Open Letter to VMFA: It’s time to give Parsons Plaza back to people

Our comrade Doug Allen over at Richmond in Motion has written an open letter to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that we would like to share with you. If you agree with his argument about the need to close Parsons Plaza to car traffic, give the @VMFA a nice little tweet or email about it.

To whom it may concern:

To continue working toward its mission of enriching the lives of all by providing Virginians and others access to world-class art, VMFA should permanently close the Mary Morton Parsons Plaza to car traffic. VMFA’s Parsons Plaza, facing Arthur Ashe, Jr. Blvd, is the main entry point and gateway for visitors, and has tremendous potential as a gathering place. However, the presence of cars – picking up, dropping off, and passing through – prevents the Plaza from reaching its full potential. Instead of a place where people gather, relax, and meet-up, it’s a busy thru-way, avoided by most. Walk around the museum grounds on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and observe for yourself; there will be dozens of people enjoying the sculpture garden and almost no people enjoying Parsons Plaza and the other spaces facing Ashe Blvd. Those who are taking in Parsons Plaza are confined to the bicycle parking area – caged in by large blocks to protect them from passing cars.

The arrival of Rumors of War is the perfect opportunity for VMFA to transform Parsons Plaza and give the space back to the people. This incredible piece is guaranteed to attract more people than ever before to the areas along Ashe Blvd. With the current traffic setup, visitors will have to avoid getting hit by passing vehicles while they take in, contemplate, and interpret the largest sculpture acquisition in the history of the VMFA. In addition to providing a safe, comfortable place for people to view Rumors of War, removing cars from Parsons Plaza will unlock the entire portion of the museum adjacent to Ashe Blvd. The current car lanes and pickup and drop off area are an obstacle that separates the museum’s main entrance, Best Café, and sculpture garden from the green space and sculptures along Ashe Blvd.

Concerns would be raised about funneling all parking traffic through the Sheppard St entrance and exit. There are several responses to this concern, including working with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture to route some traffic to Kensington Ave during times of heavy ingress and egress. Concerns about pickup and drop off areas can be addressed by designating the area fronting Ashe Blvd for curbside pickup and drop off and designating an area near the current disabled parking for certain pickup and drop off. Parking is currently not allowed in front of VMFA on Ashe Blvd due to the curb cuts, so this could be done without losing any street parking.

Permanently removing cars from Parsons Plaza would provide a massive long-term benefit to VMFA visitors and unlock a huge portion of the museum’s grounds that are currently underutilized. VMFA has done an excellent job in the past few years to provide access to world-class art to larger and larger audiences, which is one of the reasons why I recently became a VMFA member. Removing cars from the Parsons Plaza is a logical next step in expanding and improving the museum’s access.

Sincerely,

Doug Allen, AICP, PMP
VMFA Member since October 2019

pics from THE NOOG

I spent last week in Chattanooga (which everyone—and I mean everyone—probably calls THE NOOG) for Project for Public SpacesThird International Placemaking Week. Not going to bother with a run-down of the conference, but I do want to show you some cool photos of things that THE NOOG is doing with regard to transportation and public space. Maybe Richmond can learn a thing or two from a fellow mid-sized river city? (Full disclosure, I didn’t actually hear anyone actually say “The Noog” while I was there.)

Let’s start here, with the Chattanooga Tennessee Riverfront:

The Walnut Street Bridge — used to be for cars, now for people only. 
Terraces along the Tennessee River for public access to the water in downtown Chattanooga.
The Passage is a pedestrian link between downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River and marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears. 
The Trail of Tears refers to the journey which forced the removal of the Cherokee tribes from Ross’ s Landing in Chattanooga to Oklahoma. Some 4000 Cherokees died before reaching Oklahoma. 

The Passage is some heavy shit. Onto some light-hearted transportation stuff:

Parking with post and curb protected bike lane! 
And bike share that’s where people want to ride (some bikes were electric-assist).
And, holy shit!—signs that say not to park in the bike lane?! You can do that?!
A free downtown circulator bus that runs “about every 5 minutes” until 11 PM.

I really like how they repurposed the first level of this block-sized parking deck with street-level commercial:

Chattanooga knows how to make cool alleyways by hanging stuff in them:

But Cooper’s Alley is the coolest:

Like Richmond, public art and murals were everywhere:

If I had one gripe, it would be that in an otherwise walkable downtown, nearly every intersection was stacked with beg buttons, requiring you to ask permission to cross the street. Crossing times were not long enough for even an able-bodied person such as myself. And if you forgot to press the button…well, wait until your turn comes back up in a few more minutes.

This one had a big-ass sign, but not many of them did. 

Did you know THE NOOG is home to THE MOONPIE? Well, it is. 

Every time I attend a conference in another city, I am reminded that the best part of a conference is the day that you have totally or mostly free to wander around on foot, take bike share, or hop on a bus and explore. I love actually experiencing a city while visiting, and Chattanooga has a lot to offer for us urbanist-type people. Wouldn’t it be cool if you went to a conference that was just a series of free days for exploring? 🤔

PARK(ing) Day: Streets for people

On Friday, September 20th, Richmond will join the rest of the world in celebrating PARK(ing) Day. Parking sucks, so why are we celebrating it? Well, this is PARK(ing) Day, not Parking Day. The former is an international event where folks transform horrible parking spaces into wonderful, temporary parklets for people, while the latter is…not a real thing (at least we hope not).

This year, Venture Richmond (spearheaded by our very own Max), has taken Richmond’s previously limited (but still cool!) PARK(ing) Day efforts and kicked them up a notch. We’ll have not one, not two, but 23 parklets spread across different parts of the city.

BAM!, as they once said.

PARK(ing) Day is great but, unfortunately, oh-so-temporary, which is why we’re stoked on the addition of a competitive aspect this year. About half of the groups creating parklets on Friday have opted-in to a design/build competition judged by Ryan Rinn (formerly of Storefront for Community Design), Emily Smith of 1708 Gallery, Nathan Burrell of City Parks and Rec, and Yessenia Revilla who manages the City’s parklet program. The winning group will win a nice little chunk of start-up capital and the chance to work with Venture and the City to make their temporary parket a permanent place for people to hang downtown. This new, permanent parklet would be the first to take advantage of the City’s parklet program and serve as an example for other aspiring mini-park designers.

Why does all of this matter? Because cities are, ultimately, for people not cars. So much of our Downtown is taken up by parking decks, parking lots, parking spaces, and so little space—especially Downtown—is dedicated towards giving people a humane place to simply exist. PARK(ing) Day is important because it gives us a visual reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way! In fact, it’s pretty easy to take back some of that space and make our city a more comfortable, liveable, and fun place to be.

You can check out a map of all PARK(ing) Day locations here and find a bit more information over on the Facebook event page. If you’d like to spend some time touring the parklets, check out Bike Walk RVA’s parklet bike tour or hop on the Pulse, which rolls by a by a handful of parklets at the Scott’s Addition, Arts District, and Main Street Stations. It’s against the rules to drive on PARK(ing) Day.

What works for your neighborhood?

If you visit the Main Library (101 E. Franklin Street) between today and Tuesday, take a look to your left as you enter the building and you’ll see artist Carl Patow’s WORKS WHEN installation.

From Carl’s website:

WORKS WHEN asks residents of Richmond, VA “what works for them in their neighborhood”. They place a small pearl on a handheld stylized map of the city, locating their neighborhood.

Each tile is an artifact – documentation of a conversation about the community in which the participant lives. On the reverse of the tile, they write a sentence about their neighborhood that includes the words “WORKS WHEN”.

Over 300 tiles are assembled geographically on a large simplified floor map of the city. The accumulated tiles offer insights about what is important for neighborhoods to function and  for communities to thrive.

First, this is an excellent example of broad community engagement, that, at least in my experience, folks could actually have time for. No one wants to fill out your three-page survey while they’re running in to the library to check out a book, apply for a job, or use the 3D-printer(!).

Second, the stylized map of Richmond—marked only by the river and Broad Street—is clever but definitely compresses the city’s less dense neighborhoods while expanding those where more people live. That’s similar to what transit maps frequently do, the London Underground Map being one of the most famous examples.

If you’ve got time over the next couple of days, stop by the library, check out the piece, and read some of what works for folks in their neighborhoods.

Live on a play street instead of a die street

Streetfilms has a new video up about Life on a Dutch Woonerf. In Dutch, woonerf means “living yard,” and, as you’ll see in the video, streets which prioritize people are excellent places to live. NACTO calls these Residential Shared Streets, and has a bunch of recommendations to turn your neighborhood street into a place safe enough for children to play, ride around in a cool bike squad, or get into just the right amount of kid-appropriate mischief.

Do streets like this exist in Richmond? If so, tell us! More likely, you probably have an idea for where such a street could exist in your community with the right improvements. Yeah, tell us about those, too!