Fredericksburg Riverfront Park Project- Rachael Sturgis

In 2011, The City of Fredericksburg obtained the former Masonic Lodge riverfront property located on 609 Sophia Street (Riverfront Park Project, 2014). The City decided to name this new community plan The Fredericksburg Riverfront Park Project. According to the website, this new riverfront property aims to create “new opportunities for a beautiful outdoor amenity and traction along the banks of the Rappahannock River” (Riverfront Park Project, 2014).

The Fredericksburg website has links to all of the information regarding the Riverfront Park Project. A major strength of the Riverfront Project is that the city assigned a Riverfront Task Force. The Task Force took on the responsibility of coordinating community input along with working with city staff and consultants to produce a realistic Riverfront Park Development Plan (Riverfront Task Force, 2014). The Task Force consisted of various types of people with different positions in the development project. The Task Force included members from City Council, City Staff, Planning Commission, Recreation Commission, Clean and Green Commission, Arts Commission, Economic Development Authority, Friends of the Rappahannock, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Downtown Merchants Marketing Initiative, Neighborhood Associations, and Shiloh Baptist Church (Riverfront Task Force, 2014). By having members from unique city positions provided the Task Force with a variety of voices. The goals of the Riverfront Park Project also showed that Fredericksburg was invested in making this natural space special and useful to the surrounding community. The goals of the project displayed that the City had thought in detail about the best way to execute this plan. Some of the goals included:

  • “Develop a concept level design plan for the Riverfront Park that reflects the aspirations of the city’s citizens and leaders” (Project Background, 2014).
  • “Include broad-based community input in the development of a park program and plan for the riverfront site” (Project Background, 2014).
  • “Create an open space amenity that will serve both the citizens of Fredericksburg and visitors to the City” (Project Background, 2014).
  • “Develop a plan that respects and acknowledges the historic context in which it is located” (Project Background, 2014).
  • “Maximize the opportunities presented to develop a park that respects, and works with, the site’s environmental characteristics while, at the same time, connecting people to the river” (Project Background, 2014).

The City and the Task Force sought to include community input in the development plan of this project. Not only did the project committee seek input from Fredericksburg residents, but residents from Spotsylvania and Stafford County as well. Actively asking for community input was a major strength of this project. It is essential to have residents of the community give their opinions regarding future plans of the city. In this case particularly,  it was important to have feedback from the community because residents would be using the natural space most often. Not only did the Task Force send out surveys, but they also held open houses for community discussions about the project as well.

Despite this project appearing to having many strengths, it is necessary to identify weaknesses to the project plan. Although I previously identified a strength of the project being that the Task Force sought input from community members, a weakness was that there was not a significant amount of feedback given. According to the Community Feedback Document , only 63 people came to the Open House, 284 responded to the online survey, and 13 posted online comments via the project website. This document did not state how many surveys they sent out, however Fredericksburg has a population of 28,000. This reveals that the there is a lack of civic engagement in the Fredericksburg community. The limited amount of community feedback surprised me because the idea of the Riverfront Park was to have a local, natural space for people of the surrounding counties to come together. Without contributing to the input of the development plans of the park, it is difficult for the community to feel that they had “made” this place for themselves and each other.

At a glance, the Riverfront Project looks like an average city plan to develop a fun, safe, and natural environment for residents and visitors to come together. However, there is an opportunity to discuss the dimensions of power that are displayed with the development plans of this project. The first dimension of power is practiced through the Task Force. The Task Force, which is made up of people from multiple committees, speak for the residents of the community in the decision making process. Sadan discusses how:

“the leaders are not an elite with interests of its own, but represent or speak for the entire public [. . .] because people who have identified a problem act within an open system in order to solve it, then the non-participating, or inaction, is not a social problem, but a decision made by those who have decided not to participate” (Sadan, 1997, 41).

It is to my understanding that the Task Force exemplifies this non-elitist group that speaks for the public. What is great about this example is that the Task Force actively sought participation from the community for their input about the project. However, a minimal amount of feedback was given. The Task Force used their overt power to give the option for the community to have “power” themselves. Only those residents who went to the Open House, completed the surveys, and submitted comments via the website demonstrated active political participation. The City of Fredericksburg could have demonstrated their power over this community project in a more oppressive way. Instead of using the first dimension of power to encourage community participation, the City could have used the second dimension of power. If this had happened, the City Council members would have not made a Task Force and not have asked for community opinions. They would have solely made decisions off of what they deemed to be the best options.

During class, I also discovered that this project is an example of pluralism. From our discussion, I understood that pluralism as that the decisions in society are not made by every person, but by involved persons. Furthermore, these involved persons will change according to the issues taking place in that community during that moment. Residents who participated in the surveys or Open Houses and who were on the Task Force clearly had an interest in this project. These people used their resources (experience, social networks, etc.) to potentially influence the outcome of the final project design and concept.

While this project does have some strong points to it, I also have many unanswered questions and details of the project. I would like to know what type of townspeople answered the survey—was it mainly the upper or middle class? Did race play a factor? Also, will the community’s feedback actually be considered in the final installation of the project? These details were not evident on the resources available on the website. From what I have gathered from the Fredericksburg website and from Dr. Martin, is that the Riverfront Project has not been completed. I want to see if the Task Force and the City used the residents’ input. I would like to check out the space on Sophia Street to see what, if any, development has taken place and then write a follow-up post.

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