EDITORIAL: the best GOOD Ideas for Cities

This past Tuesday, a bunch of smart folks got together to discuss three specific problems facing Richmond. Will any of their ideas become a reality? Or was it just another chance for Richmonders to get together and pat each other on the back for being so creative?

This past Tuesday, a bunch of smart folks gathered at the Virginia Historical Society to discuss three specific problems facing Richmond. It was all part of GOOD magazine’s GOOD Ideas for Cities program which travels about the nation setting up shop and pooling the collective smarts of local creatives to solve local problems.

GOOD partnered with the Capital Region Collaborative (a group in charge of identifying regional issues) to come up with three problems facing the Richmond area. They were:

Business and Development–“The James River is a critical resource for the region. The City of Richmond has recently announced a comprehensive plan to revitalize the riverfront in the city that includes parks, trails and community gathering places. With this plan in mind, how can we leverage the James River and Canal Walk as an economic driver that brings not only people, but dollars to the region?”

Culture and Tourism–“The Richmond Region is rich in history, the arts and entertainment opportunities, but tourists often pass us by when traveling along I-95 and I-64 on their way to other destinations. How can we make the gateways to our region more attractive and encourage travelers to exit the interstate and visit the Richmond Region?”

Education and Economy–“There are some vibrant elementary schools in the City of Richmond. However, middle schools can be another story. Some parents send their children to private schools starting in middle school and other parents stop showing up. The community is often more interested in volunteering in elementary schools or high schools. How can we keep the community involved with the goal of improving our city’s middle schools?”

About sixty people were parceled out into three groups, each tasked with tackling one of these problems. They had about four weeks to do so, after which the groups would present their findings to an audience made up of the public and (hopefully) some of the city’s decision makers. Everyone would walk away inspired and hopefully ready to get to work on some actionable solutions.

Some full disclosure here: not only was RVANews a media sponsor for this event, but I was a member of the Culture and Tourism team. A double whammy!

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The ideas

Rather than go through and exhaustively list all of the ideas presented at Tuesday’s event, I thought I would highlight the ones that appealed to me the most. If you’d like to see a full list of the ideas you can check out this post on Richmond.com or visit GOOD’s website when they post the actual group presentations later this week.

Pop-up an RVA business

The first group was asked to think about bringing people and dollars to the Canal Walk and the riverfront. They decided that one of the obstacles to attracting actual humans to the river is the lack of businesses near the river. Easy to solve right? Just get more businesses down there!

But have you ever tried to actually start a business? It’s a morass of confusing terminology and a web of links to a trillion different city departments. Here’s the current page from the city designed to “help” you start your new business. This could be SO MUCH better!

The team suggested creating a very straightforward, easy to use resource (Pop-up RVA) that laid out the simplest and quickest path to getting your new business up and running. They suggested focusing on mobile and cart-based business, as those would be easier to “pop-up” down by the river.

Good idea!

Light Tape everywhere

The second group, my group, had a lot of ideas to improve the impression of Richmond people get as they zoom through the city on I95 (especially those travelers heading south coming from the north). One of the best ideas was to create public art installations using Light Tape.

What’s Light Tape? Oh, just the coolest stuff ever! Did you see the new Tron movie? Those super cool costumes were all made with Light Tape. And the best part about Light Tape (other than making stuff look like Tron), is that they are a Richmond-based company! Their office is right across the street from Movieland.

Imagine hiring an artist to create semi-permanent Light Tape installations under all of RVA’s I95 overpasses. That would be something that everyone coursing through the city (and it’s a lot of people that drive through Richmond every day) would remember and actually look forward to seeing–unlike the current viewscape, which I’d rather forget.

Good idea!

Why do we call them “middle” schools?

The third group was given the hardest problem: what do we do about Richmond’s middle schools? While the other two groups were kicking around fun ideas about the river and public art installations, this group had to wade through a controversial issue that’s twisted together with history, race, and class. I did not envy them.

But, one of their ideas was both clever and easy to implement. Let’s stop calling it middle school and call it junior high.

The message to students would change from “Hey kid, we’re putting you in this middle-ground holding tank until you grow up and head on to the big leagues of high school,” to “Hey kid, you are already growing up! We expect you to continue your progress as you gear up for the big leagues of high school.”

What kind of impact would this have? I have no idea. But I loved the change in message.

Good idea!

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Talk talk talk talk talk talk

A couple weeks ago, RVANews columnist Marc Cheatham wrote about the cultural renaissance Richmond is experiencing right now:

I take great pride in the city and the progress that it has made, particularly in the last 15 years, with the reduction in violent crime and a growing city population. I am truly excited about the renaissance of art and culture that is starting to take place this summer. Richmond has a real opportunity to rebrand itself as a hotspot for art, music, and culture.

I, like Marc, really do think that this is a special moment in time for Richmond. We need to take advantage of the momentum created by things like Art 180, g40, and the RVA Street Art Fest. We need to start implementing creative, diverse, and good ideas throughout the city.

So will any of the ideas shared on Tuesday become a reality? Or was it just another chance for Richmonders to get together and pat each other on the back for being so creative? I don’t know. I’ve heard some negative feedback from the event, but I’ve also heard of some people who were inspired to finally start their own projects.

And ultimately, that is how this GOOD event can be successful. Not by fixing middle schools in a handful of meetings, but by encouraging people to stop being complacent, stop complaining, and get involved. If you’ve got an idea you want to see become a reality DO IT. As Jesse Thorn said: make your thing!

Now is the time!

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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

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