KOH2RVA: Day 187

Habitat2By Lori Knapp, Guest Blogger

What do two retired gentlemen, a construction worker, a housewife, a couple of unemployed people, and an employee of C. F. Sauer have in common? Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

On Wednesday the First Baptist bus came to a stop in front of 3300 T Street, in Richmond’s Churchill district. Seven of us, all church members, stood in the chilly early morning air, awaiting our assignments for a day on the job with Richmond’s Habitat for Humanity.

We came ready to work, not knowing what the day would bring, who we would meet, or whether we would be working outside or in. Our assignment was to paint. Three homes awaited their first coat of paint. Ceilings, and closets, and walls, Oh my! And we weren’t prepared to paint. Most of us donated perfectly good clothes to the cause, as we rolled, cut in, and trim-painted the three homes.

We worked side by side with a young man who is the owner of a previously built Habitat home, just 5 doors down. The people who apply for Habitat houses are required to put in 320 hours of “sweat equity” on their homes, with at least 100 hours on the construction site. This man, Jose, told me that working on the houses gave him a sense of pride, and ownership, and that he prays for his new neighbors-to-be. His family is very careful to keep their home in good, clean condition, especially since they know how much work goes into each one. Sitting and sharing our lunch with him made my heart swell.

On Wednesday seven of us answered the call to get off the bus and onto the mission field, to do our part in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. Talking with Jose helped me see just how much difference our efforts can make, and yet I came away feeling that I received much more than I gave.

Here am I, Lord. Use me.

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Photo: Stacy Hansen, Bob Palmer, Roland Evans, Millie Barnes, Lori Knapp, and David Humrich take a well-deserved break on the Habitat job site.

KOH2RVA: Day 49

Ben Campbell is an Episcopal priest, but when he starts talking about transportation he sounds like a Baptist evangelist.

Ben is the Pastoral Director at Richmond Hill, where I heard him speak on Thursday during a day-long clergy convocation on the challenges facing our city. Even though Thursday is my day off, I thought, “If First Baptist Church is serious about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, then its pastor needs to be at this convocation!” (I sometimes have to give myself little pep-talks like that).

We first heard from Mayor Dwight Jones, who introduced the report of his anti-poverty commission. And then we heard the report itself, which suggested that the very best way to get people out of poverty is to put them to work. And then Ben Campbell began to talk about how we could get poor people to the places where entry-level jobs could be found.

He talked about the need for a “Transportation Revival,” and started with a picture of a streetcar. He said that in 1887 Richmond was famous for being the first city in the world to have a large electric street railway system. Until 1955, metro Richmond’s public transportation system was excellent. But today Richmond ranks in the bottom 10 percent of America’s top 100 cities when it comes to access to jobs by public transportation. What happened? Ben explains it like this:

In 1951 Richmond’s authorities commissioned a plan that drove a commuter road through nearly every black neighborhood in town. Interstate 95 and the Downtown Expressway together destroyed more than 2,000 homes. Other roads mutilated Fulton, Shockoe Bottom, Jackson Ward. Many of the displaced residents moved to the near white suburbs. And the displaced white residents moved across the county lines to new suburbs in the three surrounding counties. The new highways enabled them to come in and out of town, but Richmond’s bus system stopped at the county lines.

But in the 1950s, most of the jobs were inside the city limits. Now 75 percent of the jobs are in the surrounding counties. At that time, most of the retail was downtown; but today it’s in suburban shopping centers. Sixty years ago, few people in the counties needed public transportation. Today there are many who don’t have cars.

Ben introduced a proposal that would put Richmond in the top 10 percent of American cities when it comes to access to jobs by public transportation, and it’s simple: extending the bus lines on Routes 1, 60, 250, and 360 would double the number of jobs accessible to more than 50 percent of the region’s population. And not only that, but the whole region would benefit. I could get to Short Pump on the bus and catch up on my reading along the way. I could take the Airport Express and save money on parking when I travel. My neighbor could take the bus to his job at the new Amazon.com facility in Chesterfield. And the whole project could be financed by adding a half cent to the sales tax.

Why haven’t we done it already? Ben puts it bluntly:

You could say that the absence of public transportation in metro Richmond is a brutal artifact of Virginia’s segregationist government in the middle of the 20th century. And you’d be right. The buses were stopped at the city line to keep the black population in the center city. Segregation by transportation.

But today, since we have renounced segregation and the heritage of racism, that could not be the reason we haven’t done this good thing. Today, when we know that metropolitan Richmond wants to be known for a decent life, economic health and racial justice, that cannot be the reason. Today, when we have a chance to show the world that Virginia is about liberty, not bigotry, that will not be the reason.

It is just possible that we’ll do the right thing; that we’ll all profit from it; and that, for once, we’ll have a right to be truly proud of what we’ve done. We will show ourselves that we can reverse course and surmount this alleged impossibility; that we can act as one people, as we have always known we were meant to be. We will have the power and wherewithal to build an excellent public transportation system — today.

So why not?

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You can read Ben’s article in its entirety by clicking HERE

KOH2RVA: Day 48

Here’s an interesting exercise:

If you have an iPhone, click on the “Maps” application and then click on the little arrowhead down in the bottom left corner that gives you your current location (my current location is represented by the blue dot on the map at right, where I’m sitting in my kitchen having a bowl of yummy oatmeal). Then click on the “search” button next to it and type in the address of your workplace (because, let’s face it: if you have an iPhone chances are good that you also have a job).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting:

Click the “directions” button and then click “route” to get directions from your current location to your workplace. The amazing iPhone technology will map out your route and tell you how long it will take to drive there.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting:

Let’s say you live in Creighton Court, in the East End of Richmond, and that you’ve been able to get a job washing cars at Carmax in the West End. According to your iPhone that job is 16.4 miles away from where you live and it will take you 23 minutes to get there. But then do this: go to the top of the screen and click on the little icon that looks like a bus. This will tell you how long it takes to get to your job by public transportation.

If you can get to the bus stop by 7:40, good for you, but you have to walk 0.3 miles to get there, change buses downtown, and walk 1.6 miles when you get off the Gaskins Express bus to get to your job at Carmax. The trip is now 49 minutes rather than 23, and that’s just the part that’s actually on the bus. How long does it take you to walk 1.9 miles? You need to figure that in and then check the bus schedule to make sure it runs at the time you need to get to work. I did this same exercise a little before noon yesterday and found that the Gaskins Express bus didn’t run for another four hours.

Again, if you have an iPhone, try it; see how long it would take you to get from where you live to where you work by public transportation. I’m guessing that it would take longer, and involve a good bit more walking, than simply getting in your car and driving.

But there’s the problem. A lot of the people who live in Creighton Court (for example) don’t have cars. In fact 60 percent of the households in the city of Richmond have one or less cars. How are those people going to get to work? They’re going to ride the bus. But the bus doesn’t always go to where the jobs are. In fact 128,000 jobs in Metropolitan Richmond lie outside the existing bus routes. What’s the solution?

Extend the bus routes.

I need to say more about this tomorrow because I think I’m about to touch on the real problem and the real problem is not easy to talk about. It has to do with poverty and the way we feel about it and that’s never easy.

Until then I’m going to finish my breakfast, get ready for work, get in my car, and drive the 0.5 miles to First Baptist Church.

My iPhone tells me it will take one minute.