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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Monroe Park Diary: The Exception That Proves the Rule

I returned to the park yesterday and spotted a group of students bashing each others brains out, but not in a bad way necessarily. There were maybe twenty kids, 10 on each side, beating on each other with padded weapons and homemade "armor". If I were 20, or maybe 10, this would be great fun. The kids did seem to be having fun and that's OK with me. I WANT people to use the park. The more the merrier and actually that's what the MPAC plan is all about, bringing more people to the park. So it was nice to see these students having fun. I stood and watch them for a bit till a few of their "weapons" got a little too close for comfort.

Leaving this scene I again walked around the park and too pictures in random directions. There were maybe 20 students passing through and five or ten more elsewhere. That makes 50 or so students out of 30,000 that were using the park. There should have been 10 times that number. It was another perfect autumn day. Footballs and Frisbees should have been flying. I found 4 other student tossing one of those weighted soft "hand missiles" back and forth in the far northwest corner of the park. Again, I'm glad they were there. I wish there were more, but stigmas are hard to overcome.

The impact that a renewed Monroe Park could have can't be measured, but if you want to see what it could be like check out Bryant Park in New York City. It used to be a haven for drug dealers and junkies. Today it attracts thousands of visitors with a carousel, a skating rink and a year round craft market with permanent stalls. This is the kind of thing we want for Richmond. Some people are trying to make this a battle of the rich against the homeless when it is really a battle for a better future for Richmond. Even the homeless would benefit from that.

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Jeff E. said...

Unfortunately you'll have a hard time convincing the folks from FNB that a better Richmond would benefit the homeless. These people need psychiatric treatment, jobs, and a sense of purpose in life, not handouts. Nobody deserves the indignity of wandering through life aimlessly but ultimately it's up to the homeless themselves to take the steps necessary to become productive citizens again. The groups that enable them to exist in this purgatory more comfortably are doing more harm than good in my opinion.

Paul Hammond said...

Well, nothing worth doing is easily accomplished. At the end of the day FNB will never be convinced because they have a political and personal agenda and a belief they speak for the homeless and everybody else.

They will be able to continue on with their services whether the park closes or not. It is not really about the homeless. They are for the status quo which they benefit from. Change is hard. I think the homeless are more adaptable than they are.

Unknown said...

Thankfully, no one in Food Not Bombs (or the 700-800 other people who have signed the Monroe Campaign petition) are in any way opposed to the renovations. All we need is to keep portions of the park open during those renovations.

Voila! Everyone's happy. New, pretty park, public space still open, services still provided.

Paul Hammond said...

There's no reason to keep the park open for FNB's political purposes (their words) when there are so many alternative spaces that can use nearby. If FNB wants to keep serving food in the open air, then I can think of 3 underused parks within a mile of Monroe Park.

1. Kanawa Plaza
2. Randolph Park
3. Abner Clay Park

Though I bet you would get stiff opposition from 2 and 3.

Anonymous said...

Monroe Park Lost

For thou hast been a strength to the poor,
A strength to the needy in his distress,
A refuge from the storm,
A shadow from the heat
No more

A barren plain of grass
Strewn with the waste of the wealthy
A place now darker in the night
Empty, abandoned, desolate
It's history stripped away
It's lively banter destroyed
Somewhere no one will bring their children
A gaudy nightmare
A harlot of brass

Weep, Richmond, weep


Paul Hammond said...

Nice Allen,

Your poetic comments will always be welcome here.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it's not nice at all.

Paul Hammond said...

Not sure what you mean, but it was a beautiful poem.

Anonymous said...

I can only pray that it changes some minds around this town. Please read the 2008 Monroe Park Master Plan and think about what good a $300,000 carousel will be for Richmond, or the dumpster that will have to be in the Park to accommodate the cafe, 2 kiosks, and the french market. Why have a James River simulation there, when you can walk six blocks and see the real thing? And how much of a band will you hear when the trucks and emergency vehicles on Belvedere drown it out?
Every single "feature" listed in the Master Plan is not good for Richmond, the Park, or the good people who use it, and need it, the most.
Again, PLEASE read the Plan, and think about this! The City just can't afford it!

Paul Hammond said...

Poetry is a wild thing. You create it and it works its magic in unexpected ways. I take your poem a different way.

A place now darker in the night
Empty, abandoned, desolate
It's history stripped away
It's lively banter destroyed
Somewhere no one will bring their children

That, to me, is the park today. I look forward to something completely different.

Carousels are wonderful things. They bring smiles to children and parents, both rich and poor. I think Richmond deserves a wonderful park. A park which will be largely financed by private funds.

If you want to see an example of a transformed park, look up Bryant Park in New York City. It used to be a dark dangerous place. Now it hosts an arts and crafts market, a carousel, a skating rink and is full of people year round. There is no reason the same can't be true for Richmond.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I figured someone would take it the wrong way...It's about the future. I bet that you won't ride the carousel (or pay for anyone else to, either) at ten dollars for three minutes...and that doesn't begin to pay back what it cost. So far, it looks like the majority of the money for this mess will be paid by VCU, and that's an institution of the State of Virginia.
It strikes me as fairly ridiculous to compare Richmond with New York City...they have 100 times our population, and the tourists to go with it. We don't. Also, Bryant Park is the only bit of green in a mile of skyscrapers, of course people will flock there. It's the only place with trees around.
Speaking of trees, do you know that MPAC plans to cut down 65 of them in the Park? All the hollies will be gone, forever. That includes the holly where the Park's Red-tailed hawk has her nest.
The main reason that Monroe Park won't be full of people, though, is the parking. Nobody is going to pay to park their car on a parking deck, and then walk to the park, even if they're giving away carousel rides for free!
As I said before, PLEASE look at the plans... the Park will actually be darker when they replace the cast-iron (historic) lights with some cheap fiberglass junk.

Paul Hammond said...

I don't know that there is a wrong way to take a poem. You listen, feel and think. I don't know what more a poet can ask. The average person won't do any of these.

You are dead set to see this as a folly and that is your right, but I think you are wrong.

Yes, New York has tourists. We do too. We'd have more if we took care of our historic attractions, Monroe Park in particular.

I've run in to a lot of people over time who are so down on Richmond they reject every idea out of hand.
"That won't work/can't here"
"Richmonder's will never come."

That's why Richmond is so slow on the rebound. Politics and cynicism create gridlock.

So what if VCU donates a lot of money for the park. They should give back to the community.

"There's no parking."
Thousands of people live in walking distance to the park, including me. Others will drive, park and walk because there will be something worth going to. So what if I don't ride the carousel. I'll enjoy watching others. Part of the joy of going to the park is people watching.

There will be tons of old growth tree's left in the park. It's one of the great attractions and won't change. They will be healthier, better cared for trees and the park will have lighter more open feel to it when finished. Hawk's move about and there will be plenty of nesting sights to choose from.

It's NOT all doom and gloom and you portray. Monroe Park is one of my favorite locations in the city. Its current status is a civic shame.

I have read the plan. I attended the charretes (sic). A lot of time, effort and money were put into developing it. Like your poem, I take something different from it entirely.

Anonymous said...

I think you mistake me...I am FOR restoration of the Park, not the renovation that mpac wants. I would like the city to re-wire the street lights in the Park, like they were going to do 3 years ago, before mpac stopped them. And if you have to put in something new...how about the American version...horseshoes, not the French version, petanque, to benefit all of 30 people in this town? Twenty horseshoes pits would cost a lot less than the $10,000 mpac wants, and could start a whole new craze, with Richmond in the lead.
My whole point about tourists is that New York has a higher rate of tourists to residents per capita than we can ever aspire to, just because it's New York.
There won't be "ton of old growth trees" left in the Park, more than half of them will be gone forever.
I do, however, agree that there are lots of sticks in the mud around the City, but in this case, I must urge "Restoration not Renovation". Restore the Park we know and love, don't try to turn it into Disneyland! Just fix the problems, don't make new ones.

Paul Hammond said...

Ah, then we have been talking past each other. Am easy mistake in the current charged atmosphere. Still, I think the park needs a whole new lease on life, not just a facelift. Since I have lived here, the park has never been a place to "know and love". It is clear to me the number one priority is to relocate the feeding programs and allow the park to blossom as it should.

Regarding Bryant Park, my impression was that is was a place for New Yorkers, not tourists. I think it will be the same for Monroe Park.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Richmond all my life and met my first hippie at the Park in '69. This Park has ALWAYS been a place for those with an alternative lifestyle. The poor people now at the Park are just the current manifestation of that. If you would just go there and talk with some of us, you would find that we don't bite...we are people, just like you. I am proud to have the friends that I have met there, like Wes, our de-facto Mayor, the most thoroughly Christian person I've ever met. Or Manny, who walks from the Boulevard area, just to have friends to talk with, and a soda.
I find it disturbing that you want all the good people who come there on weekends to go away so you can have the Park for you and people like yourself only.
As for the "facelift", I have already explained why most of these things are not good ideas, and most of them you cannot rebut, because it's the truth that this whole renewal plan is mainly set up to remove the poor from the Park(see mpac's meeting minutes for January 2005).
If this hasn't changed your stance on this issue, I can only suggest that you go to Kansas, ride with some storm-chasers, get in a tornado, go to Oz, see the Wizard, and get yourself a heart, because you haven't got one now.

Paul Hammond said...

I've gone there many times and walked and talked to the people there. The park is for all people, not just the poor. I want to create a park that is welcoming to everyone. People like myself? I'm just a regular person and would hate to go to a place with only people like me. As for a heart, I think we all have one. I don't need to rebut you. You have your opinion, I have mine and I still like your poem.

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