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23 October, 2010


This hasn't been updated in far to long. Thought I would give y'all some food for thought. This is my Letter to the Editor of VCU's Commonwealth Times. It is in response to a pretty horrid excuse for an op-ed about the situation in Monroe Park. The original post can be viewed here. As well as more info on the situation can be viewed here.

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my frustrations with a recent opinion piece entitled "Why Renovate Monroe Park" that was published in your October 14th issue. I feel that while an opinion piece is just that, an opinion, it is extremely important to make sure statements made in that piece reflect fact and not fiction. "Why Renovate Monroe Park?" was full of fiction. Not only did the entire piece take an aggressive stance that completely dismissed the other side's position, which lends itself better to Facebook posts and internet trolling than it does journalism, it also dismisses the arguments without using any facts, and sometimes even false information. I want to try and correct some of these points.

First of all, I want to preface this by saying, I am not a student. I am just a food service worker. I am involved with Food Not Bombs in Richmond, and moved here to get out of a small town and experience new things. Which brings me to my first point.

The Wingnut Anarchist Collective does not, and never has, done food programs in Monroe Park. They have only existed for about a year, and consist of people who participate in other organizations, including Richmond Food Not Bombs which has been doing feeding programs for over 16 years in the park, and has only missed two Sundays since their beginning. Food Not Bombs has only been using the Wingnut's kitchen for a little less than a year, having cooked at a few different homes over the last 5 years, as well as a combination of community centers and churches over the last 16 years. While the Wingnut has released a statement about the situation in Monroe Park, so has Food Not Bombs as a separate organization, which does not involve only anarchists. There are more and more groups coming out against the closing of the park, and more statements are being prepared. ASWAN, a homeless organization, has also come out against the closing, attending meetings of the Monroe Park Advisory Council, as well as several VCU student groups. Implying that the Wingnut is the only group concerned with this makes the concerns seem like the worries of a few isolated individuals. This is completely false. Also, claiming that we, as an opposition, are opposed to the renovations is totally false. In none of the statements released so far, either from Food Not Bombs, or anyone else have the renovations been opposed as a whole. We only oppose the way they are being implemented, because this risks discrimination and pushing out of groups of people merely because they don't have the money or resources to have their concerns heard. The author claimed that the Wingnut is "in contention" with the goals to make Monroe Park "for anybody and everybody" which is a complete and total lie. Their statement is readily available to view online, and no where in it are these goals opposed.

My next response is to the statement that the renovations of the park "are not gentrification" and that if it was, "it would be better than deterioration" of the park. This is just offensive. The definition of gentrification is the displacement of poor residents by development conducted by more affluent groups of people. If this is the result of the renovations, then yes it is, by definition, gentrification. I would like to know when a park's image became more important than human beings? When did we decide that it was more important to make a nice looking park than to have a place where poor people can easily congregate without being harassed for being poor? This also assumes that the park is only occupied by poor folks and is in a state of total disrepair. I challenge anyone who spends much time in Monroe Park to truthfully believe that the park is in shambles and students and other people don't frequent that park. I live in Oregon Hill, so I see the park pretty often. When I go through that park, I see a place of extreme diversity, probably one of the more diverse parts of the city. If there is an absence of middle class families, it is probably more due to the fact that VCU has built up and expanded so far out around the park, that it is more convenient for them to go to one of the many parks in the Fan or the West End, than to drive to a park that is in the center of the city, which had its playground taken out years ago.

Another point by the author is that the Wingnut's claim that Councilman Samuels didn't tell the truth about the conditions of the park is false. Well, if you read Samuel's statements, and then go to the park yourself to look, you will see that yes, he was completely wrong. He didn't even bother to double check information about a park in his own district. The water runs, the fountains work, the toilets work. If there are problems with the facilities being down temporarily, or trash being strewn in the park, then it is in the city's duty to maintain the park. This does not mean renovations are necessary. Even if new bathrooms are built, if they are still not maintained on a regular basis, they will still get broken and trash will build up. This is an issue with the city's management, not the presence of poor people in the park.

The reason that Food Not Bombs and the Wingnut and many others are opposed to moving all feeding programs to the Conrad Center is not just due to the "psychological effects" implied by its proximity to the City Jail. The Conrad Center is located at the bottom of one of the biggest hills in the City. It is far from the center of town, and while it may be a decent resource to folks in Church Hill, people who occupy other parts of town have no viable access to the building. Many people who attend feedings at the park are elderly or have disabilities. There is no way even a healthy person would be able to make the hike down the hill for a meal, then not be allowed to hang around long before walking all the way back. By that time, it would almost be time to eat again.

MPAC and Samuels have been repeatedly confronted on the issue of why the park needs to be shut down for the entirety of the renovations. They have repeatedly refused to give a straight answer. Many of us who are forming the opposition to the closing have reviewed the City's own plans for the renovations, even going over the proposed budget. There is no explanation to why leaving a portion open would greatly increase the cost of an overall $9 million project. Thats right. Only the initial phase would be the well known cost of $6.2 million. The budget estimates that after everything is finalized, which could be years down the line, the entire thing would cost around $9 million dollars. This is a huge sum of money, and I don't want to see it wasted to provide just another space for the upper middle class to feel comfortable because they don't have to see the poverty in their own city. If the City is going to use money to improve a public space, it should stay public. In every sense of the word. If the people that make decisions about our community won't give us straight and honest answers about what they are doing, that is not public.

There is also concern that creating one centralized location for the poor to go is isolating and stigmatizing, which has shown to be true in countless other cities. The park is in no danger of becoming a "homeless only" space as the author claims. If you talk to anyone who has been in Richmond longer than a year, they would probably tell you that if anything, the amount of non-homeless people has increased in the last 5 years or more, not decreased. I still regard Monroe Park as the "heart of Richmond". If that heart isn't what we want it to look like, that should be a clue that we are doing something wrong as a community. If our heart is in poor health, maybe we should be spending time and resources on caring for it, not just trying to cover it up.

- Nathan Stickel


Allen said...

Nail it one time! Right on the money, Nathan. Especially the looong walk or ride from the jail.

Andrew Phinney said...

Well said! Thanks Nathan.

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