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  • Writer's pictureJesse Ledbetter

The Rivah City

Long before Richmond became RVA, I had canoed over 500 miles of Virginia rivers with my father and close friends, and accumulated stories along the way.

I've been stranded in the midst of thunderstorms with tornadoes with little more than a canoe to shelter in. I've hitch hiked after our canoe was lost to the hydraulics of a rapid, and we had to make it to our take out point. I've seen the slow roll of the bank float by as swirls passed off of the tip of my paddle.

I grew up north of the river, but my high school sweetheart was from the other side in the city, and like a young Romeo I trekked to that other world for love. I left rural Hanover to enter the inner city and have a guide who knew the city, and loved it. It was a different world, but still, trips to walk Belle Isle felt familiar. The parks of Richmond felt like wild spaces in the middle of the bustle.

I've been privileged to live in a few states in the United States since then. I've seen cities that failed to plan green space into their urban centers, and there is a serious deficit due to that. I've seen cities struggling to overcome 100 years of failing to manage their river's well, and dealing with the ecological and health fallout for generations. I've seen cities that have struggled to become something new as the march of history kept moving forward.

When I returned to Richmond, the RVA movement was in full swing. Suddenly neighborhoods I was warned about were highly desirable... but why were they warned about in the first place? Suddenly the murder capital of the country was getting its act together... but how? Derelict buildings were being made new. "Old" houses were now "Charming" and "Historic." Why?

This blog, in part, will come out of my experience "coming home" to the river city that I grew up around. There is an old greek proverb that I am reminded of. It would tell me that this river city is not the same city, but I am also not the same man. We are both changing - I hope that my insights will help you to better understand this city that I love.

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