There are hardly any signs of urban crisis on the University of Richmond's idyllic pine- and oak-lined campus in the city's West End. Fortunately for Amy Howard, an urban studies professor who specializes in urban decay, Richmond has plenty to offer.
“I really consider myself a student of the city, a teacher of the city and as someone who has the opportunity to give something back,” says Howard, executive director of UR's Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. “I took it as a mandate.”
It wasn't just Richmond's textbook potential. Howard moved to Richmond in 2004 and took a job as a program administrator at the Bonner Center. After earning her doctorate in American Studies from the College of William & Mary in 2005, she began teaching at UR, seeing the opportunity to fuse her academic credentials in urban history with her thirst for social change.
She joined the Better Housing Coalition's board in 2007, was appointed to the city's planning commission earlier this year, and is helping lead a movement at UR to branch out and connect its faculty and students with the city core and all of its inherent problems. In January the university opened a downtown campus at Seventh and Broad streets, providing legal services to low-income families and helping connect them with various social service programs throughout the city.
Howard sees an opportunity for Richmond to begin addressing its problems holistically and points to the recent downtown master plan as an example. When crime and housing problems crop up in the suburban counties, there's also opportunity to jumpstart regional cooperation.
“I think now is a pivotal point,” says Howard, who lives with her husband, Robert Nelson, on the city's North Side.