Put the Pedal to the Metal

Once designer Peter Fraser and I were formally invited to work with Richmond's Greater Fulton community in the design of a grassroots vision for one of the city's more diverse, and often invisible, neighborhoods, we knew we'd need to spend some time exploring. The arrival of a late summer break in the weather combined with Peter's passion for cycling made the notion of biking through the hillside community a no brainer.

One of us – the one who doesn't exercise enough (read: at all) – forgot about the hills.

That aside, what a great way to explore and see the neighborhood up close. Peter and I were joined by Floricane's project coordinator Beth Coakley, and by our partners from the Fulton Neighborhood Resource Center, Annette Cousins and Jason Sawyer. We meandered through two of Greater Fulton's three neighborhoods – Fulton Hill and Fulton Bottom – which meant one nice downhill coast and a long haul up the gently sloping Government Road.

What we saw was a close up version of what we'd intellectually known.

Fulton is geographically isolated. It may well be one of the most architecturally diverse communities in Richmond. It has relatively large, intact green spaces – largely the result of the topography. It has a strong, stree-level sense of community and has several places – the Neighborhood Resource Center and the Powhatan Community Center, for instance – that pull large swaths of the community together.

But it's also a community that could benefit from a stronger commercial district that emphasizes the unique character of the community, that connects more naturally to its neighbors – Rockett's Landing and Church Hill and Henrico County, for starters – and that protects the sense of identity that is visible from almost every street corner.

Quite the balancing act.

We'll spend the next three weeks gathering data, meeting residents and getting deeper bearings. In October, we begin the public visioning process. That's when we really start pedaling.