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Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

Is it appropriate for corporate home builders to try to steal Richmond’s timeless historical architecture and replicate it in a faux urban-suburban environment?

That is the question as it pertains to urban design versus suburban lifestyle. I’m referring to a new development called GreenGate being built in Short Pump. Their business plan is to re-create old Richmond City architecture along with the walkable lifestyle it represents, and place it smack dab in the middle of suburbia. It boasts the look and feel of Richmond row houses as seen in many historic neighborhoods within the city. In fact, the names of the houses offered refer to many well known street names in the Fan – Kensington, Park, Boulevard, etc. The development also includes amenities such as restaurants, doctor’s offices, and retail that will fill out this urban “sub”-utopia, all within walking distance from one another.

These are attributes that many of the city neighborhoods already offer and are the reason many people flock to them. People want to live a sustainable lifestyle that doesn’t require getting in the car every time you want to go somewhere. A sense of community is also felt within these locations where many people not only live and play, but also work. Heck, my first Dish by Design article Planting an Urban Seed set the stage for my view on what living and working in an urban neighborhood could offer. But it explicitly didn’t state that we should take that authentic concept and re-create it in a sanitized suburbia that has none of the messy realness that a city can provide.

I ask myself why try to replicate this authenticity in suburbia when there are plenty of boarded up vacant buildings just ripe for repurpose in the city? You can’t get anymore sustainable than that. Many people like myself have spent their entire adult lives in the urban environment because we believe in community, sustainability, and diversity. We also believe in giving back to Richmond because it has been downtrodden for too long (specifically the Manchester and Church Hill neighborhoods). These important areas were some of the first historical neighborhoods of the city and should be preserved and made whole again through re-investment.

It’s disingenuous to replicate what is already authentic and special by placing it in a suburban environment. It devalues everyone that has and continues to work hard at preserving the very thing that makes our city unique.

And yes, many will argue that it’s not safe in the city and the school system is awful. The argument I imagine would sound something like this – “I get the best of both worlds by having the look, feel, walkability, and sense of community with the benefits of a safe area and a good school system”. My response is this – unless we take a chance and build an area up, those amenities, safety, and good school systems will never happen because we’ve decided to turn a blind eye to how powerful we all are to affect real change in our communities.

It starts with one person, one purpose, one commitment. But one person can’t do it alone, it takes all of us to affect change. The city of Richmond needs businesses and city dwellers that will take a chance on our unique urban environment. There is plenty to offer if only given the chance.

16 thoughts on “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

  1. Nothing can replace the real thing, but if we must have suburban sprawl I’d rather see it taking a cue from the beautiful old houses in the city. (Still, this boy ain’t goin west of the Belt Line.)

  2. Get the unions out of the schools and start grading the teachers on their performance until that happens RVA schools are going to suck and no money will flow back into the city. Prove fact.

    1. why attack Unions?,people either have amnesia or simply don’t wish to admit all the great work the unions have done for working folks all across this country!. RVA school have been dealing with obstacles ever since desegregation, and white flight from the city!,study the historical information as to why the schools are in this situation…we have a system that is separate and unequal!.

  3. Agree with Dan Gibbs. Sprawl is going to happen anyway. I’d rather it be sprawl that is walkable and has some character than more gated communties and cul-de-sac subdivisions. The more people that come to favor and adopt walkability as a lifestyle in the region the better. In the long run that will lead more to demand the authentic walkability of the city.

    But make no mistake, I’ve seen the site plan for GreenGate and it has plenty of surface parking lots. So I think their marketing plan is a bit of a gimmick rather than sincere.

  4. It is a myth that Green Gate, or any of the other developments out there, are “walkable”. One couple that bought there are moving down from NoVa and they talked about being able to walk to the Wegmans for groceries. Have these people actually been there? As Christian noted, these are contrived developments with some urban elements set in a sea of car-dependent suburbia. It’s like living on an island. Have fun crossing Broad Street (8 lanes) and walking to that store that doesn’t address the street, using massive setbacks. No sidewalk lighting on Broad. Curvilinear sidewalks that actually increase the walking distance.

    Go down the road to West Broad “Village”, in a car of course, because the ped infrastructure is far from “walkable” (and I’m going to scream if another idiot developer uses village or “town center” in their name.) People literally drive from their house to the stores, especially if they have to cross Broad Street to Short Pump “Town Center”. So there’s a village on one side of Broad and the town center across the street. And you have to drive to get from one to the other. Makes sense. It will be the same with this place. Walk the 1.3 miles to Short Pump and see how walkable that is. Even the mall doesn’t have connected sidewalks. They are all fragmented.

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