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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies and ...

A week ago I had a chance to speak to City Council. It is a privilege afforded citizens of Richmond to speak for 3 minutes to council several times a year. Whenever I do this, there is the dilemma of what topic to focus on. I can usually think of ten. There is crime, the DMP, baseball, Centerstage, Echo Harbor, $2,000,000 cement plants, etc., but three minutes is three minutes. Some rant and scold, some just ramble. I think I did all three on this occasion, but my topic was public safety, real and perceived, and it's effect on business and tourism downtown.

As a downtown resident I have a personal interest in this. I walk these streets everyday and at all hours. For myself I have been willing to take chances, but I have had a distinct feeling lately that our streets are less and less safe. This at a time when it is more important than ever to present our best face to the world. Like it or not our performing arts center is opening and we all have a stake in its success. It should take a major event like this to call attention to the unsafe and intimidating aspects of downtown, but now seemed like a good time to do it.

Madam President, Members of Council

My name is Paul Hammond. I am a resident of Monroe Ward in the 2nd District. I would like to recount some of our recent achievements downtown.

  • A spectacular Broad Appetite with 20,000 people celebrating Richmond, downtown and the great restaurants and chefs in our community
  • The opening of the Miller and Rhoads Hilton. It is great to see that name resurrected.
  • The renovation of the Marriott
  • The reported renovation of the John Marshall
  • First Friday’s and the renewal of Jackson Ward
  • The imminent opening the CenterStage. It has been a long time coming.

    All this in a down economy. It’s rather amazing.

As a longtime resident of downtown, I’d like to share with you a major concern of mine and that is the safety of our downtown streets. I have lived here for 8 years and have never been so concerned. It doesn’t take a lot of crime nearby to cripple the growth that we have seen.

I often drive near Adams and Broad and am surprised when I see regular folks, not urbanites (and I know the difference) crossing Broad in droves. I think, “What are they doing here?” and then I think Theater IV. What gumption these people have. I think the same thing when I see parents leading their kids to Peter Pan or Little Orphan Annie. I thank God for them. The down side is many, and I mean many people won’t come downtown on a dare and I don’t blame them.

I walk outside almost every night and see people hanging on the almost every street corner. It is a creepy feeling when you are looked at as either a target or a customer. It is still not safe or comfortable for ordinary people and tourists to walk our streets. If you aren’t a seasoned urbanite or are a stranger to this town you would be best to stay close to home. I’m embarrassed to say this, but it is true. I would never send any family member of mine for a walk downtown at night. I doubt you would too.

If we are ever going to reap the benefits of all our investments, we are going to have to make our streets safer, not just in reality, but in perception. Visitors should feel save walking from the Convention Center or the Jefferson to our art galleries and restaurants.

I hope this changes and soon. We owe it to our visitors, businesses and ourselves. I want to feel proud of our city and I am, but we have a long ways to go before we can rest. We have a lot to gain and lose.

Thank you for your time.

I was not comfortable speaking that evening, but after reviewing the tape, I am satisfied I made my point. I was even more pleased when Marty Jewell felt it necessary to question me by quoting old statistics that said downtown was safer than ANY suburban shopping mall. My feelings about that is that "there are lies, damned lies and statistics". If there is no one on our streets at night, then there is no one to rob. I'd trade the retail activity of any mall in Chesterfield or Henrico (excluding Cloverleaf) for the business that is done downtown after five. Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. His reply? "Cause that's where all the money is.", one of the greatest deadpan lines in history. I wish I would have thought of it.

I like it when Marty Jewell interrupts me, because he usually hands me a straight line I can run with and he usually just embarrasses himself. As always, he gets in the final word, "Well even the malls close at 9:00 pm." I've got news for Mr. Jewel. Our downtown has been on life support for decades and is now starting to turn the corner. I hope we never settle for a downtown that closes at nine.

Citizen Comment Period - Richmond City Council July 27, 2009

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Sean said...

You sure did make your point - you have surrendered downtown Richmond faster than France in 1940 against the Germans.

This is more of the same illogical argument you made on CHPN - the stats say crime is down but you say its just because no one is there, and those that are there are scared. You say in this post downtown is unsafer than it's ever been and then in the next paragraph say it has turned a corner. Which is it?

Jewell might have embarrassed himself but you surpassed him by about a mile, maybe two.

Paul Hammond said...

I have surrendered nothing.

You don't like my logic, that's your prerogative. I think downtown is turning a corner, but we will turn that corner faster if we deal with basics like public safety.

I'm not ashamed of embarrassing myself by speaking out for things I believe in. Business lose customers and the city loses tax money everyday. I've lived here for 8 1/2 years and watched the slow pace of change.

Again, I ask you to come down here and take a walk with your family. I wouldn't ask you to send them down here by themselves. Neither would any city council member.

As I said on CHPN, if you live in the city and and don't think crime and personal safety aren a problem then you just aren't paying attention.

Crime Alert for Church Hill & Church Hill North

I'm not surrendering downtown, I'm fighting for it. Coming to Richmond shouldn't mean constantly looking over your shoulder. Neither should living here.

A P said...

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

There will always be suburbanites who are adverse to coming downtown.

I don't think there aren't droves of people downtown at night because they are afraid of crime.

Its because there is nothing to do.

The real question is crime to blame for lack of businesses open at night in downtown?

Paul Hammond said...

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

Neither. You have to work both ends of the problem. Make the streets look and feel safer and give people something to do when they get here.

I talk to people who don't live in the city and I know what they say to me. Rightly or wrongly many people will not come downtown at night. They wouldn't come during the day if they had the choice, but would if they thought it was safe. It is not just crime. It is the perception of crime and many parts of downtown "look" unsafe. Some are unsafe. That needs to change.

A P said...

SO what is the solution, how do you make downtown look safer?

Does not the giant mesh officer face on the police headquarters accomplish it?

I am kidding, but seriously. What is the solution?

More businesses open at night is definitely a big step. Better lighting.

I always thought RPD should do a lot more foot patrols. Even cops on Segways would be cool.

Other cities have volunteers on bikes to give directions and give suggestions. That would be nice as well.

How about some emergency beacons like they have on campus?

Paul Hammond said...

A P,

I had to copy your comment and post it after I blew away the original.

I like your ideas.

New businesses will help, but the burden should not be on them. I don't know how to discourage people from squatting on every corner, but a way needs to be found. It is going to take a little political courage to do so. I think there is some support on Council to do something.

As I said in my post. I've waited for 8 years and the problem only seems to be getting worse. I'm not willing to wait a few more years.

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