The tourism value of the Walmart City Lands

legacy view of North Shore mountains from Garden City Lands

The tourism value of our central park, the Garden City Lands, is immense. And it can help, not hinder, the park’s basic values for agriculture, conservation and recreation.

The park should soon be a prime tourist destination, a hub for Richmond tourism. However, the City of Richmond may squelch that value.

The big threat is the Walmart mall proposal that City staff brought to council. It does more than wipe out natural areas that were protected. It also devastates the viewscapes from the Garden City Lands and nearby parts of the City Centre.

The effect on the tourism value of our central park is stark. The loss of must-see natural viewscapes would shatter the Garden City Lands’ most striking appeal.

A reminder: While other cities have large central parks, they rarely have natural views like ours, almost unbroken from the inland park as far as the eye can see. With a little restoration, our natural viewscapes may be unique—once in a world.

Looking north across Alderbridge Way, even when the mountains are shrouded, the view of urban forest is pleasant. To gaze at stores in place of woods along that lengthy block would be unpleasant, and the Walmart sign would be repulsive.

Tourists won’t come for that, and we need a better way of thinking. There is one in the story of High Line, the last remnant of an old freight line. Its trains ran on a viaduct almost thirty feet above southwest Manhattan.

The High Line in Manhattan, New York City at West 20th Street, looking downtown (south)

The City of New York saw High Line as an impediment to progress, as happened with the Garden City Lands. Like the sphagnum peat of the lands, which was to be torn up, the line was to be torn down.

Then citizens looked at the hardy weeds that had found a home on the sturdy old structure above the concrete city and saw a living green place to conserve and enjoy.

Community action kicked in. High Line became a park. I went there last August.

High Line is a mile long. I strolled from end to end and back and was pleased it had kept its character. I empathized too. Like the Garden City Lands it had been disparaged until people paused to think.

The pioneer weeds seem at ease with their cultivated kin in their High Line home. Life has changed, though: they’re botanical stars now.

The High Line is close to forty feet wide, on average, but the walkways are far narrower. In spite of crowding on the summer day, the mood was happy.

Last year, High Line had 3.7 million visitors. Half were tourists, and half of us tourists were from other countries. Close to a million foreign tourists!

Some New Yorkers think there’s even too much High Line tourism. No doubt, similar concern will come up here, but the needed all-weather trails in our central park could handle High Line numbers, which are not looming.

Like our Garden City Lands, the Manhattan park was basically for local people, and the tourism value grew because each aspect is done well. For instance, High Line itself became a work of art, and it makes the most of the views from it.

In the decade-old project plan, I found a secret to success. The Friends of the High Line believed the possibilities were boundless, and politicians at all levels bought in. Friends of Garden City typically feel that way about the Garden City Lands too, and we hope our politicians at least see the possibilities worth saving now.

If not, our natural jewel will become, in effect, the Walmart City Lands. The immense tourism value of that central park will be largely lost, with much more, and we’ll have nothing worth seeing to show for it.


Also published in the Richmond Review of February 13, 2013.


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