Charles Samuels and the Monroe Park Advisory Council are putting a lot of energy into telling people that the renovations of Monroe Park must be done all at once with the entire park fenced off for the duration. The cite money as one of the major factors of this. And they have also frequently insisted that it is basically impossible to do the construction in stages. At last night’s meeting they even had Glenn Telfer, an engineer from Draper Aden Associates, get up and speak to the need to close down the entire park to do the necessary renovations.

However, I (Mo Karn) went up to Glenn Telfer after he spoke and asked him about the possibility of doing the renovation of Monroe Park in stages. He said it was of course possible, though potentially more costly. But plans for a staged renovation keepig a section of the park open the whole time could be made. He said if the City of Richmond wanted such plans drawn up he or his firm would.

If you think about it, lots of utility work and construction on public use areas is done in stages. Take roads for example. When a highway like 64 has to be repaved, they do not just shut down the entire highway to repave it at once. They repave roads in stages. Yes, it takes longer and can cost more money to do this work in stages. However, VDOT and the City of Richmond frequently do important renovation work in stages because they are balancing the financial cost with the human cost. It would be incredibly inconvenient for entire roads to be shut down for repaving, or entire lengths of roads shut down at once for working on water mains or what have you.

Public works projects are commonly done in stages, at a slightly higher cost, because the idea is to avoid inconveniencing people too much during renovations. It is possible that the only reason this has not been the suggested method of construction in this case is because the folks making decisions about the Monroe Park plans do not place value on the people they will be inconveniencing the most. At best this is an oversight on their part. One which we wish to point out.  The people who use Monroe Park ARE valuable. It would be incredibly harmful for a variety of reasons to shut down the entire park, just like it would too harmful to shut down all of Chamberlayne to re-pave it. The park is used by a lot of different people and has developed many different types of community and connection through the interactions of people in that space. Not only will homeless people be inconvenienced, but also VCU students, Oregon Hill residents, and many others.

The engineer at the meeting also mentioned that they were dealing with some unknowns in terms of what exactly is under the park as utilities.  This makes it seem even more important that a section of the park remains open. Unknowns might make the renovations take much longer than the projected time period. Who knows, this might even turn into some Big Dig fiasco. The unknowns and lengthy time period make it vital that a section of the park remain available. If not we may have VCU students who miss out on using the park for years of their Richmond experience, homeless who can’t connect to other homeless or any homeless services, and a city missing a vital greenspace.

Other things to consider are that Monroe Park has the only public restrooms and drinking fountain in the area. If these will be unavailable, there need to be others made available and well advertised.  If not, where will people go to the bathroom without risking trespassing or public urination charges? If there is not a supply of public drinking water how will people with little or no money stay hydrated through a hot Richmond summer? If there is not shady space in the downtown area how will people stay cool? Where will people play frisbee, soccer, football, etc.?

The Conrad Center is not an acceptable option for many reasons which have been addressed on this blog before, including location, rules, stigma, etc. Richmond has no Day Shelter, and even a day shelter is not a substitute for a free outdoor public space where interactions are open. Oregon Hill, while a very awesome neighborhood, has a history which makes it an unwelcome place for many people of color.  The many pocket parks in the Fan lack public restrooms and are also very limited in size.

The Wingnut Anarchist Collective and Food Not Bombs are not anti-renovations. We are simply anti-shutting down the entire park for an extended period of time.  It is not necessary and it is being promoted as necessary for financial reasons only because the people making these plans and pushing the agenda of the entire park being closed do not value the folks who would be most inconvenienced by shutting down this public park.

Renovate Monroe Park, but do it in the same way other public utilities are renovated- in stages, allowing people access to a section of the park throughout the process.

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