Richmond has a tortured history. And I’m not simply talking about our role as the epicenter of the slave trade, stalwart resister to desegregation, or leader in suburban sprawl. We’ve also elected corrupt politicians, stymied public input on urban development, listened to “old money” rather than “average” residents, and generally privileged money & power, too often to the detriment of the community’s well-being.

Nevertheless, Richmond is home to a ridiculous number of fabulous people, non-profits, artists, activists, restauranteurs who could easily find a city more interested in using their talent and implementing their innovative visions than Richmond is. Rachel Flynn, director of community development and the city’s leader of the master plan process, is one of those people. I hope she sticks around for a while.

Today’s lead Style article is a profile of her, complete with battle stories between her and Jerry Falwell and the powerful Richmonders who are nervous about her ideas.

A representative excerpt:

The proposed plan has been giving heartburn to Bruce Hazelgrove — vice president of corporate resources for NewMarket Corp., a subsidiary of Ethyl Corp. — ever since the draft master plan painted green the field beneath Ethyl’s white mansion, the grassy expanse above Tredegar Iron Works where the National Folk Festival was held. The company has been planning to develop the property for years, but Flynn designated the field as a park.

In an attempt to regain control, Hazelgrove shot off a series of e-mails and met with planning staff to try to get his company’s field back. The night before Hazelgrove was supposed to go in for another planning meeting, Flynn called him to say the meeting would be on the second floor of City Hall — the mayor’s office — instead of her fifth-floor planning office.

“Shit,” Hazlegrove said after hanging up the phone. Wilder would be there. Flynn says the meeting was cordial, although Hazelgrove recalls a winding round of he-said, she-said, culminating in the mayor asking him to put what he wanted in writing and assuring him they’d “find a consensus” — an ominous pronouncement.

Whether she’s right or wrong on this, or any, particular issue, I’m glad someone’s willing to stand up to Richmond’s power brokers.

And she’s championing the mantra that many of Richmond’s bloggers have been pushing: increased public participation in planning Richmond’s future.

Flynn likes protest and citizen participation and all things democratic, upper- and lowercase.

She’s also taking on Trani and VCU’s proposed destruction of the Art Deco West Hospital, and the Echo Harbor developers’ riverfront condo proposal.

The politicians are already expressing their reservations- perhaps worried that siding with her puts them in the crosshairs of those who bankroll their campaigns.

“You make a Christmas list and then you become realistic,” says Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, who also sits on the planning commission.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’ll be in Flynn’s corner for this fight.

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