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Inclusive Processes (and a Birthday!)

January marks FORM Coalition's one year birthday! What a full year it's been, learning a new city and meeting incredible new collaborators. My deepest thanks to everyone who has given me an opportunity to make a new connection or to be a part of what you're working on.

Some highlights from 2019 include:

Park[ing] Day 2019 - Brookland Park Boulevard

Here in Richmond, much of our local politics over the last year has been preoccupied with the Navy Hill development. Navy Hill is a downtown neighborhood surrounding the Richmond Coliseum, a 13,500-seat arena that has been underutilized for years, and hasn't seen a booking since the end of 2018. The Navy Hill Plan is a proposal to redevelop the area around Coliseum with hotels, housing, & retail, and use funds generated from a newly established TIF area to update the arena.

Navy Hill project area - Richmond Biz Sense

Many in Richmond are critical--or at the very least skeptical--of the plan, and with good reason. It's a complicated deal and the entire process has been rather opaque, beginning with an RFP process that garnered only one response. There's a complex web of funding structures and stakeholders, and at its core a fundamental disagreement over whether redeveloping the arena is a wise investment for the city at all. With all that said, I do think there are lessons that apply more broadly to how we approach these types of projects in general.

First, process matters. I think people on all sides of the issue wish the process had been handled better--yesterday's city council meeting is clear evidence of that. Ultimately, it's difficult to have a productive conversation about how to fund an arena when Richmonders feel that they haven't even had a chance to decide if they actually need one in the first place.

"...we know from experience that large-scale planning of cities and regions tend to fail even when drawn up according to the most conscientious analyses and accurate forecasts, and even when collective interests have been carefully considered. This failure is usually attributed to the intervention of forces opposed to the organic development of the collectivity and therefore hostile to the 'wise plans', a credible but not an exhaustive explanation. The 'wise plans' fail, in fact, because the collectivity has no reason to defend them. Since it did not participate in their formulation, it is perfectly within its rights not to consider them 'wise' and therefore not to support them."
--Giancarlo de Carlo, Architecture's Public

Second, I'd like to see the city take a more incremental approach to projects like this and sell off parcels individually or in smaller groups, rather than as one large master-planned effort. For one thing, consolidating land means consolidating power. Additionally, an incremental approach allows new projects to respond to the context as it develops--both economically and architecturally. It may take longer to see results, but it allows those results to be carefully considered, and for cities and developers to build trust along the way. Large-scale planning projects like stadiums generate controversy and emotion because they call into question our fundamental assumptions about who has the power to shape our cities: Are we doing everything we can to employ democratic processes that provide livability for all citizens, or is decision-making power limited to those who have money and influence? Note: I've barely scratched the surface of the complexities of the Navy Hill plan; if you're interested in finding out more, Partnership for Smarter Growth is a good place to start.

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