HERE’S THE THING ABOUT RICHMOND – PART I

Here's the deal

“I really wonder what Cheats thinks about the current state of Richmond,” – said no one…ever

Here’s the thing about Richmond…the lingering war regarding the changing of Richmond is over yet some people still remain on the battle field trying to rally what’s left of their outdated ideals.

What do I mean? When it comes to Richmond, the future isn’t coming, the future is here and all that’s left is how Richmond will define its identity moving forward. What does it mean to be Richmond for the years to come?

Will Richmond’s identity be the heritage (or hate…depending on who you ask) of Monument Ave and Shockoe Bottom? Will it the James River or the emerging restaurant scene? Will it be the historic neighborhoods and communities of Church Hill, Highland Park and Jackson Ward? If so, is it their old identities or the current model of gentrification that has those neighborhoods filled with tattooed VCU graduate hipsters that create start-ups, hang out in coffee houses and ride in their newly designated bike lanes? Is it all of the above and more? I think it’s definitely all of the above and much more.

The current battle in Richmond is really a struggle over identity. That requires an understanding of where we’ve come from, who we are, and where we are going. It also requires an understanding of what we stand for.  But here is the kicker – most of the aforementioned have already been decided, whether you know it or not.  

There is no backwards clock – no Marty McFly time travel and therefore, there is no going back to those fictional glory days that some Richmonders still long for but can’t really tell you what was so great about them. People that want to go backwards are already on the wrong side of history and I’d hate for those people to be defining what it means to be Richmond in the future.   

I may be overstating the obvious to make my point but neighborhoods like Carver, Jackson Ward, Manchester, Battery Park and Church Hill are not “getting” gentrified – that’s like saying Harlem is getting gentrified, the pendulum has swung on those communities and swinging in places like Highland Park and all over Southside. I’m not staying that’s a good or bad thing, though I’m sure some of you will tell me. I’m saying it’s a real thing and the challenge now is how you define the identities of those communities in a truthful way now that the make-up of those neighborhoods have changed.

This leads me to the challenge Richmond faces whenever it takes on a leadership role in doing new things. I intentionally waited until the end of the UCI Road World Championships to release Part 1 of this series (total number of parts is undetermined) because I was fascinated by my social media timelines. I read just about every comment I could on Richmond’s role and execution of the UCI Championships.

I read people praising and cursing the bike race in the same 140 characters of twitter. It was hilarious and reminded me of an old Chris Rock joke: one of his relatives was an old racist black man but he was married to a white lady. And he would say things like, “I love my wife but if the revolution comes, I’d kill her first.” This happens all the time in Richmond (and in life I guess) it’s hedging your bet – being for it before you were against it – being against it until it works. I tend to look at those things with the attitude of: haters are going to hate – it’s their job. Critics give people a reason to step up and execute. And UCI had a lot of critics but also a lot of triumph, often in the same Facebook post.

Here’s the thing: Whether or not you debate the 645,000 10 day total, whether or not every restaurant/vendor sold out, I think it’s more than fair to say that the UCI Road World Championships was a great example of Richmond doing a world-class event correctly. And I think it proves that the city can do things correctly but in order to do so there needs to be an understanding of who we are, what we stand for, and where we are going. It’s truly an issue of priorities.

I think UCI is a good microcosm of the current struggle I see over Richmond’s future: Leaders are supposed to lead, in all aspects of the region. They’re supposed to do cool things like champion the UCI and well, haters are going to hate; it’s how the game works. But here’s the thing I’ve learned about Richmond critics: Most Richmond critics don’t universally hate – they just hate on things that don’t line up with their priorities of a better future. If the flavor of the day is UCI – it’s not that the naysayers hate UCI as much as they want those resources going to something that lines up with their priorities – maybe that’s education or housing or the arts.

Style Weekly wrote on Op-Ed last week that essentially said to Richmonders – you can both cheer cool things in Richmond and maintain you’re fight for your priorities. I tend to agree with that. It’s a good piece.

The honest answer is Richmond is moving forward; there is really no alternative. So what are Richmond’s priorities going to be moving forward? Who sets the agenda regarding public education, poverty, policing, baseball in the region, a children’s hospital, public art, GRTC?  Those are just a few of the priorities that will define our identity in the future.

Richmond has been on the wrong side of history… a lot. And I think we’re starting to see to a progressive shift that is being led by the art and start-up/DIY business communities, along with Richmond’s amazing non-profits. And the interesting question is: Can the region’s government priorities catch-up to the leadership and drive of these outside factors that are already defining Richmond’s identity? Can leadership work effectively with all of the varying factions to forge identity of Richmond that move us forward together?

And let’s face the facts, not everyone is on board with the future – and those people will be frustrated and left behind in Richmond’s past. That’s just a fact.

My honest guess is that future will include more diversity in historic neighborhoods, more independent businesses, more festivals and events, more VCU sprawl, more bike lanes, some type of major development in Shockoe Bottom ..etc…etc….etc. And in turn, more of Richmond’s historic identities will get more faded, outside of places like The Valentine Museum.

The real battle in Richmond is one over identity. And trust me; the ball is already in the red zone. The future is upon us – it just how we’re setting the agenda and telling the story.

This is part I of a randomly long series – Love/Hate and follow me on twitter at: @CheatsMovement 

Clearly, the words expressed here are my own – no one else will take credit for them — well, maybe Diddy. 

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