Friday, November 18, 2011

Dialog in the Bottom

At first, hosting a public visioning workshop for Shockoe Bottom at the Virginia Holocaust Museum seemed strange and unsettling. The weighty narrative of THAT particular chapter of history provides some perspective for the inconveniences of finding a parking place or the non-local foods in the 17th Street Farmers Market. However, as the i.e.* sponsored event unfolded, common themes of memory and hope emerged as a conceptual backdrop for the conversation and the setting suddenly seemed appropriate (aside from being physically located in the Bottom and suitably sized for the event).

The event on Monday past, billed as being a continuation of the City government's focus on Shockoe Bottom, began with introductory remarks by Peter Chapman and Mayor Jones, signalling the City's commitment. Next on the agenda was an extremely brief summary of the Shockoe Bottom Economic Revitalization Study the City recently unveiled, with great emphasis given to the renovation of the Main Street Station Train Shed, presumably since that project is allegedly sunstantially funded. Finally, Floricane took the floor and led the assembled creative community through a short visioning workshop, focusing first on consensus themes for improving the Bottom (safety, traffic calming, mix of uses, etc.), followed by break-out sessions for topical brainstorming (Main St. Station, recommended goods and services, connectivity, branding, etc.). 

In typical fashion for workshops like this one, the real value was not the collection of Post-it notes nor the flip chart lists (though seeds of good ideas may ultimately emerge). The event was worthwhile because it created a forum to shape and refine ideas through generative dialog, not destructive debate. More, please.

Where is all of this headed? The answer will depend on leadership. This workshop was loaded with City administration, local activists, influential citizens, business leaders and energetic creative types. There were many potential leaders in the room. Where is the champion for a compelling narrative in this effort to revitalize Shockoe Bottom? Will the City's latest BIG EXCITING PROJECT in the form of the Main Street Station Train Shed renovation break the cycle of failed BIG EXCITING PROJECTS? Stay tuned. Only time will tell.

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