Ambivalence


I live in a part of town where I’m a racial minority.  I’m white, most of my neighbors are black.  Tonight as I was walking home from a friendsplace, a police car rolled up next to me and the officer rolled down his window.

I was totally vibing to a new song I’d discovered on my craigslist-purchased ipod.  I’m embarrassed to say what the song was.  But I was listening to it for the 10th time that day.

When I noticed the police car driving slowly along next to me, I took out my headphones to listen to the cop.

“Do you live up here?”

“Yes”

“Where?”

Here I should point out that I’ve heard of other white folks in my neighborhood being given a hard time for walking down the street- presumed to be in the neighborhood to buy drugs or sex- and I always imagined that if I were in their shoes I’d be witty, brilliant, and totally put the cops in their place.

“On W St.,”  I said.

Witty.  Biting sarcasm.  Oh well.  He was a cop.

“What’s your address?” the cop pressed further.

Here’s the part of the story where I should tell you how I put the cop in his place, pointed out his stereotyping behavior, and totally remade the social order in Richmond.

Instead, I told him my address.
He drove off.

Maybe next time…

And my pipes are frozen.
I’ve been under the house with a hair dryer all morning and have managed to get one sink working.  I’m wondering if it would be really dangerous to put a space heater under there so I can stay inside.

The joy of old, historic, uninsulated homes.

The editorial board of the Times Dispatch weighs in today with its thoughts on the future of the West Hospital:

The [preservationist] stance suggests mere aesthetics should hold back medical progress. Preservationists — and advocates of the city’s ostensibly “bottom-up” planning process who also have denounced VCU’s plans — doubtless will protest such a characterization. Nevertheless, at least some of them seem to care more about how VCU’s hospital looks to those walking by on the outside than how much it can help the people in need on the inside. It is a badly skewed set of values that places a higher priority on lifestyle than on life itself.

I’ll ignore for now the swipe at the master planning process (I’m struggling to remember what positions the editorial board has expressed regarding the planning process-anyone?) and focus on the comments on the West Hospital.

I am one of those who will protest their characterization of preservationists having badly skewed values.

My question is, when did we accept VCU’s proposition, without challenge, that they have only two options: keep using an outdated ineffective hospital building or tear it down.

Why not sell the building and use the proceeds to build a new hospital nearby?

There’s plenty of vacant land around MCV- currently used as surface parking lots (View Map of Broad & 14th area).

I absolutely agree that MCV should build a new hospital building- I just don’t buy the dichotomy we’re being sold: tear it down or fail the patients.

There may, of course, be good reasons that MCV cannot acquire the vacant land near them- but that their spokespeople (and the TD) never mention it as an option while harshly criticizing their opponents suggests they are bent on pursuing their own agenda.

Today I finally got around to reading Monday’s Mayor’s Visions Newsletter. And I found something about which the Mayor, his staff, and I agree: the news outlets in this town leave something to be desired.

Something like: decent journalism that reports and checks facts and asks tough questions.

The Mayors Visions newsletter was penned by new CAO, Sheila Hill-Christian, who takes a swipe at shoddy reporting about the Braves’ move:

The City of Richmond does not own The Diamond. The ballpark is owned by Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield through the RMA (Richmond Metropolitan Authority), and any decisions relative to baseball and The Diamond are decided by the three localities.

We are all in this together and had agreed to the timeline for a new ballpark, as did the Atlanta Braves. While several people have asked me why this has not been previously reported, I simply don’t know why.

While this statement is clearly an attempt to divert some well-deserved blame from the Wilder administration, it’s interesting that the scapegoat is poor reporting- an issue which will likely get even Wilder-haters nodding in agreement.

Blogging about bad journalism from our local paper has become a theme with me recently. See:

  1. The Times Dispatch makes me angry
  2. My critique of reporter Michael Martz’s lack of journalistic curiosity and maddeningly opaque statements about crucial topics: A marina? Or a park?…
  3. And today’s critique of the same reporter* for the same problems

*I’m not picking on Martz because he’s worse than other reporters, he just happens to write the articles I’m most interested in.

Inflammatory! Outrageous!

Who asked all these people what they thought should happen in Richmond? And why are they telling us what to do?

That’s the sentiment expressed (with my, ahem, rewording) about the master plan by planning commission members. The TD reports that several members were upset by Richmond residents’ request that the West Hospital at VCU be preserved:

“They’re kind of able to do what they want,” said commission member William M. Hutchins. “Why alienate them? They do a tremendous amount for the city.”

Commission Chairman Robert Mills said he found “inflammatory” some of the references to VCU, including the focus on preserving the old, art deco-style West Hospital.

Never mind that the concept of a master plan is to focus on design elements that make a city livable. Never mind that the point was to ask residents what they love about this city- what needs to stay and what needs to change.  If residents’ ideas ruffle the feathers of the power-brokers, we should ignore them.

John Sarvay at Buttermilk & Molasses recently posted about the difference between traditional zoning and the design-focused (form-based) zoning pushed by the master plan:

Traditional zoning worries about what people do inside of the buildings they own, and seeks to keep like clustered with like. Form-based code worries about architecture and design, about a building’s relationship to its neighbors, about creating functional and useful urban space.

So a major point of a master plan is to influence the architectural style used around the city. In that light, comments about which buildings contribute to making Richmond a livable, interesting city are completely appropriate.

It seems to me that any downtown landholder could be incensed by a master plan telling them how to build or what to preserve. Why would we be especially worried about VCU’s feelings?

Pictures of the building VCU wants to demolish, and the master plan wants to preserve:

west.jpg

west2.jpg

West Hospital, photo by taberandrew

Times Dispatch headline: “Richmond residents criticize master plan

The “residents” quoted are:

  1. “an attorney representing NewMarket Corp., which owns nearly 70 acres along the James River downtown, including the Ethyl Corp.”
  2. “executive director of [developer-backed] Venture Richmond”
  3. “VCU’s associate vice president for facilities management.”

Please tell me: do I even need to comment on this?

So the Braves are leaving.  Does that solve our civic dilemma about what to do with the Diamond? Unfortunately, no.

According to the TD, there will be A & AA teams beating down our door to move here.

Which means: expect to here more from Pantele, Wilder, and the blogosphere about when, where, how, and why we should (or should not) be building a new baseball stadium.

And for a moment there, I was excited that Richmond could move on to discussing more important things- like affordable housing, transit, education, health care, protecting the environment, regionalism, building parks, rebuilding neighborhoods, supporting local artists….

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