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20 things to bring into the 21st century, Part 1

Sorting the Century

1. The boulevards
In addition to hardwoods shading its streets, Richmond has no more distinguishing characteristic than boulevards. These linear, green strips weren't a given. Beginning in the mid-1700s, a no-nonsense grid street pattern was periodically imposed on the town's impossibly rugged terrain. But in the 1880s, during a period of westward expansion sparked by the proposed Lee Monument, local land developers and Col. C.P.E. Burgwyn, the city's engineer, proposed a divided extension of Franklin Street that would become Monument Avenue. Boulevards in Baltimore's urbane Mount Vernon Place and Boston's Back Bay served as the inspiration for Richmond's first grassy mall. Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, Richmond's bourgeoisie — tobacconists, bankers, financiers and retailers — built homes on the avenue and moved from Jackson Ward, Court End and Gambles Hill.

The street that carries the name, The Boulevard, runs from Broad Street to Byrd Park, creating a handsome cross-axis to Monument Avenue. And extensions of The Boulevard — Hermitage Road and Lakeside Avenue to the north and Westover Hills Boulevard to the south — provide verdant links with the suburbs.

Other prominent boulevards we enjoy today — Semmes, Chamberlayne and Laburnum avenues and Brook Road — initially weren't greenswards but channels for electric streetcars. Sod went in when the tracks came up in the mid-20th century.

Today, even such new subdivisions as Henrico's Cedarfield and Summer Walk Parkway in the Hanover County neighborhood of Summer Walk, have divided boulevards at their entranceways. But like other contemporary, construction bottom-line measures, these latter examples are mostly theatrical. After a few yards, the planted medians give way to a single asphalt roadway.

For the new century, there is no better place for Richmond to continue its tradition of boulevards than on, well, The Boulevard. A mile stretch West Broad Street and Robin Hood Road (near The Diamond and Arthur Ashe Center) has parked cars, not planted medians in its center. As many of Richmond's major cultural attractions — from Maymont to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens — continue to expand and residential renovation continues here, the thoroughfare will only gain in prominence. Why not develop this currently unlovely stretch as a kind of second Carytown, with shops, restaurants, galleries and small businesses? Blending of course, commerce with flora.

Vive Le Boulevard! Vive les boulevards!

2. the Onion

This newspaper parody is the greatest development in humor since Monty Python. The Onion's first book, "Our Dumb Century," was one of the best books of the year and spent some time on the NY Times Best Seller list to boot.

The Onion delivers dead-on parody and sharp, fearless satire on everything from the Titanic ("World's Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-Berg," the headline reads) to the 1929 stock market crash. "Stock Market Invincible" the headline declares on Oct. 22, 1929. "Buy, Buy, Buy! Experts Advise." The facing page's headline, exactly one week later: "Pencils for Sale."

The Onion's regular weekly newspaper can also be seen online at We heartily favor bringing it with us into the 21st century as a healthy reminder that the funniest minds in America, thankfully, are not the ones writing for "Suddenly Susan."

3. The corner bar

4. The book

Forget books on tape, DVDs, and the Internet. When it comes to telling stories or inspiring imagination, nothing beats the real thing: books. The feel of a page between your thumb and index finger, the weight of a hardcover on your lap. That's why we choose to lug these dust-gathering dinosaurs, unapologetically, into the next millennium.

"From books we learn what history teaches us," says City Librarian Robert Rieffel. If Rieffel had to choose only five books to take with him when Y2K strikes, he says he would cling to any Agatha Christie mystery; the tragedies of Shakespeare; the Holy Bible; Dr. Seuss' "Cat in the Hat;" and an illustrated history of art. Excitedly Rieffel says books will have a new look in the millennium, something he calls an electronic pseudo-book that looks, feels and even smells like a book. "It's not that far around the corner," says Rieffel. "It'll be like fake fireplaces: realistic."

5. Coffee

[image-1]Ah, that succulent black bean. How could we ever think of leaving it behind and spending the rest of eternity in a squinty-eyed, mid-morning fog? Never. We'll never give up that dark-roasted Nirvana.

6. Irony

We like our irony. Do you like yours?

Jedediah Purdy doesn't like ours. He is the erudite young man who, this year, published the book "For Common Things: Irony, Trust and Commitment in America Today." In it, he says we suffer from, among other things, too much bad irony (think bad social cholesterol) and that it is hurting common concerns, particularly our culture, politics and environment. He says we have become too detached (ironically and otherwise) from each other and such common projects, and may lose them entirely.

The book caused a stir among people who spend a lot of time thinking and writing about these kinds of things (especially those who do so for a living). Most of these people were not pleased. They disagreed strongly with the book's ideas, among which the most important ones are, in fact, wrong, but really they were mostly jealous.

We know we were. The book was published when Jedediah Purdy was 24 years old. He was homeschooled in rural West Virginia but accepted into Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard (and now Yale grad school). He is very well-read and among more than his peers, a celebrity, but a respectable one.

Maybe his success is not ironic — tellingly unexpected, given his start in an isolated, communelike Appalachian enclave. Maybe it is peculiarly American. Or maybe the American experience is inherently ironic.

In any event that is not the kind of irony (illuminating, literary) he dislikes. It is the irony (caustic, attitudinal) of "Seinfeld" and Wired magazine, and other inferior things, things which he dissects brilliantly, but which have in common nothing so much as their popularity.

And why are they popular? They are popular and irony is prevalent because they and the irony of which they are a part are responses to great loss. They are natural, normal, healthy, and if cloying, then mostly playfully cloying and sadly self-aware. They are tacit acknowledgments and occasionally even expressions of the longing for "common things."

"This book is a response to an ironic time," reads the opening of "For Common Things." Oh, Jedediah, you were so close. This ironic time is a response to reality. We lost ever so much more than we gained this century, but we have our Purple Hearts of irony to prove it. And no one (much less Jedediah Purdy) can take them away from us.

7. Good sportsmanship

[image-2]The next time you see Deion Sanders pounding his chest and pointing up in oh-so-humble deference to The Lord after

an interception, just remember that this is a fleeting image. When Brett Favre slices his hand across his throat in mock slaying of his opponent or when Latrell Sprewell literally chokes his own coach, they may be making news, but they are not making sports history.

The lasting moments are the ones we can conjure up

without much trouble, and they are all worth remembering.

Cal Ripkin Jr.'s emotional and impromptu victory lap around the field when he set the record for consecutive games played. The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team winning the gold medal so unexpectedly, so graciously. Jerry Rice's quiet

humility, his utter lack of showboating when he has had every right to. Lou Gehrig calling himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth in what had to be the most heartbreaking moment of his life. Wayne Gretzky's graceful skating away

from the game he came to define.

These are the images our children should see to teach them how to play sports. Do you think Jesse Owens wouldn't have loved to get in Hitler's face after winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin? Why didn't he? Because he knew that the only thing people hate more than a sore loser is a sore winner.

8. Getting there the old-fashioned way

It's Gridlock 2000. Gas guzzling Land Rovers hog the roads, Miatas whiz lane to lane. Everywhere vehicles risk crossing the road in a life-and-death version of Frogger.

Just 55 years ago 60 million people pedaled for fun and to get from place to place. Most who didn't relied on buses —not their own cars — for public transportation. In our postmillennial state, transportation will be a horn-blowing, bumper-kissing nightmare. Talk about road rage.

That's why, unless you plan to hoof it, we push the less stressful alternative: bikes, skateboards, in-line skates and the biggest thing on wheels, Richmond's bus system, the Greater Richmond Transit Company. GRTC carries nearly 28,000 people a day on 180 buses along 56 routes. Trade your Smart Tag for bus tokens, this could get ugly. And look for trendy modern versions of classic bikes. Entrepreneurs should consider the market for brass horns and bike baskets, maybe even bike phones.

9. The penny

If you follow the supposition that even the least among us has value in society, then we should extend the same the principle to the penny. On its own, a single penny can buy you literally nothing. But hoarded for years with its mates, it becomes a tribute to what's possible, the slow and steady turtle that wins the race. You hear it all the time — the guy who saved pennies for 14 years and cashed them in for $11,000. But we don't mean to suggest the penny's worth is only realized in those extreme cases. We are advocating for a continued meaningful role in the currency for the penny — none of this rounding-up-to-the-nearest-nickel crap. Sure, it saves the cashier from having to, God forbid, subtract, but it gyps us out of as much as four cents. We say, as long as multibillion dollar oil companies can continue in good conscience to charge $1.24 9/10 for gasoline, there must be a place for the penny.

10. The vanishing forests of Chesterfield and Henrico

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