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The Best of Richmond 2000

Best thing to happen to Richmond in the past year

Despite the fact that it's quiet enough to hear those murals flapping in the breeze, you simply love the Canal Walk. Nevermind there's nary a business down there, unless you count that guy opening a snow-cone cart last summer. (Though we couldn't find the guy or his delicious flavored ice this year.) Yes, we agree that there are some beautiful sights, such as the old train tracks and power plants, the cityscape backdrop and Brown's Island. But the Canal Walk is so 1999.

The X-Trials followed in second place. Interesting standouts on the runners-up list include the exaggerated "development in the Bottom," the mean-spirited "Peppermint Lounge burned," the egotistical "I moved here," the amusing "Warren Stewart running for Congress," and the old favorite "Leonidas Young in jail."

Best example of a local official stepping in it, and best example of dysfunction in public policy

Richmond City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin is the most intriguing Jekyll-and-Hyde act in Richmond. One moment, he's an intelligent, articulate visionary with a sense of history and (stop us, soon) destiny. The next, he's talking about letting the pigeon poop pile up on Traveller.

He's so much fun, we can't vote him off the island just yet.

Best example of common sense in public policy

"It is something we try to practice," says Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett of Henrico County's common sense approach to public policy. "The best way to approach anything or anybody is to treat them as you would like to be treated."

'Nuff said.

Best volunteer group to join

Feeling altruistic? Want to give something back to your community? Our readers recommend you pick up a hammer and check out Habitat for Humanity, 2000's Best Volunteer Group to Join. Don't worry if you don't know a screwdriver from a socket wrench. There's no experience required, just a willingness to sweat.

Since 1986 Habitat for Humanity has worked to make sure that deserving families have a decent place to live, enlisting about 4,000 volunteers to build 18 to 22 houses yearly. Many of these volunteers work on Habitat construction sites with work, community or church groups for as little as a day. Alyssa McBride, Habitat's community resource coordinator (and a former Habitat for Humanity volunteer herself) says people like to volunteer with Habitat "because it's a hands-on experience. You get to work directly with the people you are helping." Not to mention that you get to see very tangible results from your labors.

Coming in second for the area's best place to volunteer is the SPCA, with Big Brothers/Big Sisters finishing a respectable third.

Best public official

"I must meet your demographic of being young and hip," says Mayor Tim Kaine. "This is the best news I've had all day."

What's the worst? He's not saying.

But that's all right, right? Everything seems to be, these days, in Richmond. And Richmonders give Kaine the credit.

The mayor was voted best public official. Next to Sa'ad El-Amin, who received one vote, he may be the only local official most Richmonders can name offhand.

But that's all right, too. Kaine's empathetic, consensus-building style is a balm in a city constantly reminded of race. And El-Amin is a perfect foil.

Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver came in second in the readers' poll; Gov. Jim Gilmore placed third.

Best place to work

After being named to Fortune Magazine's most recent 100 Best Companies to Work For list, it's no surprise that Capital One also tops Style readers' lists of Best Place to Work.

With job growth of 106 percent and more than 12,000 employees, more and more people are finding out firsthand about Capital One's liberal vacation policy (three weeks paid after the first year), stock options and perks such as family-care days and a casual dress code.

Of course, no workplace is perfect. You do have to wonder a teensy little bit about a place that requests that you include your grade point average and standardized test scores (does anyone over 30 even remember what they got on their SAT?) on your resume.

Here in Richmond, "the world's biggest small town," as billed on Cap One's Web site, it seems like every other person you meet works for the company. So we have to assume that those who spelled it "Capitol One" for Richmond's best place to work don't actually work there but have only heard about the company's attributes from their friends.

Another Richmond company to make Fortune's list, Ukrop's, comes in a close second with our readers.

Best outdoor mural

You've gotta wonder if it's just Richmond's best outdoor mural or the most famous outdoor mural anywhere after the brouhaha over a photographic image of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee hoisted onto the downtown floodwall. But Lee remains in place among the images reflecting our city's storied past, and the world hasn't come to an end.

If it is Richmond's best outdoor mural, it's no accident. The designer was Ralph Applebaum Associates, an internationally renowned firm whose work includes the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the acclaimed new Museum of Natural History on New York's Central Park West.

The series of murals, which are actually banners strung along the floodwall, aren't in-your-face, but serve as atmospheric background music. One can either read them or ignore them: They are like urban wallpaper — obviously there, but a backdrop. Of course their purpose is to generate visual energy until in-fill buildings bring three-dimensional activity to the newly created public waterway.

Best friend to the arts

Well, we knew Gov. Jim Gilmore wasn't going to be your pick for this one. Instead, readers chose the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as Richmond's Best Friend to the Arts.

It's a no-brainer really - where else in the city can you view such a stellar collection of art ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to cutting-edge modern masterpieces, for free (although there is a suggested donation of $5, you know). Then there are the museum's myriad special events. Whether it's through Art After Hours, Fast/Forward, Jumpin', art classes or an artist lecture (Sally Mann, anyone?), the museum offers endless opportunities for Richmonders to get a dose of culture.

Best view of the skyline

Church Hill residents might not see a lot of hustle and bustle in their quiet section of town, but they still have a great view of downtown from the overlook at 22nd and Grace streets. Many voters singled out Church Hill spots Libby Hill and the hill at Chimborazo Park. The historic perch won this category by a landslide, followed by the view from the deck at Legend Brewing Company near the Manchester Bridge.

The skyline view while driving over the river from south Richmond got enough votes to get third place. That nighttime scene from Richmond's South Side almost reminds one of the view from the hills of Hollywood, with all the lights sparkling like jewels when the sun goes down. And since two readers voted for this one, we're dying to know where "Lisa's apartment" is.

Best-Dressed Richmonder

With her tailored suits and always-changing hairstyles, agelessly attractive 12 News anchor Sabrina Squire wins (again) the best-dressed Richmonder award, but for many voters, the category is suspect. "They all look like clones" and "You've got to be kidding," say some of the edgier fashionistas who live here but want to look like they're from somewhere more hip. No wonder. This is the town where still-dead Robert E. Lee continues to pull in votes for a certain gray wool number that can't be looking all that sharp about now. Interior designer John Taylor, blond and casual, got noticed by several voters, as did muscle-mouthed Joe Morrissey, presumably while wearing that can't-miss orange

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