Subtitle: Greater Richmond (Housing and Public Schools) versus Walkable Fan Culture
August 2017 — the month when my framework for thinking about Richmond changed. This month, I have told a number of people about how “the scales fell from my eyes” when I had a kid and started to realize that many of the places I frequented as a young single person lacked a key demographic: Parents of young children. Everywhere I looked: VMFA happy hour, Daily Kitchen, breweries, the Byrd Theater, anyplace in RVA after 7pm, there were mostly (a) young single people, (b) young couples without kids, and (c) middle aged empty nesters. What happened to people when they had kids? did they just stay inside? did they move to the soul-less cul de sac suburbs and watch empty TV all the time? Is it my destiny to live outside of real local culture for the next 20 years?
In my single days, I thought about “One Richmond” in the sense of RVA being united around a common culture, and that culture was sort of epitomized by “The Fan.” But the fan is not a good cultural place to live for people like me: parents of young children. Let me explain why we are thinking of moving…
FANMAGEDDON, OR WHY I MUST MOVE TO SUBURBAN RVA
Objectively, the Fan **is** the best place in Richmond. It is the most walkable. It is where the nexus of locally owned cafes, corner bistros, out of the way alleys and bike paths, museums, indie shops (aka Carytown) and the VCU College vibe. But I can’t live here anymore.
I still think the fan is the center of a vibrant culture, I just can’t see myself living in the Fan for the next 15 years. Two reasons:
1. Housing. As a new dad, I am starting to see that our family needs to move to a larger house. If I am going to buy a house, I need to buy a house in an area that someone else will want to buy that house when I move again. People want to buy houses in good school systems, so I must buy a house in a good school system.
2. Schools. Richmond has crappy high schools. I can’t bring myself to send my kid / kids to substandard schools. I COULD purchase a house on the Northside and send my kid to private school (Veritas? Montessouri) but we are talking $5K -10K a year for the next 12 years PER CHILD. Why **NOT** move to the suburbs where my children can get a decent education for free? And given the need to resell my house, I don’t know if I am willing to risk buying a house in an area where other people don’t want to buy.
The other side of this argument is that I could / should be some sort of a pioneer of social change, where I commit to living in the city in the hopes that other young professional families will see a critical mass of people moving there and bring the school system up with it.
I reject this line of argument though… I am cynical enough about human nature to “”know” (or at least deeply believe) that even people of conscience (i.e. many of my friends) are not going to follow me to a possibly unsafe neighborhood with crappy schools. They love their kids too much for that. They want to send their kids to Freeman, Tucker, or Godwin (or Midlothian / JRHS on the SouthSide) and see them get into a good college.
So here is the logic so far:
- I love the Fan.
- my house is too small now; I need to move and soon.
- I do not have the ability to home school my children.
- I am not going to send my children to private school.
- I need to move to a place in RVA area where there are good schools.
- the only place where there are good schools in Greater RVA is in the suburbs (particularly, Chesterfield County and Henrico County, although I know that Powhatan and Hanover could also be considered good schools).
The natural conclusion is that I cannot live in the Fan.
IS BON AIR (OR REGENCY SQUARE ) THE NEW FAN?
And then I add one more plank in this master plan: there are other people in this situation… I should move to a place where people like me would move…
Example 1: Fan dwellers who can’t afford private school could all move to Bon Air (23236 area code) and go to Perk cafe and send their kids to the Bon Air Community Center and then hop on the Chippenham parkway when they want to go to the VMFA or visit friends north of the River.
Example 2: I could live in near Cheswick Park (23229 area code) in the near West End and hop on I-64 or Three Chopt Road / Monument Ave when I want to go downtown to see VCU basketball games.
Young families who move to RVA from Brooklyn do their research and quickly realize what I am just now seeing… While the Fan is not the place to move if you have kids, there must be ANOTHER semi-walkable place besides the Fan where Greater Richmond families could live together and foster healthy community and culture.
I don’t want to live in a soulless cul-de-sac. I want my kids to live in a health formative culture… I want them to ride bikes in the street with the other neighborhood kids and run around in the woods. I want them to walk to the pool and feel safe. I should not have to chauffeur my children everywhere. I am not going to risk thinking “maybe someday the schools will be good” in the City of Richmond when I can move to a place where the schools are already definitely good RIGHT NOW. Those suburban neighborhoods are attracting the families that I want to live near, and if I move there, I can build community there with them.
FORGING AN NEW URBAN-SUBURBAN NEXUS CULTURE?
As the world’s largest critic of the Southside, I know that even **considering** moving south of Chippenham parkway is a radical departure from my previous Fan-snobbery… but I can see no other option than to move South or West outside the traditional Richmond Virginia boundaries. One thing that sort of inspires me is the idea that I can maybe play a part in making the Greater Richmond suburbs less boring. Will I contribue to a music festival at Stony Point or Regency Malls? Will I start or join a Facebook group connecting people who live in my suburban neighborhood? These sorts of ideas make me “expectantly wait” (versus dreading) moving to the suburbs.
I expect that my views and perspectives will shift over time as I continue to have discussions on this topic. I fully expect to find out that other people have thought about this before I have, and I hope that they are able to impart wisdom to me about what it means to move between downtown RVA fun and suburban RVA living.