“We’re no Charlotte, but we’re growing.”
Back in the summer of 2000, when I was new to Richmond, I heard this all the time. Worse still were the self-deprecating comparisons to Atlanta. I grew up in Atlanta, back when it was a city of trees. But I’ve watched that city disappear under “improvement” projects. I always wanted to ask, “Have you been to Atlanta?” Or, more importantly, “Have you tried to live there?”
Libby Hill: One of many RVA locales that will still be cool once the bike races are gone. Credit: UCI
The inferiority complex infecting some native Richmonders confused the hell out of me. I’d moved around a fair bit by that point: San Francisco to L.A. to D.C., then back to San Francisco. Right before moving to Richmond I spent three years living in the coal fields of north Alabama. No doubt that influenced my view of Richmond. This place had great coffee AND great libraries AND great movie theatres AND museums. Plus three colleges. I mean, come on, people.
But the years spent in other cities did as much to shape my appreciation. More than once I struggled not to laugh when listening to complaints about downtown’s “parking problem.” Compared to The Mall or The Haight, parking in The Slip was cake. And I was ready for cake.
Richmond once tried to sell itself as “Easy to Love” and that’s fine, but to me it’s an easy place to live. It’s not the pin-up city of your childhood. It’s the city you marry. And it finally knows it.
Our selection as site of the UCI 2015 cycling races is nice confirmation of our beauty (past hosts include Prague, Paris, Madrid and Rome). But we were turning heads long before. In 2008, out of all possible routes nationwide, the U.S. Open Cycling Championships raced Route 5 right into Shockoe Bottom. Maybe we didn’t see the compliment. Like an adolescent, we got caught up in our awkwardness and our flaws, but strangers saw our bone structure – the river, the architecture, the neighborhoods, the farmland, and yes, the enviable history, the rich diversity of which we’re only beginning to tap.
Ed Trask’s Take 5 mural on the side of Millie’s Diner. Credit: RVANews
But it feels like somewhere in the last decade, Richmond shed its gawkiness and woke up…cool. We developed our own style, and with it, confidence. We stopped wishing to be some other place, and figured out what we are. And what we are is a bike city. We’re a paddling city. We’re a mural city. We’re a tattoo city. We’re a sculpture city. We’re a college city. We’re a city ready to pull the dirty bandages off our history of enslavement so we can, together, wash out and examine that wound. We’re a food city. We’re a time-to-fix-the-food-deserts city. We’re a neighborhood garden city. We are, and will always be, a river city. And we’ve become RVA.
This month “the world” will meet us. I say, Lucky them.
Then, in a snap, the blur of jerseys and the chaos of street closings will be history. The camera crews will pack their gear, and our guests will return to Prague and Paris and Madrid and Rome. And you know where that will leave us? Virginia in autumn. The Capital Trail will be finished, and calling. The James will run high with fall rains. The Folk Festival will be warming up. And we’ll be here. Because we’re the ones who call Richmond home. And I say, Lucky us.