Based on living costs, the job market, and quality of life (as measured by a US News poll), Richmond, Virginia ranks at number twenty-four among the top one hundred “most populous metro areas” in the country. However, within Richmond, different regions and neighborhoods tell different stories.
The city of Richmond is home to a growing population of young, millennial professionals. While the city’s job market somewhat struggles to support the influx of working citizens, on balance, Richmonders are able to afford the “reasonable housing costs” and “below average transportation costs,” according to Livability.com’s article on The Five Most Affordable Cities in Virginia. Richmond’s deep roots in American history attract millions of tourists each year. In addition, Richmond hosts a number of concerts and events such as Dominion Riverrock and the Richmond Folk and Jazz festivals annually. A growing restaurant and bar scene and riverside parks/attractions further increase the appeal of Richmond for young adults.
While these characteristics speak to the growth and development of Richmond, this same city also has recently acquired the nickname “mini-Chicago” from some of its residents on facebook, according to local CBS affiliate WTVR’s article on the “Spike in violent crime…” This is due to the increasing rates of violent crimes committed per capita. While general “crime rates are decreasing across large cities in the United States… murder rates are on the rise,” according to WTVR’s February 2016 ranking of “Murder Capitals.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s uniform crime report in 2014 placed Richmond City as the sixth-most notorious “murder capital” (among metropolises) in the United States, with an average of 19.43 homicides per 100,000 citizens.
There are several theories that attempt to explain this occurrence, including “the rise of income inequality,” “loose gun control,” and sensitive “police relations in the wake of the Ferguson shooting.” In West End Richmond, these issues may be harder to visualize, but just eleven miles away, as the crow flies, lie Richmond’s infamous housing projects: Creighton, Mosby, Whitcomb, Fairfield, Hillside, and Gilpin Courts. These neighborhoods all lie within an area of several square miles. In Tina Griego’s July 2016 story about public housing in Richmond for Richmond Magazine, CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority T.K. Somanath stated, “This is the highest concentration of public housing [projects] south of Baltimore.” Griego continues to explain that, “As in other cities, the concentration and isolation of low-income African-Americans [contributes] to lower educational attainment and employment rates, as well as higher crime rates.” To better understand the facts and figures that Somanath spoke of, I talked to my father, Michael Herring*, Commonwealth’s Attorney of Richmond. His position means some degree of daily involvement, interaction with, and consideration of these statistics and theories. He identified what he felt was the divide between the “two cities within Richmond.”
“The new city is marked by hope and aspiration. People come to Richmond because they see the side of Richmond that offers new jobs and opportunities. In the other side of the city, there are few examples of upward mobility and general productivity. Bluntly, there is a lack of concrete dreams.”
Herring continued his theory in identifying the products of each “region,” the growing side of Richmond, and the struggling side of Richmond.
“The growing Richmond is home to constructive behavior and the realizing of dreams. Whereas, in rougher neighborhoods, it is harder to gain traction toward any real aspiration. This is a strong word… the overall attitude is one of hopelessness, so the consequences of offending (breaking the law) hold much less meaning to you.”
At first glance, some of these theories are harder to swallow. And again, the issues and consequences may appear less relevant depending on your location; however, the overall state of the country has an effect on everyone.
Nationwide, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program reported a “3.9 percent increase in the number of violent crimes committed” over 2015, the most recent data officially available. This statistic suggests Richmond is not alone in its struggle to combat violent crime. There is still hope for Richmond, as the city’s climbing violent crime rates have not yet approached far worse, even epidemic, levels of cities such as Baltimore, New Orleans, and St. Louis.
*AUTHOR’S NOTE: The words of Michael Herring used in this article represent his personal views, opinions, and theories. They serve in no way as a representation of the views of Richmond’s or Virginia’s government.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.