Day #024: Compromise on Monroe Park

It’s time for both sides to make concessions so Monroe Park can realize its true potential.

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Move forward with remodeling Monroe Park provided certain oversight is in place to protect park-access.
  • Difficulty: 3 — Significant fundraising needs happen even if the current plan gets enough support to be put into action.

State agricultural fairground. Military camp and hospital. Baseball field. Midtown focal point. Park. Source of enormous conflict.

Since its purchase by the city of Richmond in 1851, Monroe Park has played a lot of different roles. Plans to remodel the park have been in the works since the founding of the Monroe Park Advisory Council in 2003, but progress has been held up by indecision, opposition, and lack of funding.

On April 14th, City Council unanimously voted to lease Monroe Park to the Monroe Park Conservancy for 30 years for the whopping price of $1. The group is made up of lawyers, VCU representatives, Mayor Dwight C. Jones, and other city officials. The move gives more administrative freedom to further a renovation process that includes better paths, lighting, a cafe, new bathrooms, and security from 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM.1

It is important for the future of the city and, in particular the momentum around “mid-town,” that the renovations happen. Richmond lacks an effective town square, and Monroe Park is better equipped than anywhere else to be a hub for everything from ultimate frisbee to protests. The need for the renovations to happen though, does not trump doing it the right way. There are plenty of concerns about the language of the plan and the intentions of some of its drivers.

People’s concerns are justified. Closing the park would displace plenty of individuals and a renovated park could represent a shift in policies regarding the homeless. Currently, VCU police are surprisingly tolerant of illegal behavior and the homeless. Would that same tolerance be present after a multi-million dollar renovation?

As Dr. Leon Deben regularly says, “Policing is not neighborhood building. It’s chasing people from one place to another.” But it’s important to remember that stymying development also isn’t neighborhood building. The two need to coexist if we hope to build a better landscape in Richmond.

Opponents of total renovation need to be more open minded about shutting down the entire park. It will save money to renovate all at once, and there are plenty of spaces in Richmond that can serve as alternatives in the short run.

At the same time, significant oversight should be created to maintain open access. Grants should be sought for VCU professors in sociology to study non-policing strategies towards homelessness. The ACLU, who has already expressed concerns, should keep a watchful eye on use.

The types of renovation that takes place should be a once-in-a-century update in essential infrastructure like drainage and paths–so the park can remain open 365 days a year until 2115. It’s time for both sides to make concessions and for Richmond to renovate one of its greatest assets.

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.

Photo by: jamacdonald

  1. The Monroe Park Master Plan was released in a 130-page study in 2011. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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