Richmond’s Incredible Blindness

Mayor Jones

Mayor Jones

By Peter Galuszka

Following up on Richmond Opening Its Kimono post from Monday, I note some significant news developments and points:

First, the Richmond City Council has restored $10.6 million of the $13.6 million Mayor Dwight Jones wanted to keep his plan to build a new baseball stadium, slavery museum and mixed use development worth a total of $79.6 million. This ensures that the project will move forward.

Incredibly, at the same time, the council cut school maintenance from $3.2 million to $2 million when schools are in deplorable condition. “It’s been very encouraging to see the outpouring of support for public schools this year,” Jones said.

Secondly, I am deeply appreciative to commenter CRB who laid out many of Richmond’s problems that obviously are in need of immediate attention despite the Ruling Elite and Mayor Jones’ stubborn and relentless push for their dubious and unneeded Shockoe Bottom plan.

The clarity is so crystal here that it is overwhelming.

Richmond has among the worst schools in the state. It has the worst health conditions of any large city in the state. It has among the highest poverty levels in the state. So what gets cut? Funds to resolve serious and immediate problems. What gets funded? Pie-in-the-sky.

As BR commenter CRB states:

“They need to explain how a baseball stadium is the answer for economic development when the city ranks 121 out of 133 counties in Virginia in overall “health outcomes” – including (to name just a couple of markers) almost twice the number of premature deaths than the rest of the state, three times the number of reported sexually transmitted infections. In addition, only 7% of third graders PASSED the SOL math test during 2012-13 school year. We have the worst schools in the state of Virginia, and we have one of the lowest percentages of primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers. The brokenness of this city goes on and on and this group suggests that putting a baseball stadium, using public funds is the answer instead of using those funds to begin addressing the societal infrastructure. It’s simply heartbreaking.”

I did a little research that backs up CRB. The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute published a recent student comparing health rates of all Virginia’s cities and counties for 2012. Guess where Richmond ranked? No. 125, which is dead last for big Virginia cities.

Petersburg was close at No. 123. Roanoke at No. 116 and Norfolk at No 106. Counties are healthy. Chesterfield was No. 39 and Henrico was No. 36.

Addressing health care should be a huge concern. Richmond boasts of Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the former Medical College of Virginia that offer advanced level care for trauma, cancer, reattaching severed organs and so on. But why is that if you walk a few blocks north, west or east of the sprawling medical campus, you have horrendous conditions that lead to truly bad numbers? Where are nurses and primary care doctors? Preventive programs? Child care services? Elder-care?

As for cutting possible increases in school maintenance, all you need to do is click on this site and look at the photos by Style chief photographer Scott Elmquist and the story by reporter Tom Nash. Rather shocking, I’d say.

As for the 26 percent poverty rate, Mayor Jones has created some commissions and has brought in some Harvard-educated academics but it is hard to see what the trajectory is other than more studies.

So, there you have it, sports fans (excuse the fun). It’s the middle of the 9th inning. The score:

Shockoe Bottom: $10.6 million.

School Maintenance: $2 million.

7 Responses to Richmond’s Incredible Blindness

  1. I agree with Peter, the city administration’s priorities are severely misplaced. Every government should fulfill its core missions and responsibilities — schools, roads, infrastructure, public health, social services — before taking on optional projects like baseball stadiums and slave museums. Let the private sector handle the stadium and the philanthropic sector the slave museum. Mayor Jones needs to focus on the things that government is responsible for.

    The city jail will open a half-year late. The foster care program is a travesty and a disaster. The schools, despite all the money being spent on them, are an affront to the conscience. C’mon, guys, you can do better.

  2. All that these commissions are going to accomplish are studies, as you say, and coordinate existing services to the poor that are only band-aids and unsustainable. According to the mayor, all that is needed to address the problem is coordination of services. These commissions appear, on the face of it, to be notches in the mayor’s belt of “accomplishments.” It would be wonderful to see a Participatory Poverty Assessment completed in Richmond with long-term goals. This is an honest, comprehensive approach that includes solutions and implementation, and a thorough process with all stakeholders at the table for the duration. The question is does anyone have the will to do it – which means invest in it while accepting that they possibly won’t see results in their lifetime? It will take a generation to solve these problems, but no one wants to hear that. Politicians are only looking for ‘solutions’ that fall within their own tenure – certainly not for 20 – 30 years out. Corporations and foundations want “measurable outcomes” within a year or two. Does the rest of the philanthropic community – individuals (and I don’t mean just the “wealthy” but all of us) truly care what Richmond looks like in 20 to 30 years as we protect our own financial interests so our children and grandchildren can inherit? I’d be interested to know the answer.

    As we collectively rail against the wind about the poverty and education in Richmond, it is getting worse. More nonprofits and more government departments are created, more committees are formed to address the individual problems – creating programs that are unsustainable over the long haul, which suggests they are actually not working.

  3. “Richmond boasts of Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the former Medical College of Virginia that offer advanced level care for trauma, cancer, reattaching severed organs and so on.” If you’ll note, none of these address NCD’s (non-communicable diseases), which are caused by negative externalities, i.e., violence, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and other consumption of lifestyle-related goods. But addressing these issues isn’t as glamorous to big dollar donors – they don’t get names on buildings. I would like to see donors understand that their names won’t be on those buildings in 20 years (renovation or replacement and more fundraising opportunities), but the same money invested in addressing NCD’s can change the dynamic of entire community. In the meantime, the spillover effect of NCD’s affects all of us.

    Jim in particular, and many of us, are advocates of more bicycle access in the city. At the same time, transportation is the number one barrier for the poor for access to healthy food sources, to good medical care, or even to cultural experiences that promotes education (another topic). Wouldn’t it be nice to provide bicycles (for adults, not just children at Christmas time) and have these bicycle lanes marketed to everyone for regular transportation and not just for competitors or recreation riders? The ‘no cost’ or very low cost of maintenance, no fuel costs, no taxes, etc. helps strengthen the low-income budgets. Incorporating this into other multisectoral interventions to prevent risk factors contributable to poverty, we can begin to change core thinking. Again, true change won’t happen over a short period of time. But it’s a more strategic long-term approach. In the meantime, providing inexpensive independent transportation will go a long way to chip away at some of the problems.

  4. It’s a 9 inning game or long, long chess match. The final hearings, Council comments, votes, hits, runs, many more errors, etc. are to come. The Citizen response to this greedy corporate takeover has been astounding. Keep asking questions.

    It is important to note that the schools have $7m for maintenance in the total budget. Peter is looking at a piece.

  5. wow, what a difference a few miles makes. Can anyone imagine this happening in Henrico?

  6. I wanted to chime in here that I agree.

    If the city got the basics right – good schools, organized and efficient public services, maintenance of infrastructure – you wouldn’t have to worry about gimmicks for economic development.

    Having good schools, in particular, is a huge driver of where people want to live.

  7. Why is it – well, I know why – every time I read an article about Richmond government I think “Detroit”.

    If you don’t know why that happens there is not enough space for me to write a comprehensive explanation.

Leave a Reply