From Civil War-era campsites to VCU block parties, Monroe Park has seen it all. Originally established in 1851, the park, according to the Richmond government official website, is Richmond’s oldest; it’s also the heart of the VCU’s core campus.
Out of concern for safety, as well as other reasons, the city is planning to lease Monroe Park to the Monroe Park Conservancy, a nonprofit group, in an effort to implement a $6 million revitalization, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The goal of the renovation, as stated by conservancy president Alice Massie, is to create a safer, better-maintained park that is welcoming to everyone.
When I was a freshman living in the dorms, I would always feel uncomfortable walking past Monroe Park at night. Something about the lack of lighting and random strangers asking for money just didn’t sit well with me. I made it a habit to avoid the park because it didn’t feel like a safe place to be.
With these new renovations, Monroe Park will have the potential of becoming a more comfortable place for students. It could even become the new “commons” area or a place where students can hang out in between classes.
The park has been used by generations of VCU students for various activities, including festivals, new student orientations, feeding the homeless and other leisurely activities. Daily activities such as walking back to the residence halls from class at night or taking a stroll to the gym after hours requires some to pass through Monroe Park and can put them at higher risk of being harassed.
One of the groups this renovation will inevitably affect is Monroe Park’s homeless population.
Every weekend, homeless people gather in the park to be fed by the many charitable churches and feeding programs around the city. With this new nonprofit group taking over, who knows what will be allowed in the park. According to an interview with Mo Karn, an activist for a group that has been serving meals to homeless people in Monroe Park for nearly two decades, there have been concerns about whether there will be rules implemented for feeding the homeless.
However, homeless people aren’t the only ones who are using the park.
In addition to the weekly food handouts, there are still many other events that go on in the park throughout the year. For example, VCU holds new student orientations at Monroe Park at the beginning of each year. Monroe Park is also the location for the annual Intercultural Festival held in April.
With the new renovations, events could be more enjoyable for the people of Richmond. We must, however, be aware of how the renovations may affect other groups that use the park as a gathering space. Renovating the park would improve the appearance and make the space feel more welcoming to the students at VCU.
The expected improvements in the park could attract more visitors and potential students at VCU who come and tour the school during the fall and spring. After all, we are located on the Monroe Park campus.