We’ve posted here about Mayor Stoney’s plan to allot $155 million in American Rescue Plan funds, and $78 million of that directed towards Richmond’s community centers and parks. We’ve heard talk that some on City Council wish to reallocate where those funds go. We encourage you to contact your member of City Council to make your voice heard, and this link will offer you some sample language that we’ve been using. You can follow this link to find out who your Councilmember is.
Below is an op-ed submitted to our local media outlets by Josh Stutz, our Executive Director:
Parks and Community Centers are Upstream Solutions
The recently announced ARP funding proposal is a visionary investment in upstream solutions for the people of Richmond. $78 million in data-driven, targeted, park and community center-related projects is a down payment on the city that we want Richmond to be in 10 years. This is an important preventative maintenance step necessary to build stronger neighborhoods for this community.
I work in the nonprofit field and I believe that the most effective solutions to problems come from as far upstream as possible. This means enacting programs, policies, and measures that might not seem obvious at first glance. We can not always be in triage mode dealing with day-to-day tactical solutions, there needs to be some consideration for the larger strategic view. You can’t solve macro problems with micro solutions.
Recent research has shown that well-maintained parks and green spaces can lead to a decrease in gun violence, increases in safety, and improvements in health outcomes for local residents. Richmond, like all cities, has some heavy disparities in the social determinants of health, and this plan will bring resources to neighborhoods that need them. Leadership is planting the tree that you won’t ever get to sit in the shade of, and this plan literally does that for a big stretch of Richmond.
To use a metaphor, I like to think of the work that nonprofits and governments do as being like standing on the shoreline of a big river. In that river, there are people drowning. We need programs and people working together to help pull people from the river. This is the work of addressing the day-to-day problems that our communities face. We also need solutions for how to stop people from falling into the river in the first place. That is where an investment like this comes into play. Strategic investment of this size, and for this purpose, will help us ensure that in 10-15 years we will have stronger neighborhoods with less crime and healthier residents.
Projects specific to the James River Park System, where I do my work, include repairs to the Texas Beach Tower and new greenway approaches to the parks from the South. These are all items laid out in the JRPS Master Plan that was adopted by City Council in 2019. Once completed these specific projects will increase park accessibility, allowing more people to get to JRPS without a car, and will put even more neighborhoods within a 10-minute walk from their local park.
Improving parks and building new community centers in historically neglected areas will help strengthen communities in ways that pay dividends for years to come. This investment will also free up annual PRCF capital improvement funds for projects in other areas of the park system, allowing all boats to rise with the tide. This investment is not just about the $78 million right now, but what else we can do in the future for our parks by alleviating some budget pressure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major spike in park visitorship and outdoor recreation here in Richmond. JRPS recorded more than 2 million visitors last year as people from the region leaned on our outdoor spaces to stay healthy and connect with nature. Parks stayed open and safe when nothing else was, and a diverse group of people came out to use them. It is obvious that Richmonders care about their parks and we need to take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance to help guarantee that we will still live in a city we can be proud of decades from now. I trust the people and the process that put this plan together and I really hope we can unite as a community to see the plan approved without modification. Thank you.
-Josh Stutz, Executive Director, Friends of the James River Park.