In the historical sense, a village was distinguished by contrast with its surroundings. The village was a relatively compact cluster of dwellings enveloped by agricultural land supporting the village and the wilderness beyond. And, the village was created and perpetuated for sociability and defense.
In a similar fashion, West Broad Village stands as a contrasting anomaly within its surroundings — a walkable development within a car-dominated landscape of use-segregated development, usually termed "suburban sprawl." As author Ed Slipek notes, West Broad Village does some things well, but reflecting Trip Pollard, let's avoid "celebrating such projects too soon." West Broad Village's highest achievement may be simply its contrast with and defense against the surrounding sprawl.
Make no mistake: West Broad Village is no refuge for "residents eager to ditch their cars." Residents are entirely dependent on cars to access the village and to reach anywhere else. Who in their right mind would attempt to cross the multiple lanes of West Broad Street on foot to reach the Best Buy on the other side? As an aside, I am always amused by the token inclusion of wheelchair ramps at the "crosswalks" in this area of West Broad. Who are we kidding? At best, West Broad Village provides a token pedestrian experience that again, is only validated by the contrast with the surrounding development.
Where West Broad Village really struggles is in its connectivity. Like the villages of antiquity, it is surrounded by a wilderness of car dependency and thus is forever limited to an introspective sense of community. The possibility of mixed-income residents along with the vitality of diversity is also limited since the price of entry (aside from rents and property values) is car ownership. I am well aware of the challenges faced by those advancing public transportation in the Richmond region and the staunch opposition in Henrico, but to be truly vibrant as a walkable community, alternatives to car ownership must exist. The article is mute on whether West Broad Village was designed with any kind of transit readiness in mind or not, but the exclusion of any kind of planning is a missed opportunity.
Speaking of connectivity, how about the street grid so celebrated in new urbanist circles? The last time I checked, you could not enter West Broad Village from Three Chopt Road, meaning that access was limited to West Broad Street and John Rolfe Parkway, navigating though shopping center parking lots, both typical suburban collector roads. This kind of limited access is a huge contributor to the traffic snarls prevalent on West Broad, meaning that in its planned state, West Broad Village increases the traffic as much as any other car-centric development in the area. Contrary to the assertions of many, opening up connections helps reduce overall traffic, not increase it. Granted, opening up connections requires systemic thinking about the road grid to avoid problem "cut-throughs," but simply perpetuating the status quo is not the answer.
Again, the highest praise that can be given to West Broad Village is that it provides a welcome contrast with the surrounding Short Pump, car-dominated nightmare. And for the villagers living there, it provides a taste of urban living in the context of sociability and defense. Maybe, someday, they will experience the real thing.
Andrew B. Moore
President, Board of Directors
Partnership for Smarter Growth