What Will it Take to Make RVA Great?

The Richmond Virginia community has so much to celebrate.  The Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) exclaimed, in a January 16, 2019 editorial titled “We’re No. 100”, the many virtues of our city.  “In 2017 Richmond was ranked as one of the nation’s top five hipster paradises.  Ultra-artsy VCU, the Fan district, plentiful (widely celebrated) restaurants, and great breweries all helped to make Richmond one of America’s hippest cities, according to rankings by MovieHub.  The plentiful thrifts shops, tattoo parlors and vegan options throughout the area also helped win us that ranking on the ‘US Hipster Index’. “

“In 2018, Forbes magazine named RVA one of the country’s top 10 coolest cities.  Once again, some of the reasons for that ranking included the vibrant craft beer scene and the multitude of great places to eat.” 

“Also in 2018, a travel-guide book publisher, rated River City as one of the top 10 ‘underrated, rejuvenated and out-of-this-world’ places to visit.  The company said it traveled around the globe to find the world’s best cities.  Again, Richmond made this list in part because of its ‘microbreweries, cideries, and buzzworthy restaurant’.”

In another exclamation of the City’s virtues, RTD’s May 14, 2019 story about a start-up credit card company (Petal) choosing RVA (in this case selecting a location in Chesterfield county) over Austin Texas and Salt Lake City Utah.  Petal, choosing RVA to locate its first offices outside NYC and committing to hire 80 people over the next three years, said this. “We chose Richmond after looking at a number of other locations around the country.”  “We looked at the depth and richness of the labor pool, affordability of living and the proximity of colleges.”  Also stating “Richmond was an easy choice….and it is a very livable city”. 

These accolades only scratch the surface of what makes our community great with wonderful architecture, history, museums and natural resources galore. This list of the area’s riches can go on and on.  So what is holding this obviously very attractive community back from greatness? 

City government is at the core of the remaining detractors facing this community.  The city’s inability to effectively and efficiently govern are the hands pulling back the reins on a galloping city appearing destined for greatness. 

The city’s schools are a continuing embarrassment with a majority of schools failing to be accredited and a majority of third graders unable to read at grade level.  Crumbling roads and bridges cast a pall on the city’s appearance and resident safety.  City leaders appear unable to restrain cost while consistently seeking additional sources of revenue.  Yet, reaching many important goals remain elusive year after year.

Its elected governing body, the City Council, is under constant pressure to address rising cost while attempting to protect its citizens from the burden of new requests for additional tax revenue.  All while the city’s schools and infrastructure crumble beneath them.

To achieve the greatness this city has strived for, city leadership must find the strength and wisdom necessary to dig deeply into the core issues of effectiveness and efficiency.  They must face the final obstacles to greatness and transform agencies of city government into the paragons of cost management and service delivery so often found in surrounding local government, as well as the private sector, right here in our community.   

In fact, if our Commonwealth’s own Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee’s (JLARC) charter could be altered to include exercising its powers on behalf of City Council, for say a single biennium, then possibly much good could be accomplished.  JLARC is credited with assisting the Commonwealth in its recognition for being among the most well-run states in the union.  Having personally observed JLARC in action, the city would be well served to have this level of independent review by such a prestigious body.

For many years Richmond has been regarded as a poorly managed city.  All of Richmond’s citizens, and those of the affected surrounding communities, deserve better.

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