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Daring to (Publicly) Critique Richmond's West End

I enjoyed "The West End" (Cover Story, Dec. 5), a photo essay by Scott Elmquist. It prompted me to make some observations. I am not from Richmond, and the last West Ender I know who had the audacity to critique the West End in a public forum now lives in Midlothian.

I grew up in the West End of Cumberland, Md., which is called the Gateway to the West because much of the French and Indian War took place there, and at that time Wheeling, W.Va., was about as far west as you could go.

Most eastern seaboard cities have developed outward, westward from waterfronts into western suburbs. It is no accident that people moved away from the downtown areas. Their architectural preferences and institutions reflected their changing lifestyles.

What seems to be different in Richmond from my experience with other cities in which I lived is the prevalent perception that living in the West End conveys an entitlement and a status that not only define you, but trump any secrets you may have carried west with you.

People, like water, rise to their own level, and in Richmond, as elsewhere, they discover that geography cannot define or rescue you when seemingly trivial but important indices that make you who you are leak from the gene pool and make ripples in the swimming pool.

Of course, insecure people everywhere, particularly when sensitive about their roots, depend on geography to explain away and justify a myriad of inconsistencies to the self-image they try to convey. Unfortunately, subtleties of behavior give them away. But there is nothing subtle about geography. It is a safe harbor in which to hide.

The notion that one's values, tastes and preferences are determined and influenced by one's geographic environment, to the exclusion of all other variables, is useful only to those who believe it "takes a village to raise a child." We all know that West Enders would say "to rear a child."

Without getting into the heredity versus environment debate, suffice it to say that being West End Richmond is a state of mind. No problem seems too big to be resolved if enough money is thrown at it, because money, like geography, trumps everything!

With respect to determination of boundaries in the West End, it begins where new money meets old money, somewhere west of the Boulevard. It ends when it is learned that the source and age of the money is more important than the amount of money, unless, of course, you are Bill Gates!

God bless those who would far rather have a street named after them (surname) in Southside than have a swimming pool in their far West End backyard!

Elizabeth H. White

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