Boulevard, from Broad Street south to Byrd Park, has undergone a spectacular transformation in recent years, because of sharply focused private developers. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society are both developing expansion plans along the avenue. So it's time we bit the bullet on that part of Boulevard stretching northward to Westwood Avenue. This helter-skelter strip contains a diverse and healthy business district, including foreign-auto repair and motorcycles shops, florists, barbecues, laundries and retailers. It won't take much to tidy up the street.
First, replace the angled parking in the center of the traffic lanes with a landscaped median strip. There are enough adjacent surface areas that off-street parking could handle whatever spaces are lost. Consider trees along the sidewalks and a stricter signage program: Neon might be appropriate to the commercial nature of the area. This part of Boulevard is an important point of entry off Interstates 64 and 95 and the link with recreational and cultural attractions to the north -- the Diamond, the Sports Backers Stadium, Bryan Park and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.
2. Develop Monroe Ward
Many of Richmond's most discriminating visitors stay in West Franklin Street hotels -- at The Jefferson, The Radisson and the Linden Row Inn. But they collectively moan as soon as they veer off Franklin one block in either direction to Grace or Main streets. Soon they find a no-man's land of asphalt-surface parking lots. Although Monroe Ward, bordered by Belvidere, Broad and First streets and the Downtown Expressway, contains many of downtown's architectural and cultural treasures, the asphalt makes it the most blighted downtown sector.
A number of years ago, participants in the Prince of Wales Institute spent time here devising a general plan for the neighborhood. It called for augmenting the existing architectural fabric with dense, low- to moderate- rise buildings. The Historic Richmond Foundation has moved its headquarters from Church Hill to Monroe Ward and probably can exert leadership in making something happen here.
3. Preserve the Grace Street retail district
Unlike much of Monroe Ward, Grace Street -- from Capitol Square to Jefferson Street -- contains a consistent flow of elegant buildings. Alas, many of them are vacant. But while only Dementi Photos remains of the one-time carriage-trade businesses, this section must be kept intact. The size of many of the buildings makes them conducive to retail and small businesses. This street downtown is a critical foil to the increasingly institutional buildings on Broad Street and structures that house the financial and legal business world to the south. Grace Street can provide important linkage while holding its own architecturally. The planned reopening of Sixth Street between Marshall and Grace should help the energy flow. There is enough workday population to support at least a few blocks of fine retail. Perhaps making Grace Streets an antiques district would be the place to start.
4. Revitalize Jackson Ward's Second Street
Residents and historians alike have long extolled the charms of Jackson Ward. But, interestingly, it took the overwhelmingly large convention center for many to fully appreciate how human-scaled and solidly built the neighborhood is. And Second Street is ideally situated to take advantage of this, particularly restaurants. Remember, businesses will reimburse employees for travel and business meals. While Shockoe Slip, the Bottom and the Fan are terrific destinations for conventioners, there should be closer alternatives.
5. Rethink the City Parks
Richmond has a wealth of glorious old parks -- Monroe, Bryan, Forest Hill and Byrd. They were established in the days before air conditioning, radio, television and the Web. While Richmonders gravitate to the well-programmed and privately managed parks such as Maymont or the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, they don't fully use the traditional public spaces. Smaller parks are popular with neighborhood residents -- the triangular parks in the Fan, Libby Hill Park on Church Hill and Abner Clay in Jackson Ward. But how about a comprehensive master plan that updates these out-of-date Victorian-era spaces? How do we make them work in a new century? We might start by examining how other cities have transformed their once-threatening city parks into showplaces. New York's Central Park comes to mind.
6. Create visual cohesion along Chamberlayne Avenue
Not only downtown and retail areas, but residential areas also need attention. Chamberlayne Avenue, from Lombardy Street to Azalea Avenue, includes some jarring commercial buildings. But it's the unfortunate stock of low-rise apartment buildings that deface this boulevard. The street has benefited recently from the planting of maples in the median strip. But these need to be better maintained and replaced as needed. Chamberlayne has for too long been more a boulevard of broken dreams than a link between the eastern and western parts of Ginter Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Consistent signage for the apartment complexes and greatly enhanced landscaping would work wonders here. Consistent hedge rows and fencing along the city sidewalk line would go a long way toward tying together a stretch of city street that needs healing.
7. Tear down the City's Safety, Health and Welfare Building and reopen East Clay Street
The north side Broad Street downtown, including the Virginia BioTechnology Park, is finally getting major, new buildings after more than 30 years of waiting for something to happen. With the police department and courts operations slated to move out of the sprawling Safety, Health and Welfare Building, let's demolish the unlovely pile and reopen Clay Street to create a physical link between the VCU/MCV and museum district, and the new convention center. A fracture in the downtown street grid would be reestablished and there would be synergy between the museums in the area -- the John Marshall House, the Valentine Richmond History Center, and the White House and Museum of the Confederacy. Sorely needed linkage would be created between downtown attractions.
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.