Category Archives: Economic development

The New West: Leaving Richmond Behind

Old Chesterfield bumper sticker mocks one from Henrico

Old Chesterfield bumper sticker mocks one from Henrico

By Peter Galuszka

This story may seem a contrarian piece when it comes to smart growth and exurban sprawl but so be it.

Back in 1969, road planners in Richmond came up with an idea for a superhighway, Route 288,  that would span the iconic James River and connect the far western suburban areas of Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, then primarily pine forests or dairy farms. The idea seemed to be to ring Richmond with a Washington-style Beltway and push growth farther away from the center city.

The scheme ran against some curious local snobbery – that of whether one lived on the north or south side of the James. The smug north side, of course, encompassed Richmond and its white ruling elite although many of them had moved to the West End or beyond to escape integration of schools.

Those living on the south side of the river were considered inferior, trailer park folk  whose uncouth views were more in synch with the Southside area of Virginia near the North Carolina border. Dixie would not mix easily with the assumed gentility of the Richmond folk, although southsiders had to drive to Richmond to see a doctor or do serious shopping.

Flash forward 45 years. Route 288 was finished about 10 years ago and despite the 2008 economic crash, it is quietly establishing its own upset of economic and cultural change and growth. It is linking Short Pump and its office parks and restaurants with upscale subdivisions in Chesterfield that boast of the highest income zip codes in the Richmond area. Capital One employees live at Foxfire. I explore this phenomenon in cover stories I wrote this month for the Chesterfield Monthly and the Henrico Monthly.

As George Hoffer, a transportation expert at the University of Richmond told me: “The West End and southwestern Chesterfield were going to grow independently. Then the highway did what public transportation can’t do. It provided links and created markets that didn’t exist before.”

And, as corporate relocations draw in more high-income workers from other areas, the old cultural biases are eroding. The newbies want convenience and could care less about Richmond’s ancient vanity about which side of the James one resides. Schools on either side of the river are comparable in quality, tests scores show. The north has more jobs and the south more houses, but that will shift over time.

Therein lies the rub. You have created a thriving exurban corridor that really doesn’t relate to the various and worthy land use ideals such as minimizing car traffic and creating bike trails. The most significant thing is that this outer corridor completely bypasses inner Richmond, its perpetual squabbling over over issues like a baseball stadium and its onerous 26 percent poverty levels. It doesn’t mean that the city is doomed to decay. Signs show more young people and retirees moving there. Unfortunately, however, low income ghettoes are stuck in a cycle of no jobs and inadequate transportation and the efforts of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones haven’t produced many solutions.

The 288 phenomenon also is evidence that the cul-de sac ideals are not quite dead yet. Locating somewhere has long ceased being about white flight. The newcomers to the “New West”  include many people of color for whom Richmond’s racial animosities are more of an historical footnote. They may drive in to enjoy the city’s eateries and museums but choose not to live there and are hardly obsessed by what happened years ago.

So, Smart Growthers, you had better take notice. In some cases, the center city concepts you espouse are irrelevant.

Why Five Ex-Attorneys General Are So Wrong

mcdonnells arraignedBy Peter Galuszka

The practice of law in Virginia is supposed to be an honorable profession.

The state, which produced such orators as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, loves its lawyers perhaps much more than individuals who actually create or do something of value. It could be why the state has so many of them.

This makes a filing in the McDonnell corruption case by five former attorneys general all the more despicable. The bunch includes both parties and is made up of Andrew P. Miller, J. Marshall Coleman, Mary Sue Terry, Stephen D. Rosenthal and Mark L. Earley.

They want corruption charges thrown out against former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who, with his wife, has been indicted on 14 federal corruption charges. Their trial, expected in July, will explore charges they misused their position to help a dietary supplement maker who showered them with more than $165,000 in personal gifts and loans.

The five attorneys general claim that there is no clear evidence the McDonnells did anything wrong. Odd, but I thought lawyers knew enough not to try and bias a case that has been through the indictment and arraignment phase and is due for trial but then I didn’t go to law school.

Their other reason is actually more upsetting. Their filing claims that future governors might be reluctant to invite state business leaders on foreign trade missions or to host campaign donors at the governors mansion, according to The Washington Post.

Huh? I don’t see the connection. Of course, governor’s can host trade missions. They can invite people to the Executive Mansion. It’s just that, in the process, the governors can’t reasonably be OK with accepting a $6,500 Rolex from the head of Kia Motors or a special loan for his failing beach houses from the local rep of Rolls Royce North America.

It is stunning that the five attorneys general are caught up in “the Virginia Way” of having hardly any controls on gift giving and spending that everything is OK. They also can’t seem to move beyond the conceit that  anyone who occupies the governor’s chair must naturally be an honest gentleman or gentlewoman.

This kind of thinking helps explain nothing substantive has been done to reform the state’s ethics laws. I can give you five reasons why.

A Second Opinion on the Columbia Pike Streetcar

by James A. Bacon

This is exactly what we need in the debate over Arlington’s proposed $284 million streetcar system for Columbia Pike: close scrutiny from local citizens.

Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) has issued a paper listing 15 reasons why the streetcar would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. “The consultant has collected its $100,000 fee by doing a shameless whitewash of the County Board’s desired outcome,” the paper concludes. “The losers are the County’s taxpayers who have not only paid for another worthless study, but may have to pay $310 million for a slow, uncomfortable, disruptive, hazardous, unattractive and inflexible system.”

The paper is a rejoinder to a report issued by HR&A Advisors last week that concluded a $284 million investment (in 2014 dollars, $310 million in future dollars) in a Columbia Pike streetcar system would generate significantly higher economic benefit than a far less expensive investment in an upgraded bus system. My quick-and-dirty analysis found the main conclusions to be supportable, although I suggested that if the benefits were as great as HR&A says they are, perhaps the city should finance the project by means of setting up a tax district to pay off the bonds. For property owners, the increase in leases and rents would more than offset the higher taxes.

Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit raises a number of issues that I had not considered. Some are unpersuasive but several of them give me pause. They bear a closer look.

  • The reason the proposed streetcar system could carry more riders than the proposed enhanced-bus alternatives is that the streetcars would have fewer seats and more people would be forced to stand: 28 sitting and 126 standing versus 60 sitting and 34 standing. “This is pure sophistry: Take essentially the same-sized vehicles, make the vast majority stand in one, and then claim that only that vehicle can meet capacity needs.”
  • While the HR&A study says the streetcars would run almost as fast as buses, AST cites a study to suggest that buses average speeds twice that of streetcars.
  • HR&A argues that streetcars are needed because an upgraded bus system would be over capacity by the year 2035. “Beyond the irrationality of spending hundreds of millions now based on speculation more than 20 years in the future, the consultant completely ignores the simple solution of increasing the number of [Bus Rapid Transit] buses.”

AST also assails HR&A’s impact on leases, rents and property values in the streetcar corridor. While I am not convinced — I think property values could rise — there is no denying the uncertainty associated with any such forecasts. Even the consultants conceded in an earlier report that streetcar impacts on property values can vary widely, depending upon a number of contextual factors.

It’s difficult for open-minded citizens who don’t have  time to pore through endless studies and documents to appraise the conflicting assertions and counter-arguments. And I would argue that we shouldn’t have to. There is a simple acid test: Structure the financing so that the chief beneficiaries of the improvements — property owners along the streetcar line — pay for those improvements through a special tax levy. If the property owners are willing to go along, it’s probably a good idea. If they balk, it’s probably not.

If streetcar service makes properties so much more valuable that tenants are willing to pay 10% more in leases and rents (say, $5,000 annually for a property), then a surcharge increasing the property tax (by, say, $2,500 annually) should be easy to bear. In that case, why wouldn’t the County Board want the prime beneficiaries to pay for the improvement rather than dunning taxpayers generally? If the deal cannot be structured to yield such a win-win outcome, or if property owners are reluctant to assume the risk associated with trading higher taxes (a certainty) for higher rents (speculative), that should be a warning that the risk-adjusted economic value created does not justify the investment. Continue reading

An Ex-Coal Baron’s Strange Movie



By Peter Galuszka

Almost four years after 29 miners employed by then Richmond-based Massey Energy were killed in a West Virginia mine explosion, its former chief executive under federal investigation for widespread safety violations has come forward with an apparently self-funded “documentary” proclaiming his innocence.

Donald Blankenship released the film “Upper Big Branch, Never Again” this week which reiterates his claims that he and the firm were innocent of wrongdoing and that an unexpected flood of natural gas and meddling by federal regulators caused the blast.

Three investigations have cited Blankenship and Massey for a culture of cost-cutting  and ignoring safety problems. So far, four former Massey employees have been imprisoned for related convictions.

The strange, 51-minute film brought immediate demands for its retraction by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia who claims he did not know of Blankenship’s involvement when was interviewed for the film  being played on YouTube. Manchin is shown making what seem to be supportive statements of coal in general and, presumably, Blankenship.

The film also features interviews with E. Morgan Massey, a retired Massey executive who lives in Richmond. Another is University of Utah mining professor named Tom Hethmon who has told National Public Radio that he was also misled about the film and wants nothing to do with it.

The movie was made by a Chesapeake –based firm called Adroit Films whose officials have refused to tell reporters who funded the production.

In the film, Blankenship, Massey and Stanley Suboleski, a former Massey director who lives in Chesterfield County, repeat earlier claims that the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. on April 5, 2010 was caused by an unexpected flood of natural gas. The explosion was affected by what Blankenship claims were wrong-headed demands by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to change the ventilation system which stretches for more than seven miles underground.

An MSHA probe along with one ordered by Manchin when he was state governor claim that the blast was caused when badly-maintained mining equipment hit a pocket of gas that touched off a huge coal dust explosion. The company was required but failed to keep highly combustible coal dust at bay by spraying mine shafts with powdered limestone, investigators say.

After he was forced out as Massey’s CEO in 2010 and the company was sold in 2011 for $7 billion to Alpha Natural Resources of Bristol, Blankenship kept a low profile.  He stirred to life about a year ago when he launched a website offering his views that coal is overregulated and that global warming is a hoax.He is also well-known for his staunchly anti-labor views and his support for mountaintop removal mining methods that are highly destructive of watersheds, wildlife and landscapes.

The film also shows footage of President Barack Obama as if to suggest a connection between him and the mine blast. At the time, Obama had been in office for a little more than a year. In other words, if he mangled the coal industry, he did so in a remarkably short period of time. The film also revives “War on Coal” footage shot during the 2012 presidential campaign. It tends to suggest that the coal mined at Upper Big Branch was used to generate electricity for America’s benefit when, in fact, all of it was of a metallurgical variety bound for export to foreign steel mills.

Another odd aspect of the film is why Manchin would agree to an interview with filmmakers he did not know. When I was researching my 2012 book “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal” (St. Martin’s Press), I could only talk to Manchin and other elected officials at public events, although Massey, Suboleski and other former company officials spoke with me at length. Blankenship declined to be interviewed.

Federal prosecutors in West Virginia say that their ongoing probe may extend to top officers and directors of the defunct firm. It is unclear why Blankenship made the movie now.

Full Disclosure: I have been interviewed and have acted as an unpaid consultant for an upcoming documentary  titled “Blood on the Mountain” produced by Evening Star Productions.

The Long, Sad, Inevitable Demise of Small Town America


Map credit: Brookings Institution

by James A. Bacon

In theory the past decade should have been very good for America’s small towns and rural areas: The fracking revolution has created an energy boom in places as far flung as western Pennsylvania and North Dakota. High prices for agricultural commodities have propped up incomes across the grain belt. Yet, despite the strength of the natural resource economy, non-metropolitan populations are shrinking.

Summing up Bureau of Census data through 2013, the Brookings Institution concluded that, outside of energy boom towns and retirement magnets, the future does not look good for small town America. Communities outside of metropolitan statistical areas showed the third straight year of population loss in 2013. Small cities and towns dependent upon manufacturing have been particularly hard hit.

In this blog, I have frequently cited the work of urban geographers who explain that a knowledge-based economy favors large metropolitan regions with large labor markets of skilled and educated employees. Knowledge-intensive companies gravitate to regions where they can hire workers with the skills they need, and workers gravitate to regions where they can find employment. While this trend does not trump all other considerations — Detroit is a case in point — it is powerful. Only in unique circumstances — a university town, an energy boom town, a town blessed with extraordinary climate or beauty — can small towns fight the tide. Small towns dependent upon light manufacturing especially appear doomed to long-term decline.

In his recently published book, “The Economic Viability of Micropolitan America,” Gerald L. Gordon asks the question, can micropolitan areas (urban centers with populations between 10,000 and 50,000) survive? Gordon is best known in Virginia as CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, one of the most respected and successful economic development enterprises in the country. But he also has an academic bent and when he’s not closing big deals like the relocation of Volkwagen USA and Intelsat to Fairfax County, he’s teaching economic development as an adjunct faculty member and doing his own research.

The latest book is one in a series aimed at extracting economic development lessons from communities large and small around the U.S. For this book, Gordon interviewed the mayors of 70 micropolitan communities, including two in Virginia: Danville and Martinsville. While small-town mayors maintain an up-beat outlook as their communities’ chief salesmen, the outlook Gordon describes is grim.

One rampant problem is the brain drain, the loss of residents with skills and education, to larger metropolitan areas that offer superior career prospects. The small towns’ problem is the inverse that of the major metros. Lacking a skilled and educated workforce makes it difficult to attract higher-quality employers; the lack of higher-quality employers makes it difficult to recruit or retain educated workers. Writes Gordon:

The loss of a primary employer means more than the loss of jobs and taxes. It can also mean the loss of the best of the workforce in the city as well as private support for organizations and causes throughout the community. This brain drain is an extremely serious for micropolitan cities.

That problem feeds another one: The erosion of the business tax base and the loss of higher-income individuals reduces the resources available to small towns and cities to make the investments in education and infrastructure they need to grow. “The ‘Catch-22′ is that the community then becomes less attractive to potential new residents and employers.

If there is a magic formula for success, Gordon didn’t find it. Indeed, his summary chapters are remarkably pessimistic — not for any apocalyptic language, which he studiously avoids, but for the simple paucity of plausible economic-development strategies beyond the well-worn ideas of diversifying the economy and revitalizing downtown.

That’s not to say that the future of micropolitan America is hopeless. There is a niche for people who prefer a slower-paced life in a tightly knit community where everyone knows and supports one another. For the most part, those people are retirees. I confess, I did not read all 70 of the community profiles, but I saw little discussion of what it takes to become a successful retirement community — something any region with access to beaches or mountains can reasonably aspire to. Continue reading

The Koch’s Bizarre Meddling in Chesterfield

koch brothersBy Peter Galuszka

The Koch brothers are back in the bucolic suburban tracts of Chesterfield County.

This time, their national group, Americans for Prosperity, has launched a robocall campaign to oppose a proposed real estate tax hike of 4.6 cents to help pay for $304 million renovations to schools or perhaps hire more teachers to bring classroom sizes back to pre-recession levels.

It’s apparently the second time that Americans for Prosperity have been on their case in Chesterfield. Last year, the hard-right group sent out bizarre “report cards” to ordinary citizens bashing them for not registering to vote.

In one famous local case, a recipient was actually a registered and active voter and greatly resented the idea that a multi-million dollar national outfit like the Americans for Prosperity was trying to monitor his personal business.

This time, Sean Lansing, the group’s Virginia director told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the goal is to “educate” residents on the issues, as if they are too stupid to understand local tax and classroom size problems that they probably know far better than some AEP appartchiki.

Chesterfield has caught itself in a bind because it hasn’t raised real estate taxes since 1990 despite its brisk growth rate. Voters in November voted down a 2 percent meals tax that could have raised money for schools. Henrico County voters, by contrast, narrowly approved a 4 percent meals tax and thus have no budget crisis that another tax hike is needed to resolve.

Admittedly, one of Chesterfield’s problems is bad planning. The staunchly Republican county has a long history of being very friendly to developers. Consequently, the county is in a constant service “catch up” mode. Need schools, such as Cosby High near some of the county’s largest residential developments, was already way overcrowded before it was finished a few years ago.

What is puzzling is what the Koch brothers are so interested in Chesterfield. It is hardly an election battleground. There is no strong Democratic or other opposing party. Yet with consummate arrogance, this cabal believes that residents need robocalls to “educate” them.

“Educate” them for what? If you want good schools and other services, someone has to pay for them. And as a Chesterfield resident for nearly 14 years, I can attest that taxes here are considerably lower than other places I have lived as an adult (Washington, New York, Chicago, suburban Cleveland, etc.).

65 Is the New 25

Whoah! Why so many old people hanging out at the University of Richmond?

Whoah! Why so many old people hanging out at the University of Richmond?

by James A. Bacon

As Baby Boomers reach their retirement years, the Age Wave is washing over the country. The big push among the G.I. Generation and the Silent Generation was to head south, settling in Florida and Arizona. But Boomers have other ideas. They are more inclined to age in place. And if they do decide to move, they’re less likely to head to the old retirement havens. New regions are emerging as retirement hot spots.

Nerdwallet ranked the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas by growth in the 65+ population as a percentage of total population between 2007 and 2012. The result was a real grab-bag of communities, only two of which, Phoenix and Jacksonville, are located in Florida or Arizona. Rainy, overcast Portland, Ore., ranked No. 2 on the list (microbreweries and golf courses) and Detroit No. 5. (Livonia, a large suburb, has large retirement communities).

Then at No. 9, there’s good ol’ RVA. States Nerdwallet: “Retirees in Richmond enjoy the area’s rich history, architecture and cultural offerings, which include a symphony, ballet, orchestra and many theaters and art galleries. The University of Richmond … hosts the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, providing local residents over the age of 50 with access to learning opportunities regardless of their educational background.”

I doubt the author of the piece has any first-hand familiarity with the Richmond — I’m guessing he checked the web for local amenities — but I’ll say that he hit close to the mark. Richmond does attract the culturally inclined. It’s difficult to enjoy the rich array of activities while working and raising children but when we retire a few years from now, my wife and I are looking forward to living here. We hope to travel a lot, but Richmond makes a wonderful base of operations. (In our discussions, we never even considered the Osher Institute. But UR is a five-minute drive from our house — that could be a significant added attraction).

Charlottesville and Williamsburg are up-and-coming retirement destinations, too. They didn’t make the list because the Charlottesville MSA was too small to be included in the survey and Williamsburg was submerged in the much larger Hampton Roads MSA. But quality universities are magnets for both communities.

The type of retiree who is inclined to move to Virginia because of its cultural offerings is precisely the kind of person we want coming here. People who patronize the ballet, visit art museums and audit college classes are far more likely to be educated and affluent. Educated retirees are the demographic flip side of educated young people that so many regions covet. Those in the 65 set may no longer be in the entrepreneurial stage of their lives but they have more disposable income and they have more time to get involved in the community.

Richmond BizSense published a story this morning about an unnamed New Jersey couple moving to Richmond that just purchased a magnificent house on Monument Ave. for $1.52 million. For a modest price (compared to New Jersey) they get a 7,760-square-foot house with marble bathrooms and one of the premium street addresses in the city. The new homeowner was quoted as saying, “I’m moving to Virginia and I want to have a house that shows off the history of the South because I’ve never lived in the South.”

Welcome to the South, honey, I’m sure you’ll love it here. And we’ll be happy to have you.

Is Virginia Now the “Mother of Dictators?”

Dictator_charlie3315 By Peter Galuszka

One of the serious problems in this state that has been called the “Mother of Presidents” is that its electoral process is in many ways anything but a democracy.

In far too many districts, especially rural and suburban ones, gerrymandering and autocratic party diktat mean that the races are utterly non-competitive and devoid of much debate on issues essential for the state’s well-being.

In 2013, for instance, only 12 or 14 of the 100 races for the House of Delegates were actually competitive, according to the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. That’s an odd fact to ponder.

And that is why you get unneeded legislative sessions such as the one starting today to try and sort out Medicaid expansion and a $96 billion, two year budget. My view is that both the expansion and the budget are being held hostage by hard-line social and fiscal conservatives who are unwilling to consider the needs of moderates or even their own constituents, many of whom are receiving Medicaid or who benefit by its expansion. Indeed, polls show that more Virginians are in favor of expanding Medicaid. A broad coalition of activists, Democrats, business executives and moderate Republicans favors it.

For more, check this opinion piece I wrote this Sunday in The Washington Post.

The bottom line is that Virginia is changing but how fast is held in check by engineered voting districts. More people from other states or countries are moving here and that is certain to shake up the old ways of doing business. More millennials are leaving rural areas for cities where there are more jobs and progressive ideas. Eventually, their voices will be heard but not until there’s a level playing field.

According to Leigh Middleditch, a Charlottesville lawyer and Sorenson founder, a crucial task for the Old Dominion is to address redistricting issues. He’s part of the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Reform Coalition, to bring elections back into balance. As he notes, they’re getting the money and haven’t given themselves six years to complete the job.

I wish them well. If that happens you won’t have a tiny, hard-right cadre representing maybe three percent of the eligible electorate dictating who the candidate is because they only have to worry about a primary in a rigged district.

It’s become “the Virginia Way.”

Mark Warner: Let’s Out-Gas Putin

 mark warnerBy Peter Galuszka

One way to clip the wings of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aggressive land grabs, says U.S. Sen. Mark Warner who is running for reelection, is to expedite permitting of the 20 or so proposals to export liquefied natural gas, including one by Richmond-based Dominion Resources.

“Most of Europe and Ukraine are heavily dependent on Russian gas in particular for their energy use,” Warner told reporters. Europe depends on Russia for 30 percent of its gas.

It is true that hydraulic fracking has turned the oil and gas business in the U.S. upside down by creating such a flood of products that the U.S. may not only become energy independent but in a position to export. Environmentalists point out that fracking has its dangers but the remarkable change in energy dynamics plays to the producers’ hands.

The big problems with Warner’s proposal are that exporting LNG to Europe will be more time-consuming and costly than he might imagine. It also does nothing to address the climate change issues that gas contributes to, albeit not as much as coal.

One reason why Warner may be so interested in the issue — House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, is making exactly the same proposal — is because of Dominion. The utility plans a $3.8 billion expansion of its Cove Point, Md. LNG import facility on Chesapeake Bay so that it can export LNG as well. Some of that gas could very well come from fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia along with the Gulf Coast.

Dominion is in the permitting process – perhaps No. 3 or 4 in line – for Cove Point. It has the gear to take super cold gas pf about minus 265 degrees and warm it up to a gaseous state so it can be sent through pipelines. Now it wants equipment to reverse the process – take gas and chill it into shippable LNG. Dominion has everything else it needs – a water terminal, tanks, and so on.

Warner, of course, gets lots of campaign money from Dominion and has just brought on as his campaign manager Eva Teig Hardy, who retired as one of Dominion’s top lobbyists and public affairs executives. I have known Eva since the 1970s and can attest that she is supremely competent.

There’s nothing wrong with Warner’s ties to Dominion although they should be known. What is troublesome is that his plan may not work.

Take Dominion. If Dominion gets its permits, it won’t be able to export LNG for maybe three years. By that time Putin will either have calmed down or gone beyond Crimea to conquer Europe as far as the Czech Republic or maybe France.

Dominion already has customers lined up for its LNG and they aren’t in Europe. They are utilities in India and Japan – which are the markets of choice for many of the American export hopefuls.

And as Steve Mufson of The Washington Post points out, while Russia exports gas via pipelines to Europe, it still isn’t as big a supplier as Norway. In fact, Cove Point used to see the odd tanker full of Norwegian LNG pull up at its bay terminal. Why can’t Norway increase its sales on the Continent?

Europe would have to build more LNG import facilities and that may take a few years. Meanwhile, the global money seems to be on sending LNG to Asia. Continue reading

Great Scott!! Look What’s Happening to Your Addition!


The Altamont apartments

by James A. Bacon

The Scott’s Addition area of Richmond, Va., is the last place most people would want to live. It’s a gritty neighborhood of warehouses and light industry comprised mostly of boxy and unadorned brick buildings, grungy gravel parking lots and a few stunted trees. Indeed, it’s the kind of place normally zoned to keep renters and homeowners out. Yet it’s one of the hot, up-and-coming neighborhoods in the City of Richmond. Young people, it appears, like living there.

The neighborhood has a great location within bicycling distance of downtown and Virginia Commonwealth University, not to mention it’s a hop, skip and jump from Interstate 95 and the Powhite Expressway. Property is still relatively cheap. And, oh… anything goes.

Max Musto doesn’t have to go far from his apartment in Scott’s Addition to practice with his band, Dr. Con, a power funk outfit, according to the Times-Dispatch, which profiles the Scott’s Addition comeback today. “We can go all night, you know, because it’s an industrial section,” he says. He chose the neighborhood because it’s cheap and “away from everybody.”

The renaissance of Scott’s Addition, which was named after General Winfield Scott, is fascinating in many ways. One storyline could be that the revitalization sprang out of nowhere. No one at City Hall anticipated the redevelopment that occurred there. It never hit the radar screen of the city’s booster groups. With some assistance from historic rehabilitation tax credits, redevelopment happened all by itself.

The other storyline — the one that I will elaborate upon today — is that the Scott’s Addition renaissance calls into question the notion that it is necessary and desirable to rigidly segregate industrial land uses from residential. The very concept of zoning originated as a way to separate housing from nasty, polluting industries that befouled the air and water nearby. It was a public health and safety issue. But 50 years of ever-tighter environmental regulations have obviated the need for separation except in rare instances. There are no significant public health issues associated with living in Scott’s Addition today.


Grunge. What makes Scott’s Addition inexpensive.

In fact, the proximity of residential and industrial-warehouse space is a good thing. Not only does Max Musto get to jam with his band but woodworkers, glassblowers and other local artisans can lease space near where they live. People who work in Scott’s Addition — not just in light industrial jobs like rug cleaning, sign printing, auto body repair — can live there, too. Meanwhile, there is an increasing array of non-industrial businesses, including restaurants, craft breweries, coffee houses, and even Moseley Architects, a respected, midsized architectural firm. 

Let me repeat for emphasis: It’s a good thing when people have the option to live near where they work. It’s good for the workers, who spend less money on transportation. It’s good for others because it keeps cars off the main roads. It’s good for the employers because employees who live nearby are less likely to encounter transportation-related problems getting to work. It’s good for the environment because burning less gasoline translates into less air pollution. It’s good for the city because revitalization bolsters the tax base. Continue reading