Two weeks ago Ella Kelley and Mike Hughes ran a brief op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlighting their idea for building a “park in the sky” across the James River. Inspired by the success of New York City’s High Line bridge project (pictured above), which converted a 1.45-mile stretch of railroad line slated for demolition into an elevated park, they painted a word picture of “a lush green park suspended over the James River … the first bridge of its kind.”
The response was phenomenal, says a public affairs consultant who briefed me on the project this morning. The Richmond BridgePark Foundation has received some 400 emails, telephone calls and other contacts — despite the fact that it has yet to unveil a concrete proposal. “Ninety-nine point eight percent were positive,” says my source, who preferred not to be identified until the foundation firmed up its leadership roster. Many people, he says, have asked how they can help make the idea a reality.
The idea took root as a proposal to convert the old Huguenot Bridge into a river park. “Everybody loved the idea,” the consultant says, “but we were two months away from the bridge getting knocked down. We were nine years too late on that conversation.”
But the idea didn’t die. Supporters of the bridge-park idea started looking for another location — and they found one. The current plan calls for a more central location that will tie into other urban assets along the river and be accessible to far more people. The foundation hopes to unveil a concrete proposal within a month.
Manhattan’s High Line has emerged as a major tourist attraction. It drew 3.7 million visitors in 2011, only half of whom were locals. Backers of the project view Richmond’s bridge-park not only as a world-class recreational facility but a magnet that could draw visitors downtown and stimulate economic development.
What I like about the idea is that it builds upon one of the city’s great strengths, its river. I’ve seen lots of rivers in lots of cities, and let me be blunt: The rivers themselves (not the riverbanks, but the rivers) all look the same. Each one is a flat ribbon of gray-green water. The James River is alive, spotted with islands, trees and foaming whitewater, and teeming with wildlife.
New York’s High Line is a brilliant project, turning an eyesore into an incredible asset — a canyon of green running through mid-rises and high-rises. Think of how spectacular a park in the sky would be if it provided bikers and pedestrians access to views from the middle of the James! I await further developments on this project with great anticipation.
To find out more about how New York’s High Line came to be, watch this brief TED presentation.