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Students Plot Comeback for Belt Boulevard 

"You just go by and blink and you're past it," says Morton B. Gulak, an associate professor of urban studies and planning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

But Gulak and city planners envision the area as the center of South Side's economic future. So they asked a group of urban studies graduate students at VCU to research and develop a plan to bring the Belt Boulevard corridor back.

As desolate as it may seem, Belt Boulevard is only a short drive from the thriving neighborhood of Westover Hills and a resurging Manchester. Also, Gulak points out, the growing Hispanic population has created an untapped retail market.

Some of what the students have proposed may be too ambitious to make happen soon: redesigning the mostly vacant Circle Shopping Center; bringing in new businesses such as day-care facilities, restaurants and a major discount retailer; and developing a "cohousing community" where residents share extensive common facilities.

But there are things that could be done right away to bring Belt Boulevard back, Gulak says, such as slowing traffic, adding benches and building sidewalks where now exist only trodden paths in the grass. — Melissa Scott Sinclair
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