Sunday, May 15, 2011

Community Spaces in the Fan

One of Richmond’s urban treasures is the Fan district, located just west of Virginia Commonwealth University.  Except for a few rental properties, the Fan is remarkably intact and holds its ground against the rapid expansion of the university.  Many of the properties within a block of the campus are beautifully restored 130 year-old private homes. 

What most distinguishes the Fan from other Richmond neighborhoods is the density and character of the row-houses, the happy sprinkling of retail and restaurants, and the public sidewalks.  It is a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood where people know most of their neighbors. 
There are all types of people who live in the district but most seem to share a passion for community.  An example is the Strawberry Street Festival which was held last weekend to benefit Fox Elementary – the public grade school in the middle of the Fan.  It is an annual neighborhood gathering on the school yard which draws about a thousand people during the day. 

Most Richmonders know that the Fan district gets its name from the way the streets “fan” out along Park Avenue.  This shift actually starts at the Cathedral that sits in a triangular plot bounded by Park & Floyd Avenues at Monroe Park.  From this point, new streets seem to spin off at a slight angle as Park Avenue heads northwest.

Small triangular parks are formed each time a new street begins.  Grove Avenue
begins at VCU and the park is now absorbed within the VCU Academic campus.  Other triangular parks start Hanover and Stuart Avenues.  These small parks are public areas and mark important cross-streets within the district. 

The shift then makes an interesting change.  Instead of spinning off another triangular park, a large block was created and the new street (Kensington) starts mid-block.  The size of each building lot remains similar to the rest of the Fan - leaving a large center area of the block for public space.  Unlike the triangle parks that are bounded on all sides by busy roads, “Scuffletown Park” as it is called - is buried in the center of the block.

Evolving over the years, this little place is now a great escape for anyone who knows how to find it.  Short walls and paved surfaces define it from the alley on one end.  It is nicely landscaped and a few of its neighbors have placed gardens facing it.  The best way to find it is to walk into the alley at the end of Kensington Avenue or across the street from the Strawberry Street Café. 

There are a few other blocks within the Fan that pay attention to the alley and make it a special place.  This one is certainly my favorite. 

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