Richmond’s recently adopted master plan, Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth, relies on justice-centered planning decisions to build a more beautiful, sustainable and equitable city. The plan, which collected input from thousands of Richmonders, imagines Richmond in 2037 – at the 300th anniversary of its founding – to be a more inclusive city that commemorates and learns from its history. To root that vision in real experiences, Richmond 300 prioritized historically divested neighborhoods and areas negatively impacted by redlining. By focusing on these neighborhoods, the city can heal the wounds inflicted by racist policies, literally building a better city for underserved residents.
Equitably Expanding Green Space
In January of 2020, Mayor Levar Stoney convened a “Green Team” of public servants, residents, and nonprofit professionals and tasked them with developing a framework and structure for ensuring all Richmond residents reside within a 10-minute walk of a public green space or park.
The Green Team developed an objective methodology centered on racial equity through the Climate Equity Index, ultimately electing to place the new parks in the city’s 8th and 9th council districts. These districts are made up of areas that were annexed in the 1970’s by a white majority city council to maintain a white majority population in the City of Richmond. Today, with ensuing white flight after the annexation, these two council districts are majority BIPOC and have seen a lack of investment in amenities like parks and green spaces.
Mayor Stoney announced, and city council passed, an ordinance to create five new parks based on the recommendations of the working groups. After the legal process cleared the way for these new green spaces, community engagement efforts began allowing the Southside neighborhood to imagine and envision these spaces going forward.
A grant was procured to pay facilitators and residents for their participation in reimagining a greener Southside and one park site is being prepared for onsite and experiential engagement. A trail through the new green space will allow residents to experience the land safely, get a feel for the site, look for natural features they are drawn to, and envision what the park should become.
Public engagement and citizen leadership will guide the next steps of bringing these five new parks online, increasing green space access for 5% of Richmond residents.
Reimagining Public Safety
The racial reckoning of 2020 shook the nation and the City of Richmond. As protesters marched past the the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, they called for racial equity and justice. In response, a community-driven Task Force on Reimagining Public Safety was formed.
The members of the task force represented the legal profession, mental and behavioral healthcare, restorative justice non-profits, emergency services, trauma-informed education and service, advocates for reformation of the justice system, and residents from public housing, Latino, and LGBTQ organizations.
Over the course of 90 days, the task force had many difficult, and at times uncomfortable, conversations. From sharing stories of trauma and examples of systemic racism, to debating steps for meaningful community healing. Despite community engagement limitations due to the pandemic, the task force held eight “strategic listening sessions” to gain additional community input on their initial recommendations.
In November 2020, the task force submitted its final report, which included 15 recommendations. These recommendations included developing a new routing system for some non-criminal calls for service, creating a community-led police training academy, support for a Civilian Review Board, centralizing de-escalation in use of force policies and providing incentives for de-escalation, improving police accountability by requiring law enforcement officer business cards, increasing cultural and communication awareness and accountability, and establishing an Office of Restorative Justice and Community Safety, to name a few.
The city has started the thorough evaluation and review of each recommendation. Moreover, the City of Richmond recently hired a new Chief of Police who has already started making changes to the department, including: establishing an Office of Professional Accountability to work with officers to support their professional development and to address accountability concerns raised by the community, creating business cards for officers, planning for a community-led training portion of the police academy, and ensuring that de-escalation training is forefront and awarded on-duty. Additionally, administrative teams are evaluating options for an alternative response system for some police calls, and the establishment of an Office of Restorative Justice and Community Safety.
With education and children’s affairs being a key priority of residents, the city set out to identify specific opportunities to enrich children’s educational experiences. Conversations with community leaders and residents made it clear that everyone wanted to ensure that children had productive ways to spend their time after the school day.
After initial planning meetings with key stakeholders and a commitment of 7.2 million from the city and philanthropists, it was announced in August of 2018 that every elementary and middle school student in Richmond would have access to high-quality, full-service afterschool programming by 2020.
An Out-of-School-Time (OST) Steering Committee—membership including representatives from providers, philanthropists, city, and schools—developed a list of key priorities:
An OST coordinator was hired to facilitate a loose confederation of nonprofit and public OST providers, called the Greater Richmond OST Alliance, which collaboratively designed the after-school program.
By late 2019, all 33 elementary and middle schools were hosting or providing transportation to high-quality, full-service afterschool programs for 1,000 students. When COVID struck and schools closed, this meant that every single public elementary and middle school in Richmond had OST partners available to help with front-line response to ensure that families had access to the resources they needed to stay safe and healthy during virtual schooling.