It was 5:30 a.m. and 88 oversized, cast stone planters had just been delivered to a stretch of Jackson Ward between 3rd and 5th Streets. Lucy Meade, executive director of Venture Richmond, and Sharon Baum of Kirby’s Landscaping walked the site with a long punch list in preparation for the day ahead.
This was the scene on a recent summer morning as volunteers from the Virginia Biotechnology Park came together as part of a botanical makeover organized by Venture Richmond. Their goal was to raise community and individual pride through the first in a series of beautification projects across Richmond.
By 10 a.m. the plan appeared to be working. Tenants from the nearby biotech park had traded their white lab coats for construction vests. Instead of innovating they were sweeping, cleaning, and planting. Organized in waives, teams of volunteers arrived throughout the day, ready to improve the streetscape and show their love for RVA.
“Beautification and flowers show that you care about a city or neighborhood,” Meade explained as she put the finishing touches on one of the large black planters on the side of 5th Street. “The vision is to use beautification to enhance the urban environment and create a more welcoming gateway. The 2015 bike race is a good deadline.”
The next block over from Meade saw a gaggle of UNOS employees working on their own planters. JoAnn Cockey, a UNOS volunteer, explained that her son Luke passed away seven years ago in a tragic accident and was an organ donor. Her son saved four people and enhanced the lives of 40 others through donation of his tissue and cornea. Cockey says that this was her inspiration for volunteering and giving back to the community on this day.
Also on hand was Peggy Singleman, Maymont director of horticulture, who worked with Venture Richmond on the designs for the beautification project. Using Singleman’s plans, Venture Richmond attached a small piece of paper to each planter to give volunteers an idea of where to place the plants. Singleman’s plans called for three different plant varieties in each planter: a thriller (something cool in the middle), spillers (plants that spill over the edge), and fillers (flowers to fill in the space). Meanwhile, Klean Kare watered the plants throughout the day and agreed to continue to water the planters at midnight every night.
As the beautification project came to a close, motorists began to slow down, honk, and shout words of encouragement to the volunteers finishing up their handiwork. Nearby Meade barely noticed. Still energized by the turnout in Jackson Ward, she had already mentally moved on to the next project.
This is how Meade and teammates at Venture Richmond like to operate; one project tends to lead to another. Block by block, they work to boost the vitality of RVA, particularly downtown, in order to further spur economic development and tourism.
As part of their ongoing plan to increase city attractiveness, Venture Richmond was quick to follow up on their success in Jackson Ward by replicating a similar plan along the Canal Walk just a handful of days later. Building from lessons from the first project, the team went to work again—this time with 1,200 plants and 50 volunteers from Altria, HandsOn RVA, Kinfolks Community, and students from Mosby Court. Also on hand was ValleyCrest Landscape, who helped with prepping the area and mulching after the project was completed.
“The Canal Walk needed a major update and replanting. It is 16 years old and has served as an economic engine for more than $450 million of investment,” Meade explains. She points out that the Canal Cruise operation has been breaking attendance records year after year, attracting both locals and visitors to the riverfront. In addition, more people are living, working, and dining in the area than in past decades. “It was the perfect time for a botanical makeover of the Canal Walk.”
Venture Richmond says they will continue to work in partnership with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Maymont, City of Richmond departments, and local businesses to create a clean, safe, and beautiful downtown. Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight C. Jones, says that the recent beautification projects are an example of Richmonders taking pride in their surroundings and leaving a lasting impact. “This has been a real team effort to improve these major gateways into our city and will beautify these corridors for years to come.”