [emphasis added]

Citizens People holding politicians accountable for a plan we help create. Can it happen in Richmond? Can it cure what ails us?

And more to the point, do our politicians care what we think? Or are they too busy suing other branches of government and raising money from business interests to care about a citizen-authored plan?

Can Richmond be cured? Feel free to chime in with your answer.

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