By Peter Galuszka

Inner city issues seem to be a trend this week on the blog so here are a few more points about the so-called “under-class” as some define lower income, under privileged people. The locus is Richmond, the state capital that despite its pretensions is actually a working class town with plenty of inner city issues.

One topic is the concept of “food deserts” where adequately fresh and nutritious vegetables, fruit, meat and seafood are not available for whatever reason.

In Richmond, the areas where this tends to happens are in primarily African-America sections to the downtown’s northeast and immediate south plus some pockets here are there. Mind you that the outer suburbs of Henrico and Chesterfield Counties are among the state’s wealthiest and whitest.

That’s where the nice stores are but they are out of reach for many of the urban poor, especially the elderly and disabled who do not have cars. It is a problem for them to even get to some of the bigger inner city grocery stores, such as a Kroger on North Lombardy Street near the city’s famed Jackson Ward neighborhood that had been a highlight of the early 20th century’s African-American cultural renaissance but was destroyed by white highway planners who put Interstate 95 smack through the area in the 1950s.

A cursory Web search shows that’s about the only large food store in that general area. One reason it survives is that it also serves thousands of students at Virginia Commonwealth University, the state’s largest public college, a few blocks away.

If one takes a GRTC Transit System bus on nearby Broad Street, one sees poor people traveling with grocery bags to the Kroger since it’s the only stores of any size for most of Richmond’s public housing projects. But that’s about as far as many can go.

Why? Richmond ranks 95th among 100 metro areas for public transit, According to a new Brookings Institution report, Richmond’s bus coverage (there is not light rail) pretty much ends at the city limits.

Less than half of all jobs in the area are within the GRTC coverage area. Richmond ranks only 82nd for its labor access rate, according to the report. So let’s say that some poor inner city denizen reads Ayn Rand one morning and wants to get a job and become a well-paid objectivist. That job is likely to be out of reach of the bus service – somewhere out in the strip malls of the suburbs. The only solution: buy a car.

Overall, prideful Richmond ranks slightly below Birmingham, Ala. and above Augusta, Ga., rather impressive company. The places with the best public transit are so socialistic and free-spending hotbeds as Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Mateo. New York ranks highly, too.

The problem is that many Virginians tend to be conservative and anti-spending. Some are also smart growthers who in principle agree that expanding public transit is a good idea as opposed to automobiles.

The little-spoken problem is that many actually want to keep two separate societies, just like the Jim Crow days. The poor blacks and Latinos can stay in the inner city. We’re not going to fund public transit so they can shop next to us or get to jobs near us. If some of them are middle-class and well-educated, fine, we’ll accept them.

Just don’t muck up our lily white suburbs with the poor and unwashed and dark-skinned.

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  1. larryg Avatar

    well here’s ONE answer:

    I realize that self-help and a community pulling itself up by it’s own bootstraps is a silly concept to some.. but it works really good things.

    1. – it actually makes better food available

    2. – it gives everyone a job who wants one and even if it is a volunteer job, it gives one a sense of accomplishment and self respect – self esteem – and a resume.

    what a concept!

  2. Peter gets half the story right. Poor inner city residents, mostly African-Americans, are dependent upon the GRTC for mobility to access jobs and in some cases groceries. That’s true, and it’s a problem we need to address.

    Then he proceeds to draw all the wrong conclusions, while simultaneously stereotyping suburban Richmonders (with the presumed exception of himself) as closet racists pining away for the good ol’ days of Jim Crow. I know a lot of liberal Democrats in the ‘burbs who would take umbrage at that characterization.

    But there are more important stories to be told here. It is precisely the institutions and policies that Peter defends that create problems for inner-city African-Americans.

    First, why must poor people depend upon a government monopoly transportation provider, e.g. the GRTC bus system? I’ve blogged previously about emerging alternatives such as smart-phone enabled jitney services. Free-market transportation providers would not be limited to serving bus routes and neighborhoods approved by politicians.

    Second, as LarryG asks, what’s to stop people from starting urban gardens in a co-op movement? Oh, my gosh, look at this — Tricycle Gardens, a urban garden in Richmond’s Church Hill. ( It’s already happening!

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You don’t address why GRTC can’t extend lines from inside out.
    Why a monopoly? That’s the way most big metro transit systems work. It would be incredibly hard for different bus companies or train firms to handle the short-run, inner-city transit.Private rail passenger service, once a competitive, profitable venture, ended in the 1970s and went into Amtrak, a government entity. There was no other solution. As for buses, you may have low-end Chinatown buses or slightly better entities, but they do not handle the regular, intercity services.
    Why not free market? Maybe in limited areas. But then, have you ever taken a cab in Richmond that goes any distance? Do you have any idea what it can cost? Try $85. Seriously. Maybe you haven’t taken a cab in Richmond and don’t know.
    As for the suburbs, I have plenty of African-American neighbors where I live. What I am saying is that the White Flight system that was locked into place by Richmond’s white leadership a half a century ago endures. You still haven’t addressed the problem that Brookings brings up.

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