Green and Tonic

Didn’t make it to the Green Tonic Symposium at Lewis Ginter this week? Here’s a quick wrap-up of what went down. Take a look and share your thoughts on what something like this could (and should) look like in Richmond.

Tonic: noun, a medicinal substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being; something with an invigorating effect

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden hosted a symposium called Green Tonic on Tuesday and Wednesday, pulling together over a hundred participants (probably about 2/3 of whom were female) who learned about creating a more sustainable Richmond. The symposium intended to show how the simple act of gardening might lead to community wholeness.

Rachel Flynn, Director of Richmond’s Department of Community Development, began the symposium with a narrated slide show that featured some evocative photos of Richmond’s past, present, and (imagined) future. Flynn demonstrated an impressive proficiency and passion for sustainable development issues around Richmond.

Some highlights from Flynn’s presentation:

  • Flynn says, “The best thing you can do for the environment is to focus on the pedestrian.”
  • ‘Accessibility’ and ‘connectivity’ are key words swirling around the development of the James River waterfront. The James is something Richmonders drive over but seldom visit, because of its inaccessibility.
  • Flynn thinks that the City should buy Mayo Island and Echo Harbor to preserve waterfront and complete the James River Park system.
  • Flynn announced that the City has applied for funds to establish a Bus Rapid Transit program along Broad Street (from Willow Lawn to the Main Street Station). Such a BRT is a precursor to light rail.
  • Flynn stressed reuse and renovation of existing historic buildings as the ultimate recycling program and as tremendously effective in saving energy. She cited the former Stephen Putney Shoe Factory on Broad Street as a currently threatened building. Style recently covered that story here.

Another keynote address was offered by Drew Becher, Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project who also used a slide show to tell the story of the NYRP’s work in NYC. Several of the best practices he shared might be applied effectively in Richmond. (Read our interview with Becher from earlier this week here.)

Some highlights from Becher’s speech:

  • This observation about New York City made by Bette Midler at her founding of the NYRP in 1995: “It’s the Courtney Love of Cities—big and messy.”
  • Pictures of a new floating boathouse on Harlem River, which is the centerpiece of a recent NYRP park renovation. The Boathouse first restores a part of the Harlem River’s history and second, valuable impact on present in providing rowing scholarship to minority New Yorkers to notable Northeastern schools. It begs the question, Is the James a suitable river for rowing?
  • The NYRP relies on excellence in its branding of initiatives and its advertising techniques (including aggressive texting campaigns)
  • The story of dozens of Community Gardens reclaimed in 1999 when then-mayor Giuliani wanted to sell them to developers. One such salvaged garden in Queens is the Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson Garden. Yes, that 50 Cent. 50 put up $300,000 to seed the garden. Think who might sponsor a community garden in Richmond.

The Green Tonic Symposium featured other presenters both from cities (like Chicago and Philadelphia) on the leading edge of greening strategies and from within Richmond itself where grassroots efforts (like Tricycle Gardens and the James River Green Building Council) are reaping real results.

All in all, it was an invigorating symposium. The only thing missing was the gin.

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Erik Bonkovsky

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