Originally on Life in 10 Minutes
It’s hard to put into words, but as you can see, I’m trying.
It’s hard to describe to someone who isn’t from Richmond, but I do want to try.
I grew up seeing those statues on a weekly or even daily basis. People from out of town (Yankees, carpetbaggers) don’t realize just how integral they are to this city.
They are not off in some historical park that you visit only on school field trips. Those statues are on a main thoroughfare, a graceful, sun-dappled avenue where many hundred-year old trees have not survived hurricane season and have had to be replanted. And yet the statues remain.
When I woke up Sunday and saw the images of those statues covered in graffiti, my eyes filled. Not in sadness but in pride, love, and hope.
I had to go see them for myself. I had to take my children.
So many different hands transformed them into their new existence. So many different colors of paint. So many perfectly conflicting messages of love, anger, rage, hope, peace . . . all coexisting in a gorgeous cacophony that was somehow utterly perfect.
My heart swelled to see them in person. There were skateboarders doing tricks using the base of the monument as a launch pad. There was a group of Black students protesting peacefully on the steps. There were kids climbing on them, jumping over the felled wrought-iron fences that protected them for a hundred years.
It felt like those statues were being reclaimed by the city that glorified them for too long.
It felt like visiting the Coliseum in Rome. We were there to see an ancient symbol, now in ruins, made more beautiful somehow by their ruining.
I can summon not even one ounce of sadness for the loss of their original state. They are better like this. They finally make sense.
Photos of these statues in their new form may be in history books in 50 years as a symbol of a change, like the Berlin Wall coming down, like protesters pulling over the statue of Saddam Hussein.
Do I exaggerate? That is how momentous it felt to me, a lifelong Richmonder who was raised to revere those statues both as important public art and as symbols of our history. They are new symbols now. They have finally been contextualized.
I grieve for George Floyd. I grieve for Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Marcus David Peters. Trayvon Martin. Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. Sandra Bland. There are too many to name.
But I do not grieve for the statues. I do not grieve for the Daughters of the Confederacy building. I do not grieve for old ideas. My heart swells with hope; my chest fills with pride.
Sometimes, as in a forest, things have to burn to clear away the old, the dead, the decaying, to make room for new life.
Editorial: Navy Hill project is painted as a false dichotomy that poses great potential risk to our city’s future
I haven’t yet taken a public stance on the Navy Hill / Coliseum redevelopment project, but with the announcement of a new CoStar office tower as part of the proposed development, that changes today. Strap in; I have a lot of thoughts.
First off, anyone who thinks the announcement that CoStar Group will build a new, 400,000-square-foot building, contingent on the passing of Navy Hill’s redevelopment, is a net positive is overlooking the details, in my opinion. CoStar is a thriving, growing company that will likely soon outgrow their digs in the WestRock building on the riverfront and need more space. They’d likely relocate elsewhere in Richmond, but their move to Navy Hill would 1) likely extend the tax incentives the company got for coming to Richmond (which expire in 2023) and, 2) funnel their tax payments right back into payments for Navy Hill’s financing since the new building would be in the enormous TIF district. None of that money would make its way into the city’s general coffers.
Secondly, the premise that CoStar would only build a new building if Navy Hill is approved is a false dichotomy, much like the project – or the way it is pitched – is. Mayor Stoney’s administration claims this is the only way – that the future of our city depends on it – when in fact downtown is experiencing a resurgence all its own without this supposed shot in the arm. Moreover, Dominion Energy, whose CEO Tom Farrell is leading up the redevelopment plans, similarly claim they’re waiting to see if they’ll construct a twin office tower to match the new headquarters downtown based on whether Navy Hill passes. Yep, dangling a carrot promising more jobs in the hopes that the project passes and Dominion benefits from the tax breaks afforded by the 80-block TIF district. Follow the money, y’all.
Third, the rhetoric used to pitch Navy Hill’s passage sounds great on the surface – the skilled public relations team has carefully crafted a narrative that paints it as the best and only option to move Richmond forward. Yet independent review has found that, unlike the developers say, the plan is absolutely not without huge financial risk that the city simply can’t afford to take; the supposed “affordable housing” will be, in fact, priced around market rate and as expensive or more than most of the surrounding neighborhoods’ stock; the promise that a certain percentage of contracting jobs will be given to minority firms, while well-intentioned, is likely outright illegal; and there is not a single publicly-funded stadium to my knowledge that has not been a net negative for any city in the United States.
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read): I am sick and tired of the City of Richmond chasing after shiny projects that promise big payoffs down the road in exchange for putting our tax dollars on the line. Like the Redskins training facility or Stone Brewing. We can’t even afford to equip our schools with basic needs. We can’t complete our city’s sidewalk grid in Scott’s Addition and other (thriving!) areas. The audacity of Mayor Stoney and friends to say that this is something that should not only be considered, but be our city’s main priority right now, is absurd to me, and honestly, offensive. This is the feather in his cap the mayor needs to go on to bigger aspirations beyond Richmond – let’s call it what it is.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is, but something about this whole project stinks and we need to go back to the drawing board to ensure that a project of this scale is better vetted by the public and that this can all be done without putting the city in potential dire straights should the project fail. A Coliseum (the current one which was shut down prematurely so it could sit and further rot in the hopes that this project is passed) is a nice-to-have. But why can’t we, as a city, work on getting the basic necessities right before we dive in over our collective heads?