BPRVA had its roving reporter at City Hall last night for discussion of the resolution to forward development of the Shockoe Ball Park plan. Let’s get this out straight from the start: BPRVA’s editorial opinion is that this is an ill-conceived plan which is not only bad for Richmond, but a travesty for humanity. That said, it was exciting to see the people out at the event on both sides speaking their minds on such an important issue in the history of our city. There are many reasons why this is an important issue which have been discussed in length in every press outlet in town over the last …decade, I believe? We believe this is wrong for all of the reasons mentioned by other opponents:
1) The current location is perfectly adequate and already has a guaranteed support base in the community.
2) The Shockoe location is highly congested and will compete with traffic already created by the VCU Medical Center, creating safety and emergency evacuation issues.
3) The plan was devised behind closed-doors with little to no input from citizens which means there is no genuine proof that people will patronize it sufficiently to guarantee promised economic development put forth by the Mayor’s Office
4) The entire Bottom is the site of a mass genocide and human atrocity on the same scale as those in Germany and Hiroshima. Thus, it belongs to humanity and should be properly memorialized and made available to academics in the fields of human studies.
5) The citizens have reiterated for more than ten years that they are against the plan in study after study.
But the most problematic part of this plan is what it implies for our local democracy and the community of respect we have worked for so long to cultivate. Venture Richmond, whether you like their capitalist mission or not, has done wonders over the past decade or so to support events that are open to the public, show respect for internationalism and culture, and create an opportunity for Richmonders from all walks of life to find common ground and enjoy the city together. This sort of experience does more to diffuse race and class tensions than any graduate level course on social theory. It shows the city that corporations have a vested interest in creating common space and sharing their success with their neighbors.
That said, the city has yet to make improvements in the underlying causes of ill-will between different demographics of the city. Schools are still very segregated, albeit through choice rather than policy. Neighborhoods are defined by economic factors that ultimately, maintain segregation. New groups like Latinos are developing their own enclaves creating new potential culture clashes and complex social realities that are less understood by long-standing institutions in the city. Richmond has one of the highest poverty rates in the country and the city has spent few dollars on this, rather, they have asked for city leaders to volunteer their time to serve on task-forces to solve what the city seems incapable of addressing and these reports are sitting underneath a stack of creative renderings of sport field utopias envisioned by Venture Richmond and its contractors.
While these task forces are creating beautiful reports on how to deal with poverty, the Mayor, through Venture Richmond, is leading a full-frontal to increase property values and create development that will ultimately make living in the city limits to burdensome for low-income families. The ballpark, the Boulevard development, the Redskins stadium are all highly attractive to young professionals and out-of-towners but the jobs they will create are temporary or part-time at best. New, more substantial, factory jobs for under-skilled labor are developing in the Hopewell/Petersburg area. Petersburg has chronically bad schools. So Richmond nudges the poor towards these failing communities and entices young career-obsessed young professionals to Richmond. Richmond is hip! Poverty is decidedly un-hip. A drag when you spend most of your time drinking beer, eating dinner at tapas bars and buying 100 dollar jeans at Need Supply. “Dude, get your grubby, beggar hands off my jeans!” Or as the venture capitalists now taking over our city government would say, “dude, get your family’s poor paws off my tax revenue”
Lets be honest, with the high influx of students from Northern Virginia, who will these sport stadium, restaurant temp agencies hire - the hip kid with the tattoo, nose ring and a tab at Hardywood Brewery, or the poor, unskilled laborer with a thrift-store flannel and paint-spattered jeans who doesn’t know how to hashtag #rvafoodies or #rvamag and doesn’t have a Twitter account.
BPRVA is about preserving the character and human beauty of Battery Park and the city. That means we believe in a community that is not built on fashion but on, well, community. We don’t have to artificially construct community based on some textbook written at the University of Texas, Austin. That just looks ridiculous. As ridiculous as all of the trendy boutique clothing stores catering to people who read too many fashion magazines so they can know how they should look. Remember the movie Coming to America? Remember, McDowells? The owner insisted that McDowells Hamburgers were not a copy of McDonalds.
Cleo McDowell “Look…me and the McDonald’s people got this little misunderstanding. See, they’re McDonald’s…I’m McDowell’s. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.”
However, the McDonalds instruction manual was clearly hidden in his desk. I’m sure an audit of Richmond’s Economic Development Department will uncover the cheat sheet from Denver and the development plan from Austin.
And this is essentially the problem with this whole tacky, cliche economic development plan. You cannot use another city’s plan out of the box and expect it to work in any scenario. Richmond has its own identity. The community is already here! The way to strong economic development is putting money into the initiatives that have grown organically out of the genius of the people, rich and poor, our own hometown.
Finally, the worst aspect of this whole situation is that people representing a tiny percent of our community are trying to buy our local government. They are convinced that because they have succeeded in banking or law or as an entrepreneur, they can play with Richmond like a Lego set and it will be a success. But their definition of success is drastically different than ours. Most of them live in the counties. They could care less about the quality of life of all Richmond residents. They want another trophy from their self-serving business bureaus and an enormous cash bonus. They want to come down here to have their idea of a night out and leave to the quiet of their suburban homes - many of which are guarded. They have very little personal equity in this fight. They didn’t live through Richmond’s tough years and have no sense of empathy for the people here who are struggling thanks to the racism that left our city in economic shambles and our schools, once the pride of the state, underfunded and outdated. Yet, they are calling all the shots, they are getting their own private audience with our elected officials and they are threatening them with promises to pull campaign funding if they don’t tow the party line. None of our local non-profits who work directly with under-served communities have spoken out about this atrocity. They are too heavily indebted to the people who are behind this initiative. That means that our collective sense of reason is being thwarted by the evil power of greed, ego and money.
So if you are about community, for real, you should be speaking out loud and clear about your abhorrence of this arrogant and offensive effort to buy our political system and dilute the personality and inherent value of our town. If you care about the well-being of young people and the diversity of our city, you should be making your voice heard. This is not just about a ballpark, its about the direction our local democratic system will take in the coming years. Please speak so that we can maintain a democracy with integrity and a community with depth and meaning - not just a susceptible 20-something market for food, music and clothing fashions. Please pay attention to upcoming meetings at City Council and keep badgering your council people, letting them know that they serve their ALL of their constituents and the future of our city rests in them calling the shots for us.