Discover more from FXBG Advance
Monday May 15, 2023
IN THIS ISSUE: Growing Pains | 27th Senate District Debate
COMMENTARY: Growing Pains Have No Easy Solutions, Because the Answers Lie in the Future
by Martin Davis
By any measure, the 22401 over the past 20 years has become a Virginia success story. It’s consistently been at the heart of one of the commonwealth’s fastest-growing regions. The population is projected to swell from its 2021 number of just over 28,300 to more than 38,000 in 2040.
Changes in rail service and the extension of the Interstate 95 express lanes to Fredericksburg improve the odds that for the foreseeable future, Fredericksburg is going to continue growing rapidly, barring an economic downturn.
All this success is coming at a price, however. Real estate prices in Fredericksburg have skyrocketed, as have prices in the surrounding counties, putting housing out of reach for many. Another big change is in the age of the population. It’s getting younger. (See the following graph.)
Source: USA Facts
The racial make-up of the city is also changing. While whites remain the majority, their advantage is shrinking. The Black community is growing, and other minority groups - predominantly Latinx - are also surging.
Source: USA Facts
Whether Fredericksburg becomes a victim of its success, or a shining jewel of historic preservation and planned growth is what the city’s stakeholders - its government leaders, property owners, newcomers and long-time residents, and more - are trying to figure out.
And recent battles reveal how difficult this is going to be.
There is no denying that Fredericksburg sits at the nexus of the nation’s founding. George Washington was born across the river in Stafford and frequented Fredericksburg. His mother lived, and died, here. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette all walked its streets.
The city was also the site of the bloody battle of Fredericksburg, and was in the neighborhood of many other major conflicts, including Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Some 10,000 slaves moved through the city on the way to freedom. Abraham Lincoln spoke on the steps of the Farmer’s Bank. And the Freedom Riders came through town on the way to their meeting with terror further South.
With so much of America’s past in plain view, the desire to save as much of the city as possible is both admirable and understandable.
How much to save, however, and how to save these places while balancing the pressures that growth is placing on the city is a significant challenge.
What makes these decisions even more complicated is that the buildings of Fredericksburg, while important locally, are not necessarily buildings of great national import. This doesn’t diminish their value. It does mean, however, that time and neglect have taken their toll.
What we save, and how we use it, matters.
While the steps Lincoln stood on at the Farmer’s Bank have historical value, the decision to preserve the steps at the museum and convert the bank into a place of business that is a hub of activity looks to be a smart decision.
Could that be a model for preserving Renwick Courthouse?
Two current struggles reveal how the growing population base is creating tensions in our local communities.
The move to allow property owners to put Alternative Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their property was preceded by a growing wave of concern from homeowners downtown that ADUs would take away from the character of single-family home communities. Hence the proliferation of “Save our Single-Family Homes” in the city.
But more livable space is needed. ADUs won’t solve the problem, but they do have a place in the debate. Further, ADUs may prove to be the saving grace for Fredericksburg’s neighborhoods.
In the Bay Area, innumerable local communities were forever destroyed as property values soared, and developers bought the land, leveled it, and build McMansions where middle-class family homes once stood.
If ADUs can help relieve the need for housing, they may well be the key to saving the middle-class homes.
And then there is the current debate among the residents of College Heights and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Over the past 20 years, the church has enjoyed significant growth - growth fueled by the rise in population the city has enjoyed, and the number of Catholic families from the North and from Hispanic communities who have settled in the area.
Residents are rightly concerned about traffic, which can be significant, around the church.
The church, on the other hand, has to concern itself with not only the growth it has experienced, but the growth that is sure to come.
Most local churches in College Heights have avoided scrutiny because they are small and blend into the neighborhood more than stand out in it.
Their neighborly feel, however, belies another truth. These churches have remained small because they - like most religious communities in the United States - simply aren’t growing. Indeed, they’re shrinking in population and struggling to stay alive.
This is certainly true of the Catholic Church nationwide, where membership has plummeted even faster than it has in Protestant churches. But here in the ‘Burg, St. Mary’s is an exception thanks to our overall population growth.
So long as institutions grow with the community, expect debates like that between College Heights and St. Mary’s to heat up.
Changing Our Perspective
In the end, these tensions are predictable, and healthy. But if the way we deal with these debates is frequently grounded in the past - preserving the city as it was, and not what it’s becoming - and not the future, the growth and ensuing debates could prove debilitating.
Our focus needs to be forward-looking.
For whether we choose to believe it, the future is going to win out.
This was brought home to me clearly last year, following a return trip home, and a trip across the pond.
Visiting the home of my birth - Durham, N.C. - last year for the first time in a couple decades (my parents no longer live in the city, so I don’t often get downtown) exposed me to a city I really didn’t know. The streets were the same, but the buildings, businesses, facades, and vibe were foreign to me.
But on the whole, the changes are for the better. The city is alive, growing, and will be central to the state’s economic and cultural growth for decades to come.
There’s much I loved about where I grew up; but the city is stronger for letting go of the things that mean a great deal to me, but few others.
I also visited Cordoba, Spain, last fall. This 2,000 year old city is surely one of the world’s most important. It has more UNESCO World Sites than any other place on the globe.
Roman roads - some exposed only in the past 30 years - sit adjacent to cutting edge architecture. One of the world’s great mosques is both sacred center and a driver of tourism. The young and the artistic thrive within the medieval walls because the city has found a way to keep this area affordable for the young people who breathe life into the area.
Life that keeps the past alive.
In fact, the economic vibrancy in and around the medieval city is possibly the best tribute a city could offer to the past. Because medieval cities, like today’s Cordoba, were economic powerhouses.
So as you stroll downtown Fredericksburg, and listen to the debates that growth is fueling, remember the past and what it has brought.
But don’t let the past strangle the city’s future.
For a reminder of how tragic that is, look at Colonial Williamsburg. Cold. Dead. And boring.
We must look forward.
It’s the surest path to a strong future, and a proper tribute to our past.
Reserve the Date
On Thursday, May 25, F2S editor Martin Davis will cohost the 27th District Senate Debate between Democrats Joel Griffin and Ben Litchfield. The other two moderators will be Free Lance-Star alum and current freelancer Lindley Estes, as well as Nora Walsh, a UMW student and an editor with the school’s paper, the Weekly Ringer, to ask questions.
The event is being put on by the Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford Democratic Committees.