I had the pleasure of touring the Jefferson Davis corridor of southside Richmond with members of Richmond Cabinet. Before departing, the group more than 60 attendees was presented many issues relating to the area, including education, housing, transportation and the Richmond Marine Terminal.
Getting outside of my daily routine and opening my mind to other people’s walks of life has always been inspiring to me. This opportunity delivered.
The group took two GRTC buses along a planned 17-mile route to view the Panattoni Development, American Tobacco Development, and the area housing along the Jefferson Davis corridor (US Route 1). City of Richmond councilwoman Reva Trammell, Superintendent Jason Kamras, and Richmond School Board Member Dawn Page were among the key speakers.
We met at Greene Elementary School, which was built in the 1950s and has nearly aged out of usefulness, according to Kamras. The school is scheduled to be rebuilt with a goal of debuting the new school in August 2020. He said 95 percent of the schools students live in Spanish-speaking households, which was an startling number.
As for the tour (see map at right), I had driven and biked along many of the main roads in South Richmond; Warrick, Bellemeade, Belt, Jeff Davis, Commerce, etc. We visited some of the neighborhoods and industrial sites connected by those primary routes and were provided context to go along with what we were seeing, including how and why some of the communities were developed and have evolved since the 1940s. Much of that area has lower income housing, vacant brown and green fields, and lacks necessities and amenities like grocery stores, modern schools, safe routes to school, sidewalks, well-maintained roadways, proper stormwater drainage, and more.
Annexation and industry has guided the development, but many unkept promises continue to hamper growth and economic success for residents. Seeing the poor road conditions around the Richmond Marine Terminal and Interstate 64 reminded me of a previous visit to that growing facility on the banks of the James River. The Richmond Regional Planning District Commission produced a Commerce Corridor Study that detailed many of the needed steps to help improve that area for industry and for the people who work in that area. Improvements would be expensive, but the potential may be too great to pass up.
Same could be said for the schools and infrastructure. I hope the Richmond School Board is able to deliver on the promises of building new schools. I hope the city is able to provide safer routes to schools and parks for the children. I hope the improved GRTC routes and services will help provide more reliable transit for residents. I hope better food options for those communities as well.