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Flynn's Fans Out in Force; Master Planning

Rachel Flynn is exactly what this city needs, and incidentally, an example of what [consultant Jim] Crupi told us we need: a fresh perspective and not the old guard and business as usual ("In Like Flynn," Cover Story, Jan. 16). We also need more of the public involvement that has occurred with the downtown master plan. (That the city has planned to demolish the Ashe Center on Boulevard and Richmond Public Schools heard about it through the newspapers is a prime example of why this is necessary.)

We cannot allow specific concerns about the master plan to prevent us from embracing its goals. It's supposed to be visionary! Painting a plot green in the master plan does not rob the owner of her rights. The specific policies and ordinance changes that would make the plan a reality will be hashed out later.

Jason James

Kudos to Style Weekly for its cover story on Rachel Flynn. Ms. Flynn has helped add some long-needed democracy to the development of a city master plan through the use of charettes and public meetings. It is obvious to most that the considerable public participation in these meetings illustrates the desire of city residents, both new and established, to have a say in the future of downtown Richmond. Hopefully, the days of top-down, paternalistic planning by the city's business and civic leaders, in tandem with developers seeking a quick buck, are behind us.

New residents, promised amenities if they took the financial risk of investing in downtown real estate, are not only calling for the fulfillment of those pledges, but also making known their definition of a livable Richmond, a city that features open space, pedestrian-minded development and citizen participation in decision making. Ms. Flynn and her staff are giving downtown residents a pulpit from which they should rightly demand their vision of Richmond from elected and appointed officials. No entity is more in need of a front-row seat for that sermon than the city's planning commission.

The idea, put forward by the planning commission's chairman, Bob Mills, that the citizens, via the master plan, have no business telling the state and VCU what to do with their buildings is plainly ludicrous ("Planning Chair Seeks Self-Preservation?" Street Talk, Jan. 23). I hope others are equally disillusioned by this and other comments by commission members offhandedly dismissing citizen participation in the planning process. The residents of downtown are precisely the people who should be directing its future since they are the ones who must live with the results. For too long the state and the university have been given carte blanche to plop down ugly, block-long buildings that have activity only Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Citizens living downtown want more than countless parking garages and the aptly named "dead zones" described in the article.

Those living downtown see the empty late-19th- and early-20th-century storefronts on Broad and elsewhere as brimming with potential. Imagine a downtown Carytown with stores for every income instead of the bureaucratic bunkers that Mr. Mills' architectural firm helps create.

The irony of the planning commission being chaired by the head of a company that earns revenue by replacing our existing and reusable building stock is absurd. Likewise, the idea proposed at a planning commission meeting that the post of "Architect of Virginia" be a functionary of the state's Department of General Services is clearly another case of the fox guarding the henhouse.

The possibilities for adaptive reuse are already visible in the restaurants and art galleries popping up and enjoying considerable success along the city's main thoroughfare. Add in a couple of neighborhood groceries, a video store or two, and a few larger retailers, and before you know it, downtown will be more than just a workplace for thousands of suburbanites.

Who better to define what makes a livable Richmond than those who live here? Ms. Flynn and citizen participants in master planning process know the answer is "no one." Several members of the planning commission need to change their archaic and opportunistic thinking and recognize that the future of Richmond appropriately is in the hands of its citizens, the folks our self-serving businessmen and bureaucrats are supposed to serve.

Vincent T. Brooks

Imagine what a different, more livable, healthy and historically intact city we would have if Rachel Flynn had been in charge of planning for the last 40 years instead of the last 12 months. Your story on our community development director highlighted the necessity of public input and principled leaders in determining the future of the city. The impending loss of MCV's West Hospital -- a Richmond landmark if there ever was one and one of the best of a rare breed of art deco buildings — testifies to the need for the state to show Richmonders some respect.

We can have the best master plan in the world — and this one comes close — but as long as the state is allowed to run roughshod over our historic resources, our control over city planning will be limited. Huge blocks of state-owned real estate — much of it landmark-eligible — remain beyond the control of the taxpayers and in the hands of unelected officials whose decisions we will not only be required to pay for, but live with.

Jennie Dotts

After having spent many years in the Richmond city planning office, I found your recent cover story on the current master plan process interesting, if not déjà vu. It was encouraging to learn that the same planning concepts that have emerged continuously from Richmond city planners for years, some since as early as the city's 1965 master plan, are still being embraced and proposed today. However, the successful implementation of a meaningful and pragmatic plan demands a collaboration of many forces and diverse motives — a task far more difficult and challenging than producing the plan itself. The ultimate value and success of the plan will be in the many hands of all those who work together to implement it.

Don Charles

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