Last night, our venerable mayor stood behind a podium in the immaculate auditorium of the brand-new Huguenot High. And then he said some pretty OK things!
Richmond used to be a floundering mess, but now it’s on an exciting road to recovery.
For the first time in my lifetime, we all know that Richmond’s best days are in front of us, not behind us.
That was the general message last night at Mayor Jones’s State of the City. He spoke well, as usual, in an inspired way that was fairly galvanizing. First, a 15 minute video that, in kind of a genius way, did all the back-patting “here’s what we’ve accomplished this year” propaganda so that the mayor didn’t have to.
This Administration’s Successes Thus Far1
- Bike lanes
- Improved riverfront access
- New business development
- World Cycling Championships
- Stone Brewing Co.
- Huguenot High School (the very setting in which we were enjoying this speech!)
- New jail, er, “justice center” with skill-developing programs that have graduated more than 20 inmates thus far
Then, with a blessed lack of “I spoke with a young, impoverished man who, because of a program I was behind, now has opportunities he never had before” anecdotes, Mayor Jones moved onto the City’s problems.
A pointed glare at haters for his various pet projects (namely the Shockoe Stadium, which he mentioned only by saying he wasn’t going to mention it), these attitudes include fear of new things, fear of difficult issues, and putting things off for later.
Mayor Jones criticized the housing projects of the 1970s for alienating impoverished families and creating a vicious cycle. He did not explain just how he planned to alleviate poverty in these areas (specifically mentioned: “across the Martin Luther King Bridge” and “on South Side”), but he did call for everybody to be more aware of the situation.
That’s pretty much it for the problems. One problem being that people aren’t behind change enough, and one problem that we’re tending to focus too much on the exciting new restaurants and whatever, while in large parts of the city there are Richmonders who can’t afford groceries, living in areas no one wants to help. He didn’t mention food, per se, or food deserts, which is one of the biggest problems those very Richmonders face, but it was there not too far below the surface.
We have a moment, a moment in time to do things differently. For the first time, we can bring the Richmond resurgence to not just one part of town but to every corner of the RVA.
Moving into the tail-end of his time in office, Mayor Jones intends to capitalize on the momentum of Richmond’s resurgence.
Optimize Land Assets
Such as, I don’t know, turn an under-appreciated but historically significant space into some sort of sports venue? I’m sure he also had other ideas in mind, but this was the unspoken one.
We all like the idea of generating revenue. Check. Millennials keep moving here, which is good for everyone.
Ideally, using land assets and generating revenue, if well spread out, will help this, but not much more was said about it, except that we should all be working towards this goal.
Expected Back Pats This Time Next Year
- Stone Brewing’s neighborhood-energizing success
- World Cycling Championships’ success
- Huguenot High School’s success
- Some sort of RPS progress
- Opportunities we “haven’t even begun to imagine”
Is there an emoticon for looking bravely into the future?
This administration, Mayor Jones believes, will be judged on the following criteria:
1. Do we fight because we can or do we show the spirit to collaborate?
Jury’s out on that one, School Board, City Council, and Mayor’s office!
2. Do we know who our partners are?
The Mayor listed some of the ones he considers to be partners of his office and our city: City Council, School Board, Henrico and Chesterfield, the business community, the activists and the protestor alike, the police force, Democrats and Republicans, state government, federal government, President Obama, Senators Warner and Kaine, our congressmen, VCU, UR, J. Sarge.
3. Do we know who our competitors are?
We do! They’re mostly far away–employment centers in NC and MD, emerging cities in places many of us have never been before (like Brazil). We have got to think globally instead of thinking locally, said Jones, which was a liiiiittle bit confusing, considering we were all just asked to think hyper-locally about impoverished neighborhoods in the East End and South Side.
4. Do we know what’s important and what’s not important?
Public schools (he had to pause here for a spontaneous round of applause), developing neighborhoods and reducing concentrated poverty, attracting and retaining employers, investing in infrastructure (he did not pause here for the spontaneous round of applause given by me, in my heart), and investing in local employees.
Mayor Jones wants to leave office with some achievements that can be attributed to his administration, understandably. He has extremely high hopes for the Big Bike Race and Stone Brewing Company. He feels things about poverty, does not like housing projects, and wants to continue bringing in business. The schools will, one way or another, improve–the extent of that improvement yet to be seen.
There were very few, if any, concrete plans for achieving any of this. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that we didn’t hear much about them.
Stay tuned for The Rest of 2015.
- Despite saying that we have no time to waste patting ourselves on the back. I guess a little time to celebrate some positive achievements is OK. ↩