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  Symphonies, Quality of Life and Smart Growth
January 25, 2004

We returned from the 3rd Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last night just in time to take in the first performance of this season’s Oakland East Bay Symphony performance in Richmond.


First, the symphony. This remarkable series conducted by Michael Morgan, which is FREE to all, featured Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto (1912) with 21-year old Tai Murray, violin soloist, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 (1937). Attendance was respectable, and enthusiasm of the crowd rousing. However, it continues to puzzle me why less than 1 percent of Richmond residents take advantage of this incredible FREE opportunity that people pay $20 to $200 for in Oakland.


Next, the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, Building Safe, Healthy and Livable Communities, resulted from a partnership between the Local Government Commission and Penn State University. It is sponsored or funded by such diverse organizations as the Bank of America, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Urban Land Institute, U.S. Center for Disease Control, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Association of Realtors, the American Institute of Architects and many more. The conference attracted over 900 participants from 43 states and 9 countries who came to learn how Smart Growth can improve the quality of life with cleaner air and water, shorter commutes, economic development, lower crime, better public health and more and better jobs.


Other East Bay officials attending the conference included Oakland City Councilwomen Jean Quan, El Cerrito City Councilwoman Janet Abelson and WCCTAC Director Lisa Hammon.


I had the privilege of making a PowerPoint presentation in one of the “pre-conference” sessions on Thursday evening highlighting Richmond’s Smart Growth projects, including the Transit Village (Metro Walk), the Bay Trail, the Main Street Project and brownfield redevelopment projects such as Marina Bay. My fellow presenters on the panel, entitled “Smart Growth for Elected Officials,” included Vice Mayor Connie Stewart of Arcata, CA (Also chair of the Local Government Commission), Councilor Rex Burkholder of Metro (Portland’s MTC), and Council Member Greg Kirkpatrick of Visalia, CA.


The “Smart Growth for Elected Officials” audience was particularly interested in how Richmond is slowly changing its image from a crime-ridden industrial suburb to a waterfront city with a National Park. My presentation highlighted “champions” on the City Council for various projects, such as Irma Anderson’s leadership in Contra Costa Shaping Our Future, Gary Bell’s leadership on the Main Street Project and former Council member Donna Power’s leadership in the establishment of the Rosie the Riveter WW II/Home Front National Historical Park.


During the conference, Richmond was mentioned several times as the recent recipient of a highly competitive EPA grant to assist in Smart Growth planning. See E-FORUM December 30, 2003, Smart Growth Leadership to Assist In Richmond Revitalization.


In this current budget crisis when people sense a crisis and are demanding resolution of reduced public safety staffing, Smart Growth may seem like a low priority. However, both Isiah Turner and Jay Corey tell the City Council that economic development is the only road out of this mess. This means attracting property taxpayers and retailers to Richmond. One of the things that retail expert Robert Gibbs told us is that when retailers looking for locations come to a city and see graffiti, potholes and unkempt public landscaping, they simply move on to the next community. They are looking for cities that care and residents that demand it. If,

indeed, economic development is the way out, our first order of business is to improve the appearance and quality of life in Richmond. The principles of Smart growth provide a roadmap if we are smart enough to read it.