what kind of message does Richmond send?

Paul Graham’s Cities and Ambition is a take on the message that great cities send in “a hundred subtle ways”, the vibe than uniquely identifies that city. While our lil’ city is hardly the center of much, is it possible to identify a Richmond message? From Graham’s essay: The surprising thing is how different these […]

Paul Graham’s Cities and Ambition is a take on the message that great cities send in “a hundred subtle ways”, the vibe than uniquely identifies that city. While our lil’ city is hardly the center of much, is it possible to identify a Richmond message?

From Graham’s essay:

The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you’ve been meaning to.


I’d always imagined Berkeley would be the ideal place—that it would basically be Cambridge with good weather. But when I finally tried living there a couple years ago, it turned out not to be. The message Berkeley sends is: you should live better. Life in Berkeley is very civilized. It’s probably the place in America where someone from Northern Europe would feel most at home. But it’s not humming with ambition.

In retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising that a place so pleasant would attract people interested above all in quality of life. Cambridge with good weather, it turns out, is not Cambridge. The people you find in Cambridge are not there by accident. You have to make sacrifices to live there. It’s expensive and somewhat grubby, and the weather’s often bad. So the kind of people you find in Cambridge are the kind of people who want to live where the smartest people are, even if that means living in an expensive, grubby place with bad weather.

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  1. It might be fun to look at this via the prism of neighborhoods…Windsor Farms is New York ambitious w Southern “aristocracy” twist…Church Hill and the Fan have quasi-Cambridge and Berkley elements…Manchester and Jackson Ward are punk…

    From what new arrivals tell me, (gross generalization like this entire excercise) Richmond is very “Junior League” w some underbelly of punk. Like that Ratt video.

  2. Scott Burger on said:
  3. Gray on said:

    Ed, Church Hill has a punk element going back to Patrick Henry’s Libery/Death speech. Just check out the scrappers on the chpn blog. I don’t know if I would put Church Hill in the same sentence as the Fan. We are so different. To see for yourself, go to the Fan Triangle park then to Chimborazo or Jefferson on the Hill.

  4. Gray,

    Exactly! Gross generalizations!

    I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength in using the word “punk” in a positive way.

  5. Also, you might be right about Chimborazo…but the Libbie Hill section looks pretty darn Fan-Charleston-Savannah to me…

  6. Common Sense Mom on said:

    So what kind of message would Richmond as a whole send?

    The first thing that comes to my mind is the caustic persistent racial divide that shocked me when I moved to Richmond 15 years ago.

    To me Richmond’s message is:

    “Welcome to Richmond, the white and black parts of town are very obvious, please stay to your assigned areas.”

  7. it’s as if the civil war never ended…

  8. Matt on said:

    I was at the Jefferson for a wedding reception and noticed all the attendees (not just of the recption but of the bar and standing in the lobby) were white and all the servers and bar tenders and janitors were black. I tried to ignore it until I read the name tag of the old lady serving me hour d’vours and it said her name was “Pearly”.
    I shook my head.

  9. Richmond: “The City That Time Forgot”

  10. beth on said:

    Have any of you been to downtown DC lately? That city has way more racial tension that Richmond.

  11. Matt on said:

    That’s the thing. I don’t feel like there is as much racial tension as there could be, just this weird and disconcerting acceptance of everyone’s socioeconomic role as based on skin color.

  12. Yeah, everyone does stay in their assigned areas–maybe that’s why it doesn’t appear as bad. “Richmond: Home of Obedient Stereotypes?”

  13. Kelly on said:

    Give Richmond a break, RICHMONDERS. It’s the city we’ve all chosen to live in, whether we started out here or not. We have all the same issues as any mid-sized city. Let’s just learn from historical (okay, and current) mistakes and celebrate our amazing scenery and delicious places to eat. Don’t be so hard on your city, or Baltimore will sense our weaknesses and plan an invasion.

  14. Common Sense Mom on said:

    It’s hard to enjoy the scenery and delicious places to eat when all the diners are white and all the cooks and diswashers are black. It’s disconcerting.

    Richmond: Where stereotypes are defined.

  15. Matt on said:

    I think we complain not because we’re ungrateful, but because we love Richmond and want it to be great. What if all the colonials had just said “Come on guys, the British aren’t so bad. Stop whining!”

  16. beth on said:

    Where we dine, there is a good racial mix of people eating. Maybe you should change your venue, if only to make a statement.

  17. I love Richmond even though it is a historical (hysterical?) reenactment of an actual city…

  18. Gray on said:

    I’m seeing more immigrants in the kitchens.

    The racial mix of diners and workers depends on everything from type to the location of the restaurant. Check out the range in these places: Vietnam 1, Captain Buzzy’s, Mamma Zu, Croaker Spot, any Mexico, Aladin Express, Carytown restaurants, Sticky rice, former Acappellas, all the chains circling the city, Stuffy’s on Harrison, Tarrants, the Hill Cafe, etc.

    Could it be possible that there is a lack of mix applying for certain positions?

    If you walked into most RPS administration offices from downtown to individual schools, you would notice that most are predominately black.

  19. Gray on said:

    also a lack of mix applying to certain places.

  20. beth on said:

    Listen, if you want diversity, you have to be the diversity. If you are “white”, do you ever patronize traditionally “black” establishments? And vice versa.

    And the festivals – how many whites attended the 2nd street festival? Well, I was there and there were hardly any white faces – like less the 2% of festival goers.

    So, don’t complain if you are willing to take a chance yourself.

  21. Whoa yeah, really. And if you think other cities have got racism under its thumb, and all races and groups and nationalities are living together in completely blended and perfect harmony, you are mistaken. I’m not saying it’s not a problem, I’m just saying it’s a pretty universal problem.

  22. I think as long as the percentage of forward-thinking people increases, we’ll continue slowly heading in the right direction. I’m just a jazz musician, and racism isn’t as big in that scene.

  23. Richard on said:

    What we’re seeing in Richmond is a series of divisions broken along socio-economic lines which happen to, and shamefully so as we do so little about it, coincide with racial breakdowns. This is the same in every city. And in suburbs. And rural communities. This is a nation-wide problem, not just a Richmond problem.

    And every city has seen its racially segregated neighborhoods; Richmond has Jackson Ward (the oldest historically black neighborhood in the country, surpassing Harlem), Oregon Hill (historically home to the white iron workers at the Tredegar Iron Works), Mansions on Monument Avenue (historically and currently rich folks with bow ties and blazers with solid gold buttons). There are ways to integrate these areas; developers have found one way which is to buy everyone out and renovate everything to “Luxury Condos.”

    While this re-gentrification has some positive effects (read: bringing money and business into once forgotten areas), it also has the added and detrimental impact of pushing those individuals who work in the service industries further from their jobs.

    Myself working with under-served populations in the city and outlying areas, I have come to know the service industry employers quite well. I would be hard pressed to accuse a restaurant or grocery store of racism simply because their workforce is predominately of one group. People NEED jobs. Employers and the community need the service-industry jobs filled so we don’t have to stock the shelves or bag our own groceries. It’s business. And Richmond businesses have, for the large part, been very good at working with individuals with disabilities, among many other minority communities. Besides, the reason you don’t see as many college-educated white dudes cleaning toilets or sweeping floors is because they’ve been given several large legs up in the world and wouldn’t apply.

    The problems that Richmond faces are big. We all know this. What’s good is to talk about what the problems are. What’s better is to then do something about it. Something real.

    Imagine if we all put our hearts in our hands instead of our mouths.

  24. Matt on said:

    I’ll tell ya wut I don like…Czechs. Lets move all the black people into Short Pump and move all the Czechs to Gilpin.

  25. Immy on said:

    If we all shoot ourselves maybe better people will come along. Just tryin to stay positive.

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