Why renovate Monroe Park?

John Richardson


In Richmond it is impossible to please everyone. Take for instance the $6.2 million project Richmond has proposed for the renovation of Monroe Park – including raising pathways, replacing concrete with crushed stone, adding benches, lights, trees, plants, lawn games and possibly a carousel, a café and a stage – seems like a positive legislative push, right? Well, not exactly. It caused some Richmond residents to complain that renovations will force the park’s homeless population to re-locate elsewhere.

The argument has arisen as to whether or not this is an act of gentrification, purposed to pull the park out from under the feet of the homeless. If renovation is gentrification, which it isn’t, better that than deterioration, which has inevitably befallen Monroe Park and will continue to do so if nothing is done.

Monroe Park is a public park, not owned by VCU or by any private entity, but by the City of Richmond’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Community Facilities, and overseen by the Monroe Park Advisory Council. Council members have emphasized that the renovation is “for anybody and everybody” and that the goal is to “raise the quality of life to a higher standard.” They approximate that it will take a year and a half to accomplish their goals.

In contention with these goals Food Not Bombs, an organization that works closely with the Wingnut Anarchist Collective, serves meals in Monroe Park every Sunday, demanded that at least 25 percent of the park be available at all times to conduct their services. In response, Charles R. Samuels, city councilman of the park’s district, encouraged them and other outreach programs to redirect to Richmond’s Conrad Center. But due to foreseeable psychological effects (the Conrad Center is neighbor to two jails and a court house) the Wingnuts refuse to accept this alternative, and claim that Samuels blatantly lied in his account of the park’s poor conditions in order to gain favor for the renovation. Samuels had previously claimed that “trash and garbage are being left behind, clothing dumped on the street both loose and in bags, and buses dropping off homeless people … Monroe Park has no working bathrooms, no drinking water and no shelter.”

The Wingnuts call Samuels’ statement a lie because the park’s toilets actually do flush; the rest remains true.   Anyway, these upgrades will benefit the homeless more than anyone else, since not many college students are going to Monroe Park to use bathrooms or drinking fountains.

But the Wingnuts again argue that by renovating the park the city is promoting ‘homeless-only’ spaces that isolate people and break down communications between the homeless and the Richmond community, creating racism and classicism.   I agree.  A ‘homeless-only space’ would be discrimination.  We must remember that they are members of society as well.  But I argue that the park is slowly becoming a ‘homeless-only space’, therefore an upgrade to the facilities will turn that tide and hopefully bring the Richmond community together.

Historians say Monroe Park used to be the heart of Richmond. It was used as the State Agricultural Fair Grounds in the 19th century, then during the Civil War when it was a military camp and hospital. It was also the field for Richmond’s first baseball team, and during early 20th century it was the popular gathering place for Richmond workers during lunch breaks. James Cabell Branch once wrote that the Monroe Park was “filled with nurses and their well-attired wards who were joined later in the day by older promenaders; often band music could be heard on summer evenings.”

It be nice to hear music in Monroe Park once again, but in order to get there we must listen to jack-hammers and bulldozers first. Try not to complain, because the ends will justify the means – and create a place we can be pleased about.

**Correction: The print and previous online versions of this article erroneously said the Wingnut Anarchist Collective runs a feeding program in Monroe Park. Instead that is Food Not Bombs, an affiliated yet separate group.


  1. It is true that Monroe Park is currently public, however there are plans to privatize it. This, in combination with the renovation, is certainly worth some consideration and scrutiny! You completely trivialize the efforts of the Wingnuts and many unaffiliated others (like myself) by failing to mention this.

    I agree that it would be nice to see a wide and harmonious array of park-goers, from all walks of life. I just worry that my dream may not be the objective or the result of these renovations.

  2. I think they are misguided, and elitist… some of them might be dumb, but then again there are always a few dull apples in the sack.

  3. I am not affiliated with the Wingnut,however I feel this column and the comments on it are inaccurate and insulting. First of all The Wingnut does not distribute food in the park,Food Not Bombs do,they simply use The Wingnut’s facilities to prepare the food.These are two separate organizations.Also,The Wingnut,FNB,and other activists only want a portion of the park to stay open during renovations so they can continue their services to the homeless.
    Addressing the commenter “Dean”:The Wingnut set up Copwatch to address the issue of police brutality and harassment.If the police did not engage in these behaviors there would be no need for organizations like Copwatch.”Who watches the watchmen?”
    As The Wingnut is a sober/straight edge space I doubt their goal is to help local drug dealers.The Wingnut also works with the Mobile Food Pantry to distribute food to needy residents and provides free breakfast to local children.
    as for your personal attack on Mo Karn as a “child of privilege”and a “spoiled white girl”,I have only met Mo briefly,and as a laid off blue collar worker with a GED from an impoverished background ,I can only say if we had more “spoiled white girls” like Mo the world would be a better place.

  4. Thank you Dean. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m really tried of that group “Wingnut”, terrorizing the neighborhood. I didn’t know about them scanning the police channels to warn the drug dealers. You should of seen what they have done to that house over on Barton Ave.

    Hoping they move on soon.

  5. When I came to VCU 5 years ago I was told that Monroe Park was a protected historical location and as such would not be renovated even to add new lights VCU wanted for safety reasons. I am wondering what prompted the change and how this got through all the channels. Also wondering where the city is coming up with the money to do this considering the other sidewalks and streets that desperately need repair.
    The homeless people in the park are harmless but were almost the reason why I didn’t come to VCU because I didn’t know that then. On the other hand I think they would be much better served in a shelter where they have basic amenities such as running water and flushing toilets much less heat in the winter. Maybe instead of petitioning against the renovations in the park the Wingnuts would find it better to put their time into petitioning for a shelter for the homeless in Richmond with part of the funds being designated for the park renovations.

  6. Hey anon,as a former homeless person I can tell you that shelters are as bad as prison for the most part.I felt safer in squats and parks.One of the first things you learn on the streets is to avoid shelters unless you enjoy being a victim.

  7. The homeless are not harmless… They trash the park every single day, which is why if you look very early in the morning, VCU has to have their maintenance personnel come in pickup trucks and collect all of the garbage, empty malt liquor bottles, and various other flotsam and jetsam associated with the homeless population.

    There is also a thriving drug trade in the park; not all that long ago, VCU Police came to the park in force, and arrested something like a half dozen people on many warrants for drug distribution in the park. I personally have been offered weed and crack cocaine while walking in the park.

    Take it over, VCU! Push them out and give your students a beautiful, clean, and safe outdoor space!

  8. “as for your personal attack on Mo Karn as a “child of privilege”and a “spoiled white girl”,I have only met Mo briefly,and as a laid off blue collar worker with a GED from an impoverished background ,I can only say if we had more “spoiled white girls” like Mo the world would be a better place.”

    Mo is not a blue collar worker: she is a babysitter and a blogger. She may have a GED (I haven’t asked her, but I DO KNOW HER), but she has a college degree…in Anarchy. As for her “impoverished background,” I doubt that, as her mother bought the Wingnut for little ole Mo and Mo is “paying her back.”
    Check your facts before you spew em, please.

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