The Plaza at Main Street Station: Creative Use of Urban Space

If you’ve ever wondered why old cities are so much more interesting places to visit than the suburbs, take a look at a project in downtown Richmond, the Plaza at Main Street Station.

First, some background: One of the uglier parts of downtown Richmond has been known as the “spaghetti works,” the spot where Interstate 95 and the Downtown Expressway converge, flyover ramps spilling in all directions, and interlace with three — count ’em, three — different train tracks. Lots of steel, lots of concrete girders. It’s an inhospitable place used mainly for parking cars.

But that liability is now becoming an asset in Shockoe Bottom, the old warehouse-turned-entertainment district adjacent to the downtown business district. I’ll let Michael Martz with the Times-Dispatch tell the story:

Interstate 95 arches above Richmond’s newest showpiece, a $3.3 million plaza that the city envisions as a hub for transit, tourism and recreation in a revitalized Shockoe Bottom.

When Richmond flips the switch at a ceremony tonight, soft blue light will bathe the interstate and the massive concrete piers that support it above The Plaza at Main Street Station. The plaza, with 90 coveted public parking spaces, transforms a crime-ridden abandoned field into a colonnade leading to one of the city’s most venerable landmarks — Main Street Station. …

The city has turned the area into a nexus for train passengers, tourist buses, taxis, hired limousines, and, soon, hikers and bikers from the new Capital Trail and the Canal Walk….

Tonight’s ceremony will focus on the rediscovered beauty of the area — from the “Sky Rider” sculpture that hangs from the interstate girders above the bluestone plaza to the uninterrupted view of Main Street Station itself.

In place of the suburb’s monoculture of shopping centers or single-family dwellings, the Richmond city center offers a rich mix of business, multi-unit residential and entertainment venues (though not much retail yet) with many striking views and vistas. Since I’ve been living in the ‘burbs for the past five years, I love visiting downtown and seeing all the change. The city delights with its array of varied and unexpected scenes. I can hardly wait to see the Plaza.

Also, it will be interesting to see how Main Street Station functions as an intermodal center for rail, buses, taxis, limos, bikers and pedestrians. Grandiose urban-revitalization projects in Richmond have often launched with high expectations only to fizzle. Will this time be different? With all the people moving into Shockoe Bottom and surrounding precincts, it just might be. There is energy downtown that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

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5 responses to “The Plaza at Main Street Station: Creative Use of Urban Space”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    They are lighting up the underbelly of a freeway as a form of art and decoration? What happened to energy conservation?

    I’m kidding, of course. It sounds great, and I hope it works.


  2. I like cities too – having had apratments in the loop in Chicago and in Manhattan.

    I hope the effort in Richmond pays off. I remember going to an area called the Shockoe Slip a couple of times when I was in college in the late 1970s. I recall it being a lot of fun then. Not sure if this is the same place.

    However, I think your description of “the suburbs” as a monoculture is a bit over the top.

    First, let me do my EMR impersonation – Suburb? Why do you use such old and poorly defined terms?

    So, here in DC there are certainly some areas that would be correctly termed monoculture. For example, large tracts around Fairfax County. However, all the quaint townhouses in Georgetown look pretty much the same too. And the inner city of Washington is a repetition of poverty and despair.

    Meanwhile, Old Town Alexandria is a whole lot different than Great Falls which is a whole lot different than Wilson Blvd in Arlington or Seven Corner’s.

    Maybe the Richmond suburbs all look the same. I stayed once in a place with the improbable name of Short Pump but that’s about the extent of my experience in the Richmond suburbs.

    The DC suburbs are diverse and getting more diverse by the minute – as the anti immigration people will attest.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Yep, over generalization is a good way to avoid the facts.

    And, hey, those quaint townhouses in Georgetown come complete with exploding manholes. Gotta love that existing infrastructure.


  4. Anonymous Avatar

    skyrider is about the ugliest piece of public art I’ve ever seen

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Anonymous 6:09:

    Your comment is what is beautiful about America.


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