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Six Points Innovation Center partners (from left) Ryan Rinn of Storefront for Community Design, Jo White of Saving Our Youth VA, Taekia Glass of Art 180 and Megan Rollins of Boaz & Ruth inside the building's front room, which overlooks the Six Points roundabout (photo by Tina Eshleman)
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Six Points Innovation Center partners (from left) Ryan Rinn of Storefront for Community Design, Taekia Glass of Art 180, Jo White of Saving Our Youth VA and Megan Rollins of Boaz & Ruth, as seen in front of the building from the Six Points roundabout (photo by Tina Eshleman)
These days, Highland Park’s Six Points intersection is looking less like a place the city forgot and more like a neighborhood staging its comeback. As Ryan Rinn of Storefront for Community Design puts it, census figures tell a story, but there’s also a narrative of resilience. It’s a tale that is still unfolding.
The picture painted by statistics isn’t particularly sunny: a high rate of poverty corresponding with a high number of adults who lack a high school diploma, high unemployment and a relatively high rate of crime. The North Side neighborhood — south of Richmond International Raceway and west of Mechanicsville Turnpike — developed in the 1890s as a streetcar suburb. By the 1970s, its racial composition had shifted from mostly white to predominantly African-American, a trend that began after World War II and accelerated with school desegregation.
“Highland Park was hit really hard in the recession,” says Rinn, adding that adjustable rate mortgages and riskier-than-average loans made homeowners vulnerable. “They saw a huge loss of home ownership and foreclosure.”
The Texas native and University of Richmond alum has been working in the neighborhood since 2011, first as a graduate student in urban and regional planning at Virginia Commonwealth University involved in a project with 6th District City Council representative Ellen Robertson and VCU urban and regional planning chairwoman Meghan Gough, then as a volunteer, then on a contract with the city and now as Storefront’s executive director.
During that time, he’s come to love the place.
“People have been warm and friendly and have been extremely kind to me,” he says. In 2011, he was part of an 11-member team tasked with creating a quality-of-life plan for Highland Park that would build community connections, improve safety, expand youth programming and foster economic initiatives. They planned events such as Saturday cleanups, National Night Out during the summer and a Christmas Crawl, in which neighbors hold a progressive meal.
At first, “I had people saying, ‘It’s great that you’re doing this. You won’t be back.’ A lot of people who have a school project do the project and that’s that.” But he stayed. “I was drawn into the community. I love the people and the history. [There was] a good group of neighbors and organizations that made it easy for me to step in.”
Countering its drawbacks are Highland Park’s assets — the houses of worship, the neighborhood markets, the civic associations and nonprofits. Augmenting those was a major upgrade to the Six Points intersection last August with the installation of a $1.2 million roundabout (replacing six traffic lights) that includes landscaping, pedestrian crosswalks and ramps for the handicapped. In January, residents started moving in to the Highland Park Senior Apartments, a restored 1909 building that once housed Highland Park Public School.
The newest community asset, set to open later this month, will be a hub for youth-focused programs and activities called the Six Points Innovation Center, or 6PIC for short, in a former service station and mechanics shop at 3001 Meadowbridge Road. It’s a collaborative effort involving Storefront and four other nonprofits: Art 180, Groundwork RVA, Boaz & Ruth and Saving Our Youth VA.
In late 2015, the 6PIC project won a $125,000 community innovation grant from the Robins Foundation, allowing construction to move forward, Rinn says, aided by donations of material, contractors working at or below cost and Storefront board members (who include architects and developers) contributing their skills. Additional grant partners include Virginia LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), CPDC (Community Preservation and Development Corp.) and Open Minds.
From the start, the partnering organizations brought in youth to help plan and design the center. Among them are Faith Braxton, now 19, and her younger siblings Josh, a junior at John Marshall High School, and Hope, an eighth-grader at Henderson Middle. They attended meetings about 6PIC through Saving Our Youth VA, which assists economically and socially challenged teens and young adults in preparing for college and careers.
Josh, Hope and Faith Braxton are among the youth helping to plan the Six Points Innovation Center through their participation in the nonprofit Saving Our Youth VA. After living in Highland Park for eight years, the family recently moved to Northern Barton Heights. (photo by Tina Eshleman)
“I think it will be a great place for teenagers to come after school,” says Faith, who graduated last year from John Marshall. “I hope a lot of kids come.”
She’d like to see the center offer arts and crafts activities and video games. Fourteen-year-old Hope says she’d enjoy hairstyling and making bracelets. Josh, 17, suggests tutoring and help with homework. He’s also hoping for pool tables, pingpong and Foosball.
“I would like to see a movie night,” Faith adds. “We like scary movies.” Snacks would be good, too, she says.
Rinn says the partners envision a youth council, for now called the Changemakers, that will have a say in how the center is used.
Youth have been involved from the start in planning the Six Points Innovation Center. (photo by Giles Harnsberger)
Right now, the approximately 3,500-square-foot 6PIC space is wide open. One wall has a colorful mural of geometric shapes designed by artist Hamilton Glass and painted by volunteers from Altria through HandsOn Greater Richmond. It will serve as a base upon which the youth can add their own touches. Efforts also are underway to build furniture and mobile room dividers.
Storefront, Saving Our Youth VA and Groundwork RVA will have offices at 6 PIC, splitting the rent. Art 180 will offer programs there, and Boaz & Ruth, which owns the building and additional adjacent space, is already based in the neighborhood. They’ll continue to do fundraising to cover operating costs, Rinn says.
The nonprofits will work together to expose students to fields such as public policy, environmental justice, ecology, landscaping, archaeology, design and urban planning.
“Ultimately, they get a better sense of who they are,” says Taekia Glass, program director for Art 180, which gives young people opportunities to express themselves with art and tell their stories through projects such as Performing Statistics.
Eventually, there could be opportunities for apprenticeships at nearby businesses as the neighborhood continues to develop.
Michael Simpson, owner of Simpson’s Market on Meadowbridge Road, just down the street from the new center, sees it as “a wonderful thing,” another sign that Highland Park is on the upswing.
“We need something like that in our neighborhood,” says Simpson, who has been in business for 41 years. “You’ve got a lot of kids not doing anything after school. It’s an opportunity where they can learn some good skills, some trades.”
Giles Harnsberger, Groundwork’s executive director, says Six Points is an ideal location for her organization to reach students at John Marshall, Community High School and Franklin Military Academy.
Among Groundwork’s programs will be a “greening project” on Meadowbridge Road, she says. Students will work with Duron Chavis of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to create container gardens that have self-watering mechanisms. Groundwork also is collaborating with Storefront on a plan to apply solar technology to the 6PIC building, and this summer, youth will work on the East End Trail, a mixed-used path connecting to the James River Park system via Gillies Creek Park, in cooperation with Richmond Cycling Corps and RVA More. These kinds of projects empower youth to help build the kind of community they want to live in, she says.
“It’s important for kids to be engaged in how the city is changing,” Harnsberger says. “They have opinions and will and interest, and they’re very creative.”
A soft opening for the Six Points Innovation Center is set for April 29, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., during Highland Park’s annual Spring Break celebration. A grand opening will be held May 16 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Through HandsOn Greater Richmond, volunteers from Altria assist in painting a mural at Six Points Innovation Center. (Photo by Ryan Rinn)
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