Rendering by 3north show plans to restore Monroe Park, among other green-space projects on the city's agenda.
"Make it gorgeous, and they will come." Five years ago, public garden designer Lynden Miller shared this mantra while speaking at The Commonwealth Club about adding lush green spaces to Richmond's urban landscape.
Miller's words stuck with Jeannette McKittrick of the Three Chopt Garden Club, inspiring her and others to create Capital Trees, a partnership among four chapters of the Garden Club of Virginia and the city, in 2010.
"We believe in the power of a well-planted, well-maintained place to transform city life and the way people behave and feel about Richmond," McKittrick says. In addition, adding more green space increases the overall tree canopy, subdues city noise, and reduces pollution and stormwater runoff into the James River.
In mid-January, Miller, renowned for her work beautifying New York City's Central and Bryant parks, returned for another tour of Richmond's public spaces on behalf of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Capital Trees and 3north. On a dreary winter afternoon, she and a group of more than 40 people huddled in the conference room at 3north for a round-table discussion of green-space revitalization in Richmond.
"I think you are right on the cusp of something very exciting happening," Miller said.
During her visit, she got a close-up of the RMA Plaza, located off Byrd Street between Ninth and 10th streets, atop the RMA Expressway. The city has budgeted $850,000 to maintain the bridge structure and renovate the surface park, while it's expected that renovation costs above that — including adding trees, gardens, seating and public gathering spaces — will be funded through private donations.
While discussing the plaza's potential, Miller ventured her own ideas — adding terraces for seating, creating a curvy footpath to mimic the flow of the James, and adding plants and stone along the path to look like a river bank.
One of the projects inspired by Miller's 2008 visit was the urban canopy created on 14th Street between Bank and Main streets. In February 2012, a triple allée of ginkgoes and swamp white oaks — along with lush rain gardens of grasses, irises and liriope — were planted by Capital Trees to break up the "concrete canyon" between two government parking garages. Design and engineering is now under way to extend the allée north to Broad Street and the MCV/VCU campus, an important gateway to Richmond from I-95.
Also on the agenda is the Jefferson Greenway, inspired by Thomas Jefferson's vision of a hilltop Capitol facing the fall line of the James River. This project will retrofit 10th Street from the Capitol south to the canal, adding new trees, plantings and stormwater management. The city contributed $30,000 to preliminary investigation and collaborated with Capital Trees and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to receive funding, says Michael Wallace, a city spokesman.
Then there's the restoration of Monroe Park, which will add new pathways, lighting, landscaping and eco-friendly infrastructure. The estimated cost is $6.2 million, according to 3north, which has offered its design and engineering services pro bono for the project, as well as others.
"We want to make it feel more like a park rather than a piece of land with roads cutting through it," says 3north's Scott Ukrop, who hopes to see Monroe Park completed before the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships bring visitors from around the world to Richmond.
The city will fund all underground improvements at an estimated cost of $3 million, including streetlights, utilities, stormwater management and surface restoration, while it's estimated that private donations will fund the above-ground work to the tune of $3.2 million, with improvements such as landscaping, lighting and amenities, as well as the restoration of the park's Checkers House, including a small café with outdoor seating. Fundraising is ongoing.
"The park has been neglected, and there have been attempts over the years to fix it up. And the plans were drawn and were too much of a departure," Ukrop says. "This latest effort will bring it back to a period of significance — 1904."
"That is when the park was at its heyday," says Alice Massie, a member of the Monroe Park Conservancy, a group created in 2010 to advise the city on what to do with the park. "It didn't decline until a lot later; 1904 was a really good time for the park, and we had a lot of documentation as to what was there."
While most of the city's green-space projects are currently in the planning and fundraising stages, one park should be open come summer. Great Shiplock Park, overlooking the James River, is being spruced up as the terminus to the 55-mile Virginia Capital Trail, linking the city to Williamsburg along the Route 5 corridor via bicycle. The park project is slated for completion by late May or early June, with improvements such as new lighting, bike racks, new landscaping and stormwater management. The project, costing a little more than $500,000, is funded privately, according to the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation.
"I really feel like there is some powerful work going on locally," says Randee Humphrey, director of education at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. "It gives us a lot to be hopeful about. It's about creating beauty that lifts our spirits and builds economic prosperity and provides good civil life.