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Have We Already Forgotten Rosie?
October 26, 2002

In a study session prior to the October 22, 2002, City Council meeting, the three newest members of the Community and Economic Development leadership team made a one-hour presentation of their strategic management plans for the Community and Economic Development Department and the Planning Department.

On the whole, there were many laudable ideas pitched. Assistant City Manager (Community and Economic Development) Jay Corey discussed enlarging the redevelopment areas to create more tax increment to fund the many projects needed to address blight, and he stressed the need for better interdepartmental working relationships.

Community and Economic Development Director Steve Duran stressed the need to concentrate on Richmond’s traditional “downtown” and to realize that the key to attracting economic development is improving the quality of life in Richmond. He said that smart growth principles should be used as much as possible.

Planning Manager Barry Cromartie began by conceding the mediocre performance of the Planning Department over the last several years (prior to his being hired) and then discussed a number of ways he intended to build on the strengths of a largely new staff to provide more efficient and customer friendly service by reorganizing processes and better use of technology.

In the 43-page written report that accompanied the presentation, there was mention of a number of specific projects important to Richmond’s economic growth, such as the Richmond Parkway, Downtown revitalization, the Transit Village, Hope VI and the Ford Assembly Plant.

For me, the most conspicuous omission was the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Not once was it mentioned. Unlike all the projects that were listed, this is the only one that is truly unique. Lots of cities have parkways, low cost housing and revitalized downtowns. More than a few even have transit villages and Hope VI projects. Rare, however, is the city with its own national park, especially one that is intended to interpret a national theme and act as a center for all other national park service sites that interpret similar themes.

Because of the ponderous and thorough planning process required by the National Park Service, our national park will not emerge full-grown overnight, but when it does, it will be a blockbuster. And as a partnership park, its success will largely depend on the City of Richmond’s enthusiasm, dedication and support to enable it to optimize its opportunities.

Better interdepartmental working relationships? Good idea. The very same Assistant City Manager for Community and Economic Development who oversees the Redevelopment Agency, Planning Department and Housing Authority also has authority over the Port of Richmond, which almost succeeded in bringing us an asphalt plant (see http://www.pointrichmond.com/news/asphalt.htm) smack up against one of the surviving historical structures in Shipyard 3, the Cafeteria Building. The same people who spoke about better interdepartmental working relationships were apparently willing to let the Port go its own way, even if it meant irreversible damage to the setting of part of Richmond’s own national park.

It’s not too late to add the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park back on to the front page of Richmond’s Strategic Management Plan where it belongs. Apropos to this is a commentary, reproduced below, by Charles T. Smith in the October 25, West County Times (West County Weekly Section):

Rosie park needs Shipyard No. 3

Posted on Fri, Oct. 25, 2002

I recently had the pleasure of joining the assistant curator of the Richmond Museum of History, Shelby Sampson, and several Richmond neighbors for a history tour.

Richmond is truly a city with a historically significant past of which all its citizens can be proud. It also is a city with a promising future, which can only be enhanced by the preservation of its past. It is critical that our city's leadership understand the importance of preserving our past by supporting and contributing to our new Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park.

This is a unique industrial park that, if completed as originally envisioned, could be the equal of the other major national industrial park, Lowell National Historic Park.

The Lowell park celebrates the beginnings of our nation's industrial revolution. What makes Lowell so special is the preservation of old brick structures that housed the textile mills, as well as the canals that carried water that ran the machinery.

To walk into those well-preserved buildings is to feel the past come alive. What Lowell does for the industrial revolution, the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park can do for World War II if our city's leaders find the wisdom and foresight to make some economic sacrifices now to preserve the past for future generations.

For the park to really put this city in the tourist books, it must give a full experience of what it was like to build the Liberty ships. Richmond must be willing to give Shipyard No. 3 to the park.

Without this centerpiece, the park is left with a symbolic Rosie the Riveter Memorial that doesn't provide a true understanding of what the shipbuilding industry was all about.

Walls of black-and-white photos can never communicate the true power and importance of what happened in Richmond during the war. People need to see and walk into the remaining dry docks and surrounding buildings of Richmond Shipyard No. 3.

For years, Richmond has tried and failed to change its image. Now, with the stroke of a pen, we can return to our citizens their history.

Tourism will bring money into the community and create jobs here. The park will bring our city a new sense of pride and show respect and honor to the women and men who worked around the clock seven days a week to build the ships that helped win the war.

I urge all the citizens of Richmond to encourage our city leaders to donate Shipyard No. 3 and its historic surrounding buildings to the Rosie the Riveter Park.

If we pass up this opportunity, it will be gone forever. Let us urge our leaders to make this park truly great.

Charles T. Smith is a resident of Richmond.