by Jon Baliles

The Times-Dispatch Editorial Board printed a piece this week entitled “The city’s Lost Cause statues are all gone. So what now?” While it recaps the events and protests of 2020 and the fact that all of the former Confederate statues have been removed, it offers a bit more foresight by looking at what will be required of our City and our leaders in the future.

The piece points out that the removal of the A.P. Hill statue was characterized by Mayor Stoney as an opportunity to “start writing a new chapter for the city” and to make the accident-prone intersection more safe. “That’s the blocking and tackling of running a government,” Stoney said. The editorial, however, goes a little deeper than the Mayor:

Charting a new chapter for Richmond, however, requires something more than “blocking and tackling.” In the summer of 2020, a broad coalition of Richmond citizens and public officials — including Stoney — embraced a newfound commitment to breaking down systemic racism and creating a more inclusive, equitable Richmond. In the winter of 2022, we still have little to show for it.

It runs down the list of things that you constantly hear Stoney talking about but providing very little in the way of policy solutions that are implemented and working.

City schools are struggling with a leadership crisis, a teacher shortage and a student population that’s been devastated by pandemic-induced learning challenges. The affordable housing crisis, especially for the poorest Richmonders, has only grown worse. Evictions and homelessness are spiking, with no comprehensive plan to address it. The Richmond Police Department is grappling with more than 150 officer vacancies as gun violence surges — disproportionately impacting Black families, of course — as it begins the search to replace yet another departed police chief.

It talks about the housing crisis, and that apartments are going up with lightning speed in Manchester and Scott’s Addition and (soon) in the Diamond District, while “South Side and the East End are left to fend for themselves. Redevelopment of public housing complexes remain stuck at the starting gate. The new Richmond takes priority over the old.” It does point out some of the positive news we have seen, like poverty dropping to 18% (lowest in two decades) and our “urban cool” is on the rebound as the pandemic years are more in the rearview mirror.

But the thing that struck me the most about this piece is that it is really the first marker of issues that are and will be on the table and need to be addressed in 2024 when the City elects a new Mayor and City Council (in which, I will not be a participant). We have heard lots of talk and seen lots of tweets over the years from the Mayor and others about all they are doing for the City. But we can no longer afford trading real political solutions (including listening, compromise, and common ground) for self-promotion on social media just to rack up more clicks, likes and retweets and counting that as a measure of success.

As Denzel Washington once said, “Just because you are doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you are getting a lot more done. Don’t confuse movement with progress.”

And with Stoney’s eye now fixated on the Capitol, all of these issues will need to be addressed, as they will remain very much in the forefront for the next few years (and I am paraphrasing the editorial, except where quoted):

* “…the city’s economic divide appears to be growing worse;”
* A casino is a glittering (and false) hope for many because the house always wins.
* Will economic opportunity in Richmond be vast enough to help stem the high rates of evictions and create better housing options?
* Why is it so hard to provide a few hundred beds at temporary homeless shelters as temperatures plummet?
* Richmond Public Schools are “beset by internal infighting on the School Board” and “external fighting with Stoney and City Hall, isn’t much better.”
*Our economic development strategy should not “translate to government-subsidized gentrification.”
* The “overzealous historic tax credit program and the city’s historic willingness to give up years of tax revenue to accommodate residential developers” has to be modified as part of the housing solution;
* And, “Richmond’s business community, and elected leaders, have long aided and abetted this growing economic divide” and it must turn its focus toward addressing and solving these problems, not perpetuating them.

You can argue with and discuss some of these topics and issues for sure (and we should), but the piece closes with a clear message for those who truly care about making Richmond better and not just talking about it with platitudes or using it as a stepping stone on their way to somewhere else:

Bridging the gap is a massive undertaking. Making Richmond a more equitable place will require a fundamental shift in how resources are allocated. With the last of the Lost Cause statuary headed for storage, now would be a good time to get started.

It’s beyond time.

This essay by former City Councilman Jon Baliles was originally published in RVA 5×5 and is republished here with permission.

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9 responses to “Richmond’s Next Chapter”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    Richmond has a lower population today than it had in 1950. This is all the more astonishing when one realizes that the US population grew by 128% over that period. While the city has been growing lately (it’s modern nadir was 2000), it’s still 25,000 people short of its population in 1970.

    Meanwhile, Henrico County has grown 600% since 1950. Chesterfield has grown 900% since 1950. Neither county has seen a population loss in any census over the past 100 years (although Henrico has lost population from 2020 – 2022). The City of Richmond has seen a population decline in 4 of the last 10 censuses.

    Compare that with other southern capitals like Atlanta. In 1900 Richmond and Atlanta had almost the exact same populations. Today, Atlanta is more than twice the size of Richmond. In 1900, Raleigh was 1/6 the population of Richmond. Today, it has twice Richmond’s population. I assume there is no reason to even discuss Austin, TX or Nashville, TN. Montgomery, AL has almost doubled its population since 1950. The only other southern capital that has languished is Jackson, MS.

    Something is very, very wrong with the City of Richmond. Removing a few statues won’t fix the city.

    Richmond needs a growth plan.

    1. Being an independent city doesn’t work for city growth. The only independent cities in the US outside of Virginia are Baltimore, St Louis and Carson City. Baltimore and St Louis are basket cases. Carson City is doing fine but is more the size of a town than a city. There is a reason that NOBODY has all independent cities other than Virginia.

    2. A city-county merger with Henrico might work. It certainly helped Nashville. Combined planning and zoning could make the City of Richmond more attractive.

    3. Serious investment in Richmond might work. State subsidized conference centers, sports areas, etc.

    Richmond needs a lot more than statue removal.

    1. 2. A city-county merger with Henrico might work. It certainly helped Nashville. Combined planning and zoning could make the City of Richmond more attractive.

      Okay, except given the levels of competence of the two entities, a county-city merger might work out better. Richmond could give up being a city and become a town within Henrico County. 😉

    2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      The comparison with Jackson is a good one. If it wasn’t for VCU Jackson would probably be compared to RVA.
      I refer to the city as Detroit-upon-James.

  2. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I should care more than I do. We spent ten years as city residents and taxpayers, moving out to the West End three years ago last week. Soon after, that next summer, the message was clearly sent by a massive bloc of city voters that folks like us were considered oppressors and the response to our departure was “good riddance.” As a Republican my vote clearly carried no weight. Sorry, Jon, they lost me. Few of our dollars get spent in the city now. They don’t even really want to keep me a a natural gas customer, apparently.

    As of next month we will take the RTD digital only, and I wouldn’t count on that lasting for long.

  3. “Bridging the gap is a massive undertaking. Making Richmond a more equitable place will require a fundamental shift in how resources are allocated. With the last of the Lost Cause statuary headed for storage, now would be a good time to get started.”

    There is no reason whatsoever they could not have gotten started on this while the “Lost Cause” statuary was still in place.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Curious if Devon Henry scored another payday in the removal of General AP Hill. Richmond is FTBT now. Visited Hollywood Cemetery this morning to decorate the graves of long gone kinsmen. Beautiful place in the bright winter sun despite the chilled air. Richmond seemed quiet. I could hear the steady roll of the James, the screech of the trains on the track bend, and the chitter chatter of the winter birds. Rolling up Belvidere the air was punctuated by not mistle toe and holly but the foul stench of pot smoke.

  5. Did Stoney talk about how the city will make up the shortfall from the millions of tourist dollars and taxes paid for food, lodging, and other expenditures from tourists who are no longer coming to the city to learn about and visit the sites associated with the War Between the States?

  6. Anderson Stone Avatar
    Anderson Stone

    Stupid is as stupid does! The hallmark of Richmond council and mgmt! Use to live there and have no desire to visit to support the corrupt council and city govt!!!
    Ps family had Big businesses there!

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