On June 9, I attended a kick-off event for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greening America’s Capitals award of technical assistance to the City of Richmond. The goal of the three-day event was to gather input from community stakeholders to improve pedestrian and bicyclist mobility and safety along the Jefferson Avenue corridor in the Union Hill/East End of Richmond.
Greening America’s Capitals helps state capitals develop a vision of environmentally-friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green infrastructure strategies. In collaboration with HUD and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, EPA provides design assistance to help communities to protect the environment, economy and public health and to inspire state leaders to expand this work elsewhere.
EPA funds a team of designers to visit each city to trigger or complement a larger planning process for the pilot neighborhood. The process results in schematic designs which help city staff develop specific implementation strategies.
In applying for EPA’s technical assistance, the City of Richmond had some additional goals for the community:
- To improve connections to the nearby river, businesses, medical school and regional recreation amenities.
- To encourage investment in the vacant and underutilized parcels of land immediately surrounding and near to the project area.
- To use green infrastructure, including urban food gardens to address storm water pollution.
- To improve the aesthetic appearance of the corridor, including public art and community green space that would reflect the neighborhood history and character.
- To coordinate with ongoing projects in the area including the street scape concept developed by the Union Hill Civic Association, proposed traffic calming and a design competition for the pocket park bounded by Jefferson Avenue, 23rd Street, and Clay Street.
- To define the corridor as a gateway to the community.
Over the next few days, focus groups including city staff, neighborhood residents and local business owners were held to discuss pedestrian and bicycle mobility and safety, storm water management, parks and open/green space and economic development in the neighborhood.
The design team worked to incorporate input from the focus groups and a public meeting. The final day included the chance for City staffers to review potential implementation funding opportunities from federal agencies like HUD and DOT, and an open house to introduce the final plans to the general public.
The designs improved safety by changing the flow of traffic and adding more space for pedestrians and cyclists; they beautified and eased access to Jefferson Park by reducing the number of steps and they protected the environment by reducing the amount of storm water run-off. All in all, community participants were pleased to see that the final designs addressed their concerns and helped meet their goals for a greener, safer and more lively Jefferson Avenue.
Toni Schmiegelow is a Senior Management Analyst in the HUD’s Richmond field office.