Personality: James W. Warren
Spotlight on chairperson of the board of directors of BridgePark Foundation
1/20/2022, 6 p.m.
Amid the ongoing transformation of Richmond’s landscape and infrastructure, James W. Warren is looking to create bridges in more ways than one.
The newest chairperson of the board of directors for the Richmond BridgePark Foundation, or BridgePark RVA, is eager to put the plans and vision for a better, more connected city into action during his three-year term that started Jan. 1.
“I’ve long believed in the unique potential that Richmond has — and the unique role that only our city can play — in healing and equity racially, economically and socially,” Mr. Warren says about why he took on the role.
“I also love the James River and believe that creating equitable access to the river — to connect, to reflect, to enjoy — is crucial for all of Richmond, especially our historically excluded and intentionally separated communities and neighborhoods.”
BridgeParkRVA’s mission is to transform a part of 9th Street in Downtown, including the Manchester Bridge, into “an inspiring centerpiece for everyone to connect to the river, our stories, new opportunities and each other,” Mr. Warren says, “while serving as a national model for racial reconciliation through public space.”
As envisioned by BridgeParkRVA, a linear portion of the Manchester Bridge would become a pedestrian park, event space and walking and biking avenue to connect to nature and more—all designed to provide an economic, cultural and social boost for Richmonders. On a larger scale, Mr. Warren sees the potential for BridgePark to be “a system of bridges and parks that unifies our city in ways we’ve never attempted.”
“Our vision is that BridgePark will be more than a place,” Mr. Warren explains. “It will be an intentional disruption of old divisions; a path to deepen our connection with nature; an economic engine, and an uplifting destination that fosters culture and community. It will span out to connect and celebrate the neighborhoods that have always been the cultural heart of our region, and it will become a national model of Black and Brown community place-making and place-keeping.”
He acknowledges that the vision will take buy-in from all segments of the community and government, but he is committed to the inspiration of BridgePark’s founders, the late Mike Hughes and the late Ella Kelley, who started it all in 2012 with the idea to create an outdoor locale similar to The High Line park in New York City.
He said BridgeParkRVA is finalizing its schedule for the year ahead, with upcoming events to focus on equity initiatives developed last year, with a storytelling component that will put a spotlight on under-told stories from communities BridgePark wants to aid.
Mr. Warren sees his biggest goal as board chair as building the necessary awareness and support for the project and ensuring equity throughout.
“The project depends on so many things outside of our direct control. That’s why we’re so focused on proceeding in an aligned way through extensive engagement,” Mr. Warren says. “This has to be representative of what our city desires, not just what a few people want it to be.”
Meet a Richmond bridge builder and this week’s Personality, James W. Warren:
No. 1 volunteer position: Chairperson, BridgePark Foundation or BridgePark RVA.
Other volunteer positions: Member of the board of directors of the YMCA of Greater Richmond.
Occupation: Vice president of brand strategy for JMI, a marketing and consulting firm focused on community engagement; founder/CEO of Share More Stories, a human experience research company.
Date and place of birth: June 1972 in Nashville, Tenn.
Education: Studied economics and English literature at Princeton University and creative writing at Columbia University.
Family: Spouse, Darcy R. Warren; three sons, Christian Warren, Jordan Warren and Evan Warren; and daughter, Alexis Warren.
Richmond BridgePark Foundation, or BridgeParkRVA, is: BridgePark will be Virginia’s front porch — a world-class destination in the form of a beautifully designed linear park and a welcoming symbol of our vision for the future. We envision transforming the Manchester Bridge from an over-built division between north and south into a hub of connection.
BridgeParkRVAmission: Our mission is to transform the Manchester Bridge into an inspiring centerpiece for everyone to connect to the river, our stories, new opportunities and each other, while serving as a national model for racial reconciliation through public space. Our purpose is to help unify our city. We aim to do this in an audacious way, based on our belief that bridges can be parks, and parks can be bridges. Rather than repeating our past of inequality and intentional separation, we choose to seize on possibility and the collective will to build a better future.
Why I accepted position: I’ve long believed in the unique potential that Richmond has — and the unique role that only our city can play — in healing and equity racially, economically and socially. I also love the James River and believe that creating equitable access to the river — to connect, to reflect, to enjoy — is crucial for all of Richmond, especially our historically excluded and intentionally separated communi- ties and neighborhoods.
No. 1 goal or project as BridgePark RVA board chair: Increase alignment and buy-in for the first stage of BridgePark with key stakeholders in order to complete an equitable design phase in 2022 and move into the build phase as we approach 2023. We’ll do this by involving and rallying the community in new ways around a unifying big project for the city.
Strategy for achieving goal: Together with BridgePark’s president and our incredible board of directors, we will work to raise public awareness and support, embed equity throughout the project, secure funding and achieve government alignment and approval.
What BridgeParkRVA is doing during the pandemic as it relates to green spaces and racial equity: We participated in the development of an Equitable Impacts Framework project as one of just six park projects across North America chosen for this 2021 cohort. Through this work, we are leading a national model for best practices in equitable development of public space. This yearlong project paired us with free consulting from the High Line Network, the Urban Institute, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. We also launched Richmond’s version of the “Insectageddon” program in partnership with the Department of Education, The High Line in NY, sister parks across the country, Partners in the Arts and Richmond Public Schools.
How BridgeParkRVA re-imagines Monument Avenue where the Confederate statues formerly stood: If we think beyond the immediate and look forward 100 years from now, how do we want Richmond to talk about these sites? That makes it purposeful. That makes it visionary. I have no idea what the answer is because no one person should. But I do believe that if we try to answer that question together from the perspective of the future, I think we can get it right for the city. This is also why we’re so focused on the potency of BridgePark, as a place and space that connects past, present and future — from the ruins, to redlining, to the river running through all of it — and connects us to one another in new ways.
What I like most about Richmond: Potential and culture.
What I like least about Richmond: Sometimes we get stuck in our ways, limited by what we see or have seen versus what might be.
A perfect day for me: Time with family; writing accomplishments with my team and clients; cooking and enjoying a great meal; and laughing.
What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: I crave structure more than I realized.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Sing karaoke (Prince) and occasionally do a little hip hop era performance.
Quote that inspires me: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
Friends describe me as: Fun and funny, a talker, someone who’ll have their back.
Best late-night snack: Chocolate-covered salted caramel.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” So I never give up, no matter how hard things get.
What I’m reading now: Two books — “Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership” by Edward Morrison, Scott Hutcheson, Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden and Nancy Franklin and “The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Adventure” by Scott Belsky.
Next goal: Run a 10k. It will be my third time, but first since 2019.