Noise, trash, bikes, and how yelling at transient college students is like fighting windmills.
Day #003: Make “welcome week” a citywide event
- Idea: Open up VCU’s Welcome Week to neighborhood stakeholders.
- Difficulty: 2 — Some hotdogs and an earnest attempt at empathy are all it could take to bring this city closer together.
Every year roughly 3,600 18-year-olds make the life-changing decision to move to Richmond and don the Black & Gold. For them, this represents a defining moment in their lives: adulthood, independence, and education. For others, this represents an invasion. To the “insider” it represents an influx of “outsiders” whose overall impact is measured by disruption instead of addition.
But think about how beautiful move-in week actually is. Less than two decades after Richmond became the country’s murders-per-capita capital, thousands of young, bright, wide-eyed students are moving here as their first sovereign decision of adulthood. That’s an event that should be championed instead of dreaded–even by the city’s most entrenched citizens.
Sometimes it’s tough to remember and appreciate how much Richmond has changed over those past two decades. I moved here in 1997, and while I remember what Grace Street looked like before it was dominated by five- and six-story residence halls and what Broad street was like before the Stuart C. Siegel Center, I will never be able to understand 1994.
In 2010, John Murden did an amazing, albeit depressing, job summing up the violence, lack of momentum, and despair of Richmond in 1994. Here’s the bottom line: a wildly different VCU saw its enrollment dip, the city suffered through 161 murders (almost four times as many as 2013), a city council member went to rehab for heroin, and Richmond made the wrong end of Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live list.
Today, Richmond finds itself on the opposite end of some of those best places to live lists. A lot has changed nationally since those darker days in Richmond, and businesses, the local government, and law enforcement have done plenty, but Virginia Commonwealth University definitely deserves a fair share of the credit for transforming this city. For better, and at times worse, VCU has directly and indirectly been the biggest driver of change in RVA for the past twenty years. Change hasn’t come without ruffling feathers, and students are frequently the biggest rufflers.
Feelings can’t be legislated, but a few small changes could go a long way. VCU could open up their Monroe Park Welcome Week event to the public. Neighborhood associations could send representatives to the event to start building connections. They could reach out with student-rate memberships and discuss issues relevant to college students (other than the noise ordinance). Giving students more ownership of the neighborhoods is the fastest way to getting them to show more respect for the neighborhoods.
Sure, the Monroe Park Campus Advisory Group exists, but only a small fraction of students have even heard of it–and it appears they don’t have a website. Further more, the group seems like a bizarre, hands-off way for the usual suspects to make their usual complaints: trash, noise, and bikes.
Few things in America are as accepted as the spirit of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), but before we utter those five words about Richmond’s newest residents, we should take a minute and appreciate how much that backyard has changed and how powerful it is to live in a city where others want to move here and start building their lives.
Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.