Last class we went down to Belle Isle to explore the park and hear from a speaker from the US Geological Survey (USGS). I’ve been to Belle Isle several times, but every time I go there the old infrastructure on and around the island amazes me. While walking over the foot bridge to the island I talked with Kenta and Jenni about how people could easily climb onto an old rusted bridge protruding from the island; there were no barriers or even signs telling people not to use it. On previous trips I walked by what I believe was an old factory that was falling apart. There were people inside and I couldn’t help but think of all the potential dangers of the area.
However, I love that the James River Parks System allows the old infrastructure to still stand. For some reason it creates a different feeling to the park, one where the city respects the citizens and recognizes that they are generally responsible. Putting up a fence or a sign wouldn’t keep people off the old bridge, but it would call more attention to it. People know it’s dangerous, they have eyes. After reading several articles written about Ralph White I have realized that he is largely responsible for this style of parks management. His idea is that the parks belong to the people, and if people recognize that they will take care of them. Likewise, he could use his budget creating fences and signs or tearing buildings down, but instead he uses the small budget on services people actually want and need in the parks.
I don’t mind that there are old buildings, bridges, or pipes all over the James River Park System; I love it. It reminds me that Richmond use to be an industrial city that forgot about the river for any purpose beyond dumping waste. It is a reminder of that past as we try to reclaim the wilderness and revitalize the river. You cannot look to the future without accepting the past, and that is what Richmond does so well. The parks like Belle Isle are the perfect example of this ethos.