Richmond, Virginia. Land of the dull. It wishes it were New York, but isn’t even Peoria. Nestled within the schizophrenic Henrico County, which is, at once, poor in the East and rich in the West; butting up against the vast suburbia and faux ruralism that is Chesterfield County, yet separated from it by the James River, Richmond is a place ill-defined.
Is Richmond the delapidated buildings of East Broad Street only blocks from the State Capital? Is Richmond the sterile city hall that stands above all other buildings, shooting into the air, overlooking its domain with a perpetually blind eye? Is Richmond the once ‘great’ Capital of the Confederacy still commemorated by a small museum and the original Confederate ‘White House’ which are both dwarfed by their nearby big brother, the enormous complex of the Medical College of Virginia?
Perhaps Richmond is the river, with its flood wall that serves as a reminder to all that, at least in some things, Richmond thinks ahead. Richmond certainly is not the 6th Street Market Place, the only gem in a stretch of urban decay, but recently demolished to make way for the original street that it was built over.
Is Richmond Cary Town, with its eclecticism and subtle snobbery where completely unaffordable shops nestle among cheap restaurants and the only good record store within a 200-mile radius (this figure is a mere estimate)? Or is Richmond the Carpenter Center or the Landmark Theater, which occasionally attract national known artists and musicals? Or is Richmond the Coliseum, which is best known for its ridiculously antique facilities where basketball can hardly be played during ice hockey season, where the Circus comes faithfully through town every year, but little else worth mentioning.
Perhaps Richmond is the Byrd Theater, with its cheap tickets and retro-lush interior where no one can sit very comfortably.
Perhaps Richmond is best embodied by the cultural gulf that exists between its two major educational institutions – the state-supported Virginia Commonwealth University, a juggernaut that is slowly taking over East Broad Street; and the University of Richmond, a quietly stodgy faux Ivy League school that imports most of its students from the northern states.
Whatever Richmond is – we know what it is not. It is not a meaningful historic attraction (Williamsburg is). It is not an important bustling metropolitan center (Washington D.C. is). It is not an intellectual and artistic haven (Charlottesville is).
Within twenty years, Richmond will become part of the ever-expanding megalopolis that is Northern Virginia, which is already arriving at Fredericksburg and will continue Southward. That is, if Ashland doesn’t stop it.