HOLMBERG: Does Richmond look like ‘a hick town?’

Posted at 12:40 AM, Aug 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-15 00:40:19-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- You probably heard about the plan to fly a large Confederate flag visible from Interstate 95 south of the city by a group that feels it’s important to share their history and heritage on this big anniversary of key Civil War dates.

And you probably heard the response from Virginia NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani: “It’s going to continue to make Richmond look like a backwater, trailer park, hick town,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

So what does Richmond look and feel to folks passing through now?

Most of us know the city pretty well.

But try to remember what it was like the first few times you drove through it on the interstates. (For me, that would’ve been about 35 years ago, back when the downtown toll plaza really made the city a pain to drive through. The fact that cars frequently broke down there, and Mechanicsville was right up the road, definitely gave us a hick town feel.)

Imagine what visitors see now when they drive through our city for the first time: Lots of parking decks looming over I-95. The stinky ol’ sewage treatment plant. Tobacco town. A mishmash of VCU Medical Center buildings. A nice view of the skyline and Shockoe and Church Hill from the south, but very little from the north. The great clock tower right beside the interstate above the Main Street train station. (I’ve been up in that tower. Super cool.)

And of course the Monroe Tower state building that sits closest to I-95. As Facebook friend Charles Pyle wrote ironically, it’s “beautiful – a stunning example of late neo-Soviet architecture.” (I was part of the masonry crew that built it.)

Lots of old buildings boarded up in Jackson Ward. The largest housing project between Baltimore and Atlanta. Rusty fences. Weedy lots. Potholed roads.

Most of you know how much I love this city. There are so many cool and wonderful things to see. But just not from the interstates so much.

The city’s push to beautify its key entrances has withered on the vine. While cities like Charlotte have put their best faces forward, Richmond seems a little backwater to me a first glance.

Watch our video report. There are plenty of folks who disagree with me and think Richmond looks inviting from the big roads.

Regardless, there are things that can be done. Buildings by the interstate that are boarded up (and have been for decades) need to be dealt with, as per city code. There can be clean-ups and plantings, maybe even a few “Welcome to Richmond, a Capital City” or “A River City” signs. And the city owns a lot of property beside the interstates that can be developed in the future.

What do you think? Scroll down to leave a comment.