Richmond. Four Proposals for Complete Neighborhoods

Richmond 4 Central-Neighborhood-3 - Version 2
Central Place complete neighborhood proposal; Richmond. 2014. Existing Boulevard running north from center left to right of center at top. Judson University Department of Architecture Advanced Architecture and Urbanism Studio, Christopher C. Miller, Ph.D., instructor. Click on image for complete booklet.

In November 2013, the Mayor of the City of Richmond proposed a replacement baseball stadium as the centerpiece of a new entertainment district in the historic Shockoe Bottom, adjacent to Richmond’s Capitol Square and downtown. The City’s west end property, around the existing Diamond stadium, would be leveraged to capitalize the Shockoe Bottom development. Responding to a number of constituencies, the original plan has been tabled. But springing from the city’s intentions to develop the Diamond district, one group emerged to champion the renovation of the existing Diamond stadium and another group has proposed a replacement stadium as the center of a new entertainment and big box retail development.

This studio, responding to an invitation to contribute to the public’s hoped for participation in the planning of the two sites, investigated alternatives. Two studio teams undertook the urbanizing of the existing Diamond stadium and a third team, looking farther into the future, studied the location of the eventual replacement stadium in the Diamond district. Aware that stadia, as periodic destinations, do not sustain adjacent businesses, our studio teams strove to design, not destination districts, but complete neighborhoods.

Acknowledging the leveraging link of the Diamond redevelopment to the Shockoe Bottom, a fourth team studied the regeneration of the remnants of this Georgian urban fabric in a way that would both constitute again a sustainable neighborhood and would not overshadow eorts to commemorate in public architecture the nation’s second largest slave trade district.

A Form-Based Code, common to the four proposed complete neighborhoods, drew , on Richmond street and building types.

Historically, Shockoe Bottom was the land most accessible from below the James River fall line. These days the Bottom is protected from the river by a ood wall that severs the connection of the original riverside town to that riverside. In the Bottom, the three-century old infrastructure and its vulnerability to ooding makes large-scale projects expensive. On the other hand, the Bottom is poised for more attention. To the immediate west, though separated by yover highways and elevated railways, is the Virginia capital and the central business district. From here, the parallel Main and Broad Streets are the strong network passing through the Bottom to the gentrifying Church Hill on the east. In the Bottom, developers are answering the market demand of medical students and young urban professionals who want the immediate experience of the urban life possible in the Bottom’s cheap rents of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings: restaurants, clubs, breweries, coee shops, and studios of the creatives.

The Shockoe Bottom project is a complete, walkable neighborhood whose connections to downtown are augmented by the reintroduction of the east- west Grace Street. Additionally, a north-south connection to the regional road network was enhanced. The Bottom restores the genius of the original and maximally exible grid of well-shaped blocks that aord incremental regeneration.

The Diamond district is another kind of problem. At the district’s south edge, the availability of rail and, at the north and east, the proximity of the interstate has made convenient a zone of light industrial, warehousing, state oces, and destination uses. These same transportation amenities limit the number of possible street connections between this area and neighboring areas: the most important north-south connectors are Boulevard and Hermitage.

Each of the three Diamond district projects is a cluster of complete, compact neighborhoods round the baseball stadium. The Central Park, Boulevard Plaza, and Promenade projects investigate dierent armatures relative to the baseball stadium and in the complementary meeting of surrounding urban fabric to bridge the potential of border vacuums.

The potential for enhancing the lives of Richmonders elicits the following comments:

Sometimes, the conversation surrounding the development of a particular site is narrowed by preconceptions, particularly when local politics play a decisive role.… It has been refreshing to have the students work through the design challenges of both sites with an outsider’s perspective. [Andrew B. Moore, AIA; President, Partnership for Smarter Growth]

The challenges of placing sports arenas into urban fabric are complex and often contradictory. Richmond, Virginia’s debates concerning the placement of a city baseball stadium exemplify many of these challenges. The Judson study elevates [the debate concerning the placement of a city baseball stadium] to a more civic-minded perspective where the long term health of the city becomes an important focus. [H. Randall Holmes, AIA; Glave & Holmes Architecture]

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