Better schools. Less crime. Unity.
These and other aspirations for metro Richmond rose to the fore at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s 75th Public Square, held Tuesday night. About 75 people attended the forum, where the results of a new survey of area residents were unveiled, along with a list of 75 hopes for the region’s future.
“These are our readers’ hopes, these are our residents’ hopes,” said Thomas A. Silvestri, president and publisher of The Times-Dispatch.
The survey results showed a generally optimistic view of where the region stands currently, but indicated a willingness on the part of respondents to embrace change, said Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy and dean of the university’s College of Social Sciences. CNU conducted the poll as a partner of The Times-Dispatch.
About 60 percent of respondents said they believed the region was heading in the right direction. When it came to elected officials, about half of the respondents said they approved of the way leaders are handling their jobs.
The CNU center interviewed 601 randomly selected residents across the region by phone Sept. 6-23. Respondents answered 10 questions and were asked to provide a response to an open-ended question about what would make the region a better place in which to live. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
On the topic of regionalism, about half of respondents said they believed the relationship between Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico was acceptable. The finding suggested an ambivalent view of regional collaboration as things currently are, Kidd said.
Among the top goals shared by survey respondents: improving public education, reducing crime, and providing greater opportunities for all of the region’s residents. Also ranking high on the list: unity. Or as one respondent put it: “working together as a greater community.”
The ideal was the resounding hope readers shared, Silvestri said.
Attendees at Tuesday’s forum echoed respondents to a Times-Dispatch call over the summer that generated a list of 75 hopes. The list runs the gamut, offering nuts-and-bolts suggestions for local governments to improve core services (better roads), long-term visions for building a better region (a comprehensive strategy for affordable housing) and an oddity or two (more dogs).
Public Square attendees gave their feedback on what stood out and how residents and leaders can start making progress.
“The collectiveness has to be improved upon,” said Glenwood Burley, a retired Richmond police officer.
Keeping with the theme of unity, a number of readers said breaking down barriers that divide our region, particularly along racial lines, but also along socio-economic and gender lines, was a top hope.
“We’ve got lines that are invisible in Richmond,” said Leonard Edloe, a Hanover resident who grew up in the city. “People know they’re there. ... This is going to be the hardest thing.”
Michael McDermott, who moved to the region 25 years ago, said he was optimistic about the city’s trajectory, but stumped as to why two perennial topics of discussion — public education and minor league baseball — had not led to better returns during his time here.
“We keep throwing more money at the problem ... and we’re not getting anywhere,” McDermott said of public schools. “When are we going to stop talking and start walking?”
Faced with the litany of hopes, some attendees asked the obvious question: How does the region bring the lofty goals to fruition?
“I think this is all great, but it’s vague,” said Matt Sim, 20. “The region wants to be better; I just don’t think we know how.”
Tina Egge, a Hanover resident and former president of Leadership Metro Richmond, offered an answer for how to get started, noting that many people are reluctant to take the first step.
“Everybody loves change. We think change is great. But you go first.”