Monroe Park’s ‘makeover’ cost it its beauty and therapeutic charm

Illustration by Claire Deely

Bryce Randall, Contributing Writer

Spring is right around the corner. Soon, the leaves will be back on the trees and we’ll all be suffocating in a thick haze of pollen. But not even the warm weather can motivate me to go to Monroe Park.  

Recently, I stumbled upon a picture of an incredibly green park filled with trees and plants to the point where — from an aerial view — the spectator couldn’t even see some of the park’s pathways. 

Upon further inspection, I saw a few buildings I recognized: The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, The Altria Theater and Johnson Hall. Then, it hit me: The picture I was looking at was outdated, and the flourishing unfamiliar landscape was none other than Monroe Park. 

As a result of its renovation that concluded in September 2018, the park’s aesthetic changed completely. What once appeared to be a woodland escape has been turned into another ordinary metropolitan park. Although there is nothing severely wrong with the change, it is clear that Monroe Park lost some of its natural grandeur and uniqueness.

In addition to stripping Monroe Park of some of its natural beauty, the renovation also may have damaged the mental wellness of VCU students. 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.”

It’s not clear why outdoor activities have such a positive effect on one’s mental health. In a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. The results concluded that the people who walked in nature generally had lower activity in their prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

As college students, we are no strangers to stress. Many of us find ourselves constantly entangled in a web of homework, exam study sessions and group projects. Moreover, a significant number of college students have part-time jobs or internships, or are in the process of competing with a dozen of their peers for one of those positions. I think it’s safe to conclude that if anyone needs a break and a natural setting to reduce their stress, it’s college students. 

Although there are other parks in Richmond with more greenery, none of them are as close to campus as Monroe Park. Both Bryan Park and Brown’s Island, two other pleasant parks, are a long walk away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for exercise, but up to an hour of walking is a bit excessive to obtain a temporary escape that just as easily could have been right on campus. 

It would have been nice to look out of my dorm room window and see a small forest across the street from me where I could take a quick break from the city. With Monroe Park’s current landscape — given how scarce the greenery is —  there is little to no opportunity to lose yourself in the beauty of nature.

By removing so many trees, Monroe Park has become just another part of the city. It no longer offers the potential relief from the hustle and bustle of a college student’s hectic life. Monroe Park has lost a part of its charm that most current VCU students never had the pleasure of knowing. 

3 Comments

  1. The VCU Administration has been trying to destroy those trees for decades. The VCU Student Government Association has a representative on the Monroe Park “conservancy”, the group that destroyed the park. If you want to share your opinion on the destruction of so many healthy, mature trees, email the president of the “conservancy” .
    alicemassie@gmail.com
    Tell her you want the park renovated correctly, with nice trees, public restroom facilities and pathways that don’t erode into dangerous ruts.

  2. This is the not the park, as far as who uses it and who owns it. So many trees are gone and now they even put wood chips under them to keep people away even more.

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