Richmond is my adopted home, and, like the shelter mutt that I am, I am eternally grateful for it. Hailing from a burg with one flashing light full of literally every person I’d ever known, Richmond seems a bustling metropolis. Seventeen years in, I remain giddy about the abundance of McDonalds here. Little shops with food and yarn and gauzy tops and games. At least four Mexican restaurants in which the chips and salsa are free! Theatre companies and huge park events! There’s a symphony for God’s sake! There’s probably the same amount of meth as Putnam County but with more to do! And it’s cheap AF to live here.
I’ve lived in two much bigger cities. Between the choice of very big and very small, I’d choose Richmond.
See? There’s the overexcited shelter puppy coming out. Loud, jumping up and down, just so happy to be here. If you threw a stick I’d run for it. But that’s what this community brings out in me.
Dave Snow gets my Richmond enthusiasm, and joined me at Roscoe’s Coffee Bar and Tap Room on a mild Saturday to reminisce and discuss the good and the bad about the town we call home. Dave is currently running for a second term as Richmond’s Mayor.
Dave Snow, 21st Century Mayor
Elected at age 39, Dave Snow is one of the younger mayors of our recent history (Byron Klute, ′68-′75, was 36 years old when elected). A native son and marathon runner, Dave can probably run a faster mile than me. We used to hear him on our local radio station, G101.3. When I make fun of his former disc jockey status, he laughs and shrugs it off. “Everybody has to start somewhere. I don’t know what the perfect background or that perfect resume is for city government. I was under the impression we were founded as a democracy where people from the community step up to lead the community. Wasn’t that kind of the point?”
Dave maintains that his radio past is what made him so passionate about our community, and, man, does our mayor know a lot about our town. He is able to rattle off Richmond history (rose gardens and artist colonies, inventors and jazz, progressive woman pioneers and technological innovation) and facts (crime and employment rates, grant monies and demographics) in a pleasing way. But Dave doesn’t only say pleasant things. He prefers to say it like it is. “Mayors don’t like to say unpopular things,” Dave says, “they like to sugarcoat to appease voters. I’m a little different and sometimes I say things that are a little abrasive.”
I wouldn’t say Snow was inexperienced when he first ran for Mayor of Richmond in 2015. Before running for mayor he organized CityFit and the FireWorks 5K, which is a hell of a lot more than I’ve ever done as a citizen. The Indiana Conference of Mayors didn’t seem to mind Dave’s employment history when they elected him Vice-president and then President during his first term as mayor.
The President of the Indiana Conference of Mayors has some big plans for this town.
Richmond Rising is the alliterative tagline of a bureaucratic ten year city development plan. These kinds of things never develop in a vacuum; there are focus groups and meetings. When these focus groups were asked to describe Richmond, home was the most used word. The second was authentic. Rounding out the top five were progressing, moving, on our way up.
The word home was the front-runner, “by a long shot.” First: the wholesomeness of that answer fills me with pride. Y’all cute, Richmond. Second: we’re proud of our homes aren’t we? I’ve never received a house tour from a friend like:
This is my home, it sucks. There’s nothing to do and everything is dying. My home will never be the same and I’m sick of seeing all the junkies in my dining room. You should probably go to someone else’s home.
So why do we talk so disparagingly of Richmond, our community, our home? Snow hopes that Richmond Rising is more than a catchphrase. He hopes it becomes a rallying cry. One that will counteract negativity and encapsulate the upswing of our community. Really, we have a lot to be proud of. We are facing common difficulties with unique advantages.
The Economy Is on the Upswing
2017 and 2018 saw $27 million invested in Richmond’s new, expansion, and retention projects. Over 300 jobs have been created. International companies are choosing to locate here; Dave Snow and the EDC of Wayne County are seeking them out. Two Japanese companies (TBK America and Suncall) expanded here after their visits. Holland Colour, a Dutch company, has operations in our community. Omen, an Israeli die casting company, recently began construction on a new addition to its Richmond factory.
When I asked, “Why do these international companies recognize the rising of Richmond while we’ve got our population bitching in chat rooms?” Dave’s laugh rang out through the coffee shop, “Such a great question.” Serious again, he responded, “Richmond has tremendous proximity to air, rail, and highway travel. We have a very strong workforce. We are a place built upon manufacturing and people who work. Richmond has a very low cost of living, a low cost of doing business. There are a million reasons why they love being here.”
“Our economy is on the upswing.” Snow states, “It’s important that people understand that. And that we continue to support that. Now we’re in a phase of planning for our future growth. We’re looking at expansion in Midwest Industrial Park; we’re going to buy land and upgrade the road to handle the traffic.”
Just Trippin’ Over Degrees
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of high school graduates enroll in college. Richmond is home to have five institutions of higher learning. Five! That’s incredible. People here have backyard freaking access to obtain a variety of different degrees and certifications at a range of costs. And Richmond’s colleges and universities attract young people from around our region and even nationally and internationally.
Not only students benefit from our schools. These halls of knowledge provide Richmond with jobs and tons of free, fun activities. I take our kids to the Joseph Moore Museum at Earlham College all the time. If they were a little older I would’ve taken them to the B.o.B. concert at IU East earlier in April. The point is, these educational resources are real boons to Richmond and we all benefit from having them located on our turf.
Hold on to your hats, folks, it’s time to talk about the bike path. While it’s been a controversial topic and seems a little wide, I’m putting our new roads in the positive part of this article.
Richmond was hit hard in the first decades of the 21st century. Major employers laid off workers or closed all together, the population of the city decreased, losing over 9% or 3,600 people between 2000 and 2017. These changes shrank the tax base and for too long it was steady the course. So, in 2016, when Dave Snow took office, the first new mayor Richmond had since 2004, the city infrastructure was in poor shape. But there was a glimmer of hope as the State was in the process of upgrading major corridors in the city into a Complete Streets system. Main Street, Chester Blvd, North and South A, all are managed by the state and on the state’s time table.
Complete Streets systems appeal to the young. I hate to admit this as much as anyone, but we need them. We need their taxes and employment, their families and investments in our school system. When I asked Dave about the role of a city makeover in retaining and attracting young citizens and families, he said, “They are young, bright minds, and they are not going to tolerate closed minds and closed doors. We can’t stagnate our way to progress. We want to keep these young, bright minds, but oh no, we can’t have a bike trail! That’s too scary! We have to be willing to grow, we have to be willing to change, we have to be willing to go through those uncomfortable growth spurts in order to capture [young people] to stay here.”
If I See One More Orange Cone…
Dave knows we’re sick of the construction. He is too. “We’re suffering construction fatigue!” he says vehemently.
“It’s a thing!” I cry back.
“Of course it is! Of course we are! Why wouldn’t we be?” Dave continues.
It seems like projects are started before others are finished and everything is taking longer than we’d like. I’m not sure how much the city administration is in charge of that, but I’m as eager to find someone to blame as anyone else. Cause it’s all just terrible. Dave urges some perspective, “We have to take a step back. I know, as a native, we get very comfortable in our routines and what home looks like. We have to step back and think for a minute: we will never stagnate our way to progress. It won’t work. We can’t push pause on everything and turn Richmond into a giant, living museum of a city and hope that everybody wants to come and relish in our stagnation.” I stare at him a bit balefully. Maybe this is what he meant by saying unpopular things.
But I get it. What else are we going to do? Put up with crumbling infrastructure until it is absolutely unbearable? Tell the State “Thanks, but no thanks. We actually do not want to accept your grant money, please send the money to another town so they may have complete streets.” This process is like losing weight, or having a baby: the middle part is awful, but you can’t lose sight of the end rewards. When all is said and done we’ll love the results so much we’ll barely remember hardship of the process.
Joy-Ann’s Was the Last Straw
Businesses in our downtown are dying. Several stores have closed, in an alarmingly quick succession; construction and lack of parking taking the bulk of the blame. Joy-Ann’s finally buckled in April. The death of the American downtown is a common, multiple article worth problem. The times, they are a-changing. I think these aren’t just the closures of shops, but the shuttering of a way of life, a way to consume. And that’s scary.
Dave proposed bringing more move-in ready housing in these areas as another way to revitalize, “We need more turnkey, affordable homes in the center of our city, that you can just move into,” and “invigorate the business environment in that area, too. If I’m going to live right here, where’s my little bodega where I can get fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, the things I want to eat? Those place I want to shop at, I want to do it here, in the middle of the city. I appreciate that we’ve seen such growth on the far east side, but I don’t want to be just a stop off the highway. I want there to be vitality in the heart of the city.”
In the end, maybe Richmond can’t beat the trend, but would it be better to not try? There are success stories of transformative downtowns and urban centers. We will know in time. Not doing anything or turning historic buildings into parking lots is not the kind of transformation I want.
Mental Health and Addiction
There is a mental health crisis in this country playing out before our eyes. There was a school shooting attempt at Dennis Middle School in December. A large number of our citizens are addicted to drugs. In 2017, 221 expectant mothers (29.7% of the women seen) tested positive for drugs at Reid Hospital. Among that number, 101 tested positive for opioids.
Dave Snow has been up many a night about Richmond’s opioid crisis.
When we talk about the oipioid epidemic, we break it down into the most basic issues: supply and demand. You have a supply side of drugs: dealers, supplying drugs to the community. But on the demand side, you have the people suffering from the disease of addiction, and have the demand for the drugs. City government is not well suited to deal with the demand side of that issue. Police officers do not provide addiction recovery services. We are well suited to deal with the supply side: close drug houses, stop the flow of drugs. It’s the responsibility of the community to respond to the demand side.
“And you are trying to increase the feelings of community with Richmond Rising?” I interject.
“Right!” Snow agrees. “Well, and, so I sat down and put a lot of pressure on myself, ‘how can I effect that demand?’ I have budgeted to increase our police department. We’ve added more officers, we’ve got a juvenile division. I appointed Chief Jim Branum because he used to lead the Wayne County Drug Task Force. Let’s look at some of the numbers. In 2018 we closed twice the drug houses that we closed in ’17. We took twice the heroin and cocaine off the streets, three times the meth. We are making an impact on that supply side. Let’s look at the demand side. We often forget to ask ourselves: why are our friends and neighbors turning to drugs? What can we do to prevent that? We have to continue to support the resources at hand, in addiction recovery, and we have to be stronger neighborhoods, and stronger community.”
“There’s Strength in Neighborhoods”
Snow’s answer to the demand side of our drug problems is strengthening our neighborhoods through the Neighborhood Mini Grant Program. Individuals can apply for grants to organize block associations. “You can have block parties, have the police come teach you about Neighborhood Crime Watch Associations, put together that old welcome wagon. You can apply for a $500 mini grant out of my office to conduct your meetings. I had to put my money where my mouth is and organize my neighborhood. My neighborhood wasn’t organized!”
“Some nice personal responsibility, small government stuff there,” I interrupt, again.
“Yes!” Dave enthuses. “I challenge people to go out there, see if your neighborhoods are established, if not, work to get it established. If it is, go to the meetings, get involved in your neighborhood. We can make a huge impact when we take Richmond back a neighborhood at a time.”
A Bunch of Debbie Downers
It’s easy to view influencing positive communal esteem as useless and initiatives such as Richmond Rising as PR fluff. But how and what we think about influence our perceptions. Our perceptions color our lives. Every self-help guru who talks about gratitude and positive self-talk and charity is right (not about everything but about that). I don’t wanna sound like some Eat, Pray, Love douche but we can’t expect to achieve positive results for our community while simultaneously talking smack about it. It’s hard to feel pride while talking smack. Without pride in where we live, it’s easy to let small things slide: litter in alleys, unkempt rentals, overgrown grass. But these small issues have a compounding effect, a habit of growing into bigger issues: dilapidated buildings, illegal dumping. And ultimately, a decrease in the economic vitality.
Look at this way: when a person is depressed, they often gain/lose weight, struggle with chores/obligations, work performance may suffer. Towns, too, can suffer a form of depression when the citizens have a low self-perception of their community. The occasional litter turns into streets and alleyways strewn with trash, routine maintenance on public and private properties goes undone and new enterprises are shunned. This stuff isn’t fluff, it’s positive self-talk, meant to lessen the malaise suffusing our community.
Of course, concrete solutions to blight, aka physical/geographical depression, have been implemented. Through the blight elimination program, the city has removed over 200 afflicted properties. The new code enforcement office will have more leverage to crack down on eyesores. Snow hopes to create a vacant property registry through this department as well.
A Smear Campaign as Useless as It Is Dumb
We've established that we need more bodies here, yes? To get people to come/stay, we need to advertise. Let's not run negative ads. That's essentially what complaining online is. As Snow put it, "There are people constantly on social media saying things like, 'This town, we've gotta have more jobs, we gotta have an increased population, but boy, this town is terrible!' Just think about the insanity that that is. The insanity of using a negative marketing campaign to try and turn the city around. To go out every day and say what a terrible city this is, and to showcase problems that plague every city."
Negative marketing does not encourage job or population increase. In fact, people and businesses researching Richmond can run across these diatribes and be discouraged from coming here. That stuff shows up when one googles Richmond. "Oh sure it does!" Dave exclaims, "because the algorithms are there. Because they're there every day."
Flipping the Script
I've seen y'all sharing memes like:
Yes, Karen, this is a great idea. Let's do it with Richmond too. Can we change "Richmond sucks" to "Richmond needs my help?" If we want Richmond to change we have to believe that it can.
Dave said, "Help me believe in Richmond, make [Richmond Rising] take fire. People always say a crowd draws a crowd. So if you want to have a successful festival, you get a little small crowd there. People will drive by and go 'What are those people doing? I wanna go, let's see what that is.' The same will work with us increasing our population and getting more people to live here. Our passion, our positivity, will bring more. People don't want to come here to try and save us. They want to come join us. And if we don't believe in [Richmond], they have no reason to believe in it."
"It's like showing up to a lame party," I intone.
Look, it's human nature to find the negative, and it's common to have complaints against where one grew up. I bellyache about my hometown too; I just don't live there anymore. If you choose to stay in your hometown, then you should find the positives. There's a difference between venting and viciousness and we know it. The least we can do is not join with viciousness. When I encounter it, online or elsewhere, I won't join in the bitchfest, but stand-up for my little town. Because it matters. "Get back in there and fight for the city," Dave urges. "Believe in it."
Dave's talk of the usefulness of neighborhood associations filled me with shame. We enjoyed our neighborhood association BBQ last summer. I went to a meeting or two after that. Maybe I signed up for the Christmas cookie exchange, but I definitely didn't follow through. Sigh. That's not cool. Attending a meeting a month is not that hard to do. I think extending myself, going to these kinds of meetings and events, literally carving out the time, can be uncomfortable. Maybe I need to get a little uncomfortable to affect the change I want to see in Richmond.
I'm just gonna leave this here: At the beginning of every month, I comb through WayNet.org, Discover the RICHmond Life Facebook Page and city's Parks and Recreation Page to find community activities to write on my calendar. I try to go to as many free ones that I can. Look, I understand that life happens; that there are work schedules, sickness, etc. I get it. It's just...at most of the events we get to, I mostly see the same people. Why are there so many complaining online about nothing worthwhile to do here and so much fewer at these events? I'm just saying that the discrepancy between complainers and attendees furrows my brows. Methinks that if we got a Dave and Busters—which would be great—our perennial whiners would go a couple of times, lose interest, and resume their gnashing of teeth.
Richmond will never get better without individual action. I need to take more initiative and I bet you could too. The next neighborhood association meeting needs us present. Once there, let's ask how we can help. Our community and churches need us volunteering. Our local social media pages need us positive.
Wanting to make sure I got Snow's views down correctly, I offered this article for verification. Dave declined, telling me, "you're the artist, I'm sure you got it." I sat a little straighter in my chair; being the artist and all. And I think that's all Dave Snow wants: for us all to sit up a little straighter, collectively, as a community.
Before I got up from that table I asked Dave to give me his best short campaign commercial. In his best DJ voice. Snow, being the phenomenal good sport he is, grinned and complied: "Thank you, Richmond, for all the support you've given me. And how you've challenged me. You've propped me up and pushed me, on a job like this; and challenged me to work harder every day. We knew when I came in that we had mountains to climb. It's been tiring, but we've done it. Look what we've accomplished. And we've come this far. We have to keep going. Don't be afraid to keep going. Let's keep pushing forward."
Early voting has already started. Election day for the Democratic Primary for Mayor between Dave Snow and Jack Cruse is May 7th. The winner will face Republican candidate Jamie Lopeman in November.
What's your favorite thing about Richmond? Tell me in the comments. Share this article, encourage some positive civic engagement.