This is my new official “Bon Air” post. Throughout the last year, I have googled a lot and pasted many, many links into the comment section of a prior article (where is the New Fan, August 2017) Over the last year, I have locked in on Bon Air and ultimately decided to move from the Fan area into the “Bon Area.” I am here to declare that BON AIR IS THE NEW FAN!
I have done a lot of thinking about Bon Air… Suffice it to say, I am learning a lot. If I had to boil it down to four topics worth talking about, I would say this:
(1) Defining “a place.” What makes Bon Air a PLACE? Who if anyone has the authority to define the borders? There are a lot of definitions of “Bon Air,” and I want to be inclusive but also make sensible bright line distinctions and definitions about what I mean by “Bon Air.” Everyone in RVA knows that “The Fan” is different from “Carytown” and “the Museum District,” and there is a “place-ness” of that area that may not necessarily exist in the Southside or West End of Richmond. Example: it is not clear to me whether everyone agrees that “Brighton Green” and “Crestwood Farms” and “Brookwood Estates” and “Woodmont” and “Rock Creek Park Lake” are included in the definition of “Bon Air.” Even though the historic/Victorian part of Bon Air doesn’t have many commercial establishments, the residential community surrounding Old Bon Air is surrounded by commercial areas that everyone living in Bon Air knows about and goes to. Stratford Hills Shopping Center, Stony Point Mall, the Arboretum, the Shops at Bellgrade, and Stonebridge are not really located in Bon Air proper, but I would argue that they be included as a part of “Greater Bon Air.”
I guess I will have to learn to talk about Bon Air. Lacking any definitive authority, I am using some of my own definitions, which could be wrong. Instead of wondering what is in or out of the definition of Bon Air, tend to sometimes say “Greater Bon Air” to refer to an area that includes both Chesterfield County and City of Richmond. If you look at a map, Greater Bon Air is subdivided by a swampy and polluted Powhite Creek that I like to call the Poo-Hite Creek. I think that saying “Bon Air Borderlands” helps to convey that the new Publix near Taco Oasis (by the Stratford Hills Jason’s Deli) is part of Bon Air’s area of Interest. Words have meaning, and I am learning what all the words do mean and inventing my own words sometimes.
(2) History of Suburban Development in the 1960s and 1970s. Bon Air really came into its current suburban form between 1960 and 1975. Not a lot of people are aware of Richmond’s annexation crisis of 1970- 1977, or the specifics of development decisions and school busing arrangements that drove many people to abandon downtown and take up residence in the suburbs. The Annexation caused a lot of community confusion in Bon Air and I believe some of that pain and heartache lingers even today. This is important to me because I don’t really understand that time period, and every time I learn something about this era, I feel like I get a glimpse of what is lurking in the cultural DNA of Bon Air institutions (the traditions of churches, shopping centers, schools, businesses, and community centers). Further, as I learn about this era, I learn about the Fan (In the 1960s and 1970s, the Fan was not the place it is today. It was an aging but solid neighborhood with 50-year-old houses, much like Bon Air is today.)
(3) Bon Air Futurism and Moderating My Hype. I get excited about living here and say things like,“Bon Air is an incredibly undervalued area that is about to emerge.” Do I believe it? Maybe. With the emergence of the Bon Air Special Area Plan (BASAP) that will add walkability and park-like amenities to “downtown” Bon Air, I imagine I am getting in on the ground floor of something big. MILLENNIALS ARE MOVING TO BON AIR! While I find all the new coffee shops and positive media buzz encouraging, I am also interested in how my notions of “culture” will morph as I live the next several years in a residential neighborhood. What will happen to aging recreation associations? Where else besides playgrounds and parks will we go for outdoor fun? Just learning about how to “do life” with friends and neighbors and our kids while NOT living in the Fan is going to be an interesting transition. I am also curious as to how suburban life itself might morph due to the smartphone revolution — (1)everything is Amazon-a-fying and all the malls are dying and (2) ubers are serving as a substitute for public transportation, and (3) you can get food delivered to your doorstep from restaurants. So even without malls, public transportation and fine dining, Bon Air will have some but not all of the urban amenities through the power of technology. What will the future bring?
(4) Nerding out online… Speaking of technology, the internet continues to offer vast resources at my fingertips to find information on Bon Air. I have reached “George Warren Wood” levels of obsession over Bon Air, in the sense of researching/Googling history in my free time. What will come of this? I don’t know, but I am excited to find out!