Introducing 100 Days to a Better RVA

For the next 100 weekdays we present a tangible idea for bettering this already incredible city.

100 Days to a Better RVA is an acknowledgement and a jumping off point. 

It’s an acknowledgment that a seismic shift has taken place in the city of Richmond over the past 15-20 years. RVA has transformed itself from a shrinking, murder-riddled town with a dismal reputation into a city on the cusp of greatness.  

It’s a jumping off point because we have a long way to go. 25.3% of city residents live below the poverty line.1 Richmond is on pace to record the most homicides since 2007. Transit, both public and private, is inadequate, and our schools are literally crumbling. 

It is a call to action saying that no matter where we are, we can always do better–that we have an individual responsibility to do better. My first step to chipping in: publishing a daily column for the next 100 weekdays with a tangible idea for bettering this already incredible city. Some background: 

When I was 17-years-old, my parents moved from the suburbs of Midlothian, Virginia to midtown Detroit. To the surprise of most, their lives drastically improved. When my parents broke the news of their move,2 like most, I took some shots at Motown but only after proclaiming that I would never visit them for more than seven consecutive days. I still vividly remember when I arrived at night for my first visit: the bitter cold, the graffiti on the metal door connecting the parking garage to their apartment building, and the near-fear that I was seconds away from doom. Then the sun rose. A few weeks ago I spent eight days in Detroit, and I now believe it’s an incredible city whose struggles are bellwethers rather than exceptions 3

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What makes a good city? It’s a difficult question. Cities are complex living organisms that vary in as many ways as they number, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to quantify them in countless indices or rankings. Houston has low unemployment so it must be better than Flint. Rhode Island does better on the American Human Development Index so its cities must be better than Boise. Chicago has a better reputation so it must be better than Detroit. 

That never satisfied me. 

For me, I think it’s the shared belief that tomorrow will be better than today. That’s the real American dream. A better future for ourselves. A better future for our children. If every citizen in a city feels like tomorrow will be better than today, then they believe they have some autonomy over their futures. 

What makes a city better? That’s an even tougher question. Not long after moving, my dad lent me a book titled “Reimagining Detroit.” I was amazed at how many ideas, shared by just one author, could genuinely inspire. Say what you want about Detroit, but there’s a group of people in that city with an almost unmatched energy and desire for helping people and returning the city to a fraction of its former glory. 

In the four years since reading that book, I have continued to be fascinated by authors like Jeff Speck, Christopher B. Leinberger, Charles Marohn, Thomas L. Friedman, and many more. Thinking about cities inspired me to add an economics major. Most importantly, I’ve had the good fortune to see most of the country and several drastically different parts of the world. With wide eyes, an open mind, and a thirst for understanding, I continue to walk and dream in places depressing and inspiring. At some point in the past year, I started scribbling down ideas. A few months later I discovered the 100 Days assignment by Yale professor Michael Bierut

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This list is not meant to be a complete action plan. It barely addresses issues like poverty or race relations–two of the many incredibly important topics that will take decades to adequately understand. It’s not meant to be a progressive wishlist hell-bent on turning RVA into a 20-somethings’ paradise.4 Finally, it’s not meant to be an exclusive list of ideas. In fact, the list is more about starting conversations than reaching conclusions. 

The ideas are small and large, orthodox and unorthodox, and are all simply targeted at bettering Richmond. 

In other words, to make the leap from my stuffed Moleskin notebook to the internet each idea needs only be a tangible way to better the city. If one idea is actually executed and betters the city, or if this list inspires one person to think differently and they better RVA, then I will consider this project a success. 

I look forward to many shared experiences, conversations, debates, and the occasional argument over the next 20 weeks. Please join me in tackling the important task of making this great city even better. 

View the entire project here, or head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

  1. 22.7% if you exclude off-campus university students. 
  2. And thank goodness not “our move.” 
  3. Ruin porn and Kwame Kilpatrick haven’t done Detroit’s image any favors, but plenty of cities in America have already declared bankruptcy and many more will in the next decade.  
  4. Though 20-somethings and soon-to-retire Baby Boomers are leading the charge back to walkable urbanism.  
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Aaron Williams

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

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