One of the things I like about a candidate like Paul Goldman is that by delivering bold ideas he changes the nature of the debate. Sometimes his ideas seem loopy. Sometimes they are loopy. But they certainly tell voters that there is a different way to lead a city.
Last week, for instance, Goldman stole the headlines and the local political conversation with an idea that was roundly criticized by the Internets and his opponents, and viewed with some degree of caution by what passes for the mainstream media in Richmond -- permanently closing Carytown to vehicular traffic, and creating a pedestrian mall in the heart of Richmond. From the Times-Dispatch:
Under Goldman's proposal, West Cary Street would be closed to cars, bicycles and anything else with wheels from Thompson Street to the Boulevard.
Cary then would be turned into a "street fair," with trees and gardens, that would be unrivaled in Virginia and on the East Coast, he said.
"It is time to unleash the potential of Carytown, and to do that, we need to throw out the old rules and open that stretch of Cary Street to the imagination, the ingenuity and the innovation that we need to take Richmond to the next level," Goldman said yesterday in an e-mail announcing his proposal.
Crazy? Not according to readers of West of the Boulevard News, who discussed the very idea in April as a response to a post by Richmond Magazine's Harry Kollatz titled, "What's Killing the Great Shops of Carytown?"
Quite simply, Carytown as a whole (or at some structured point), should be a pedestrian only area. In doing so, the roadway could be replaced with pavers, cobblestone, or some other unique layer. Park benches, fountains, larger sidewalks, trees, nice lamp posts, plants, and other features would need to be added. Store fronts would all need to be renovated to comply with some kind of higher standards of design. This would probably take some kind of a covenants committee who could oversee all improvements in the Carytown district. Think of Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchant Square, or in Boston….Fanuel Hall. These areas attract people not only for their shops and restaurants, but also because of their charm and enjoyable surroundings. Parking, Auto Traffic, People, and Money, are the hurdles that would need to be overcome. This would require all Carytown property owners to actively want to be part of some kind of association that had some control over their property. It would require extreme help from the city in the form of planning, implementation, money, and incentive to property owners and businesses. However, if Carytown was able to make this facelift and change it’s dynamic, it is hard to believe it wouldn’t be a huge success.
And way back in August of 2007, I posted the following comment in response to another WotBN post ("Carytown Online Charrette: How Would You Make Carytown Even Awesomer?"):
A few months ago for some reason I began to imagine an effort to turn the vast wasteland between Floyd and Ellwood and Nansemond and Thompson (where the Floyd Avenue post office and Verizon or whoever owns that vast brick building lie) into a combo parking, retail commercial space; and close Cary Street to traffic — all of the time.
Cary Street becomes a pedestrian mall.
More green space.
Open zoning for construction of new retail and second-floor residential on the side streets between Cary and Ellwood.
Maybe we're all crazy. Or maybe part of transforming Richmond involves stretching the imagination, viewing creativity as being part-and-parcel of good politics, demanding our leaders start with vision and work from there.
As the process of building Richmond's new Downtown Plan has demonstrated, the public responds to bold ideas -- and so does the status quo. And while not every bold idea is worth chasing, Richmond's history of hanging out with Mr. Same Ol' Same Ol' is an invitation to stagnation.
I'm not ready to go political skydiving with Goldman, but I hope he keeps throwing zingers into the conversation. Some of them will land. Others will simply show how pedestrian the rest of the candidates are.