For this publication’s 2004 edition of the Sourcebook — the latest version of which will soon be choking your mail slot — I contributed to a group of essays titled "Richmond in the First Person.” (My contribution, “Richmond, I Hate Myself For Loving You," is the fifth one down.)
At a couple of social occasions, queries were made in conspiratorially hushed asides about my being “allowed” to publish such contrariness.
I took my cue from the “Easy to Love” slogan adopted in 2002 for downtown after a consulting firm re-engineered the old “Virginia Is for Lovers” tagline.
I wrote, “One thing we’ve not enjoyed is a rational approach to governance. For generations, Richmond was run by a junta of white men who sufficiently mismanaged the city to the point of almost wrecking it. For the past generation, the city has been run by a small group of African-Americans who have sufficiently mismanaged the city to the point of almost wrecking it.
"Richmond is running out of colors, and she is running out of time. If she wishes to join the sorority of great [Southern] cities, she cannot allow distraction by the short-term temptations of politicians, transnational corporations and developers who don’t care about who she is. Her obsession with tempting quick fixes has yielded only bright, shiny fiascos.”
I acknowledged “noteworthy successes in recent decades. These include the James River Parks System, the floodwall and the Canal Walk, historic tax credits for reviving antique buildings, the Clean and Safe Program, and the (finally) renewed Main Street Station.” And yet the station remains in a limbo caused by the historic choke-point of the Acca Yards and, lately bruited about as a place for a visitors center to open in a few years (!). Riverfront development is undergoing a methodical approach stemming from the 2009 downtown master plan, though its shepherd, planning director Rachel Flynn, was unceremoniously booted by the present administration.
“Rather than manufacturing glamour projects," I asked in 2004, "why can we not support and expand what already exists? … Richmond needs a visible, public celebrant of what is good, a relentless progressive champion. We’ve long needed to silence the 'we know what’s best for you' crowd.”
Richmond tossed the city-manager model for a mayor at large in 2004.
I naively expected some great unknown to stride into the limelight and bring with him/her the city’s snap, crackle and strut. Neither of these qualities arrived under the direction of either mayor since.
Back in 2004, there was a "cockamamie idea about plopping a sports stadium in — of all places! — ancient Shockoe. Why not keep [it at the Diamond’s location]? Or, Richmond enjoyed a downtown riverfront sports park called Tate Field on Mayo's Island from 1921 to 1941. The site infrequently floods and may require a floodwall, but why not build it there and make the stadium flexible for other types of entertainment, too?”
What followed instead was more political hacky-sacking; the Braves left, and now the popular Flying Squirrels are making similar noises.
“More people are moving into central Richmond," I wrote in 2004. "The open question is can the city clean up its education system and control its crime rate so that bright young people stay, fall in love with each other and our town, buy a house and pay real-estate taxes? We also have a growing aging population that craves the convenience of experiences and transportation — like a streetcar system.”
The upper-level administration for city public schooling remains a tedious bollixed mess, though the crime rate — despite grim reminders — is relatively low compared to the gruesome mid-1990s. The whole transit thing angers and saddens me, mostly because I can’t re-enter the past and alter some people’s synaptic firings.
I admitted then, and it's still true, “Richmond, in spite of you, I love you — you immensely, probably intractably dysfunctional town. I’m from here, proud of the distinction and all that it means. This, in clinical terms, makes me crazy, too. But at least I’m not easy.”