urbanlife

My recent trip back to Hampton Roads - Norfolk part

19 posts in this topic

I recently made a trip back home over the weekend, and while it was a limited amount of time, I wanted to make a point to get out to Norfolk for a bit as well.  I figured it made sense for me to make a trek out to the first urban like city that made me crave that urban built city experience.

 

Because of our limited time, I only really got to downtown and Ghent because I had a buddy living in Ghent that I could meet up with.  

 

Downtown seems to still be suffering the same problem that it had when I was living in VB.  The downtown is basically dead at street level on the weekend, and the lack of residential units downtown still show.  Granby St is still depressingly quiet and it was disappointing to see so many places closed on a weekend afternoon.  The TCC area on Granby does look good, and I like the new building that is going up on the street.

 

The new library looks amazing, probably one of the best things to come out of the new light rail line.  The light rail was cool to see running around downtown (though once you have seen one light rail, you have seen them all, they are all fairly similar.)  I did have an issue with the size of the stations, they looked like it would be a massive renovation to each station to expand the rail cars from one to two, which I think is a bad thing.  Light rails should be running at least two trains or at least have stations set to handle at least two cars for future expansions and capacity expansions.  

 

I am also worried about the light rail in the sense that people of Hampton Roads might be seeing it as nothing more than a tool to move inner city kids around.  I can only speak about this on the weekend sense and didn't see the trains and stations in action during weekday commutes, so hopefully the line sees more commuters getting to and from downtown.

 

the MacArthur Mall is doing what I expected, keeping a large portion of people visiting downtown indoors making the streets look dead while the mall is busy.  This is good for Norfolk that the mall was busy and that it has been successful with attracting suburbanites downtown, but it does nothing to improve the street quality of downtown.  I have always thought a series of buildings to create the mall would have been much better for improving the quality of life downtown.

 

Ghent has seen some amazing improvements over the years and has definitely become a truly hip neighborhood for someone seeking something different than suburbia.  I got a kick out of Cogan's, I realized it was an old bar I use to drink and see friends' bands play back in the day, nowadays Cogan's has some of the best pizza I have ever tasted, definitely a huge improvement from the days I use to go there.  I would definitely love to see the chemistry of Ghent spread to other neighborhoods, but unfortunately it seems like it hasn't even started to spread to the area north of the train tracks yet.

 

Anyway, that was my impression of VB and Norfolk while I was back in town.  It was great to see many of these areas still doing good and it was fun remembering my way around so easily, but I am definitely happy I moved away and found Portland, OR.  I enjoyed growing up in Hampton Roads, but as an adult it definitely wasn't the right fit for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


I go home every couple months and see progress every time-

 

Change is slow-- 

Our area is in the right direction-

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I go home every couple months and see progress every time-

 

Change is slow-- 

Our area is in the right direction-

I agree, change is slow, I was just expecting to see more change in the past 13 years than I did.  Though Cogan's has amazing pizza, that is something to be proud of.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll have to check Cogan's out when I'm around Ghent next. I've never given them a thought other than a neighborhood bar.

Now, Dog'n'Burger- that was the place. Lol.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, change is slow, I was just expecting to see more change in the past 13 years than I did.  Though Cogan's has amazing pizza, that is something to be proud of.

Very slow.

That is the only reason why I would like to see a new mayor and a new look council. They do not have a vision that they are activity trying to achieve IMO. And when they do, its very very slow. They hire wayyy too many consultants, many of which they could probably do a free internship from nsu, odu, and/tcc to sort out many of these things.

 

I think an internship would do wonders for Norfolk's urban planning initiative. first, you are giving a little back, giving opportunity and experience to people who seeking a job in such a field. two, more importantly giving a different perspective to people who may have developed tunnel vision. Norfolk shouldn't have to pay consultant for "entertainment and draw" deficiencies when you could get it from bright vibrant locals who are "studying" these types of things.

Edited by brikkman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's definitely slow but I will say the apartment boom in the past year or so is pretty impressive.  A bunch of crooked developers owned such a large percentage of properties with no intentions on doing anything with them for many years.  The unraveling of this Bank Of The Commonwealth scheme has put a bunch of projects in motion.  I'm also interested to see what a few thousand more downtown residents will do for the city.  Additionally I feel the general public and media is finally hearing and caring about city government antics and hopefully this will push for change.  While I'd like to see a little bit of shake up in the elected officials a big priority should be correcting antiquated policies and procedures.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's definitely slow but I will say the apartment boom in the past year or so is pretty impressive.  A bunch of crooked developers owned such a large percentage of properties with no intentions on doing anything with them for many years.  The unraveling of this Bank Of The Commonwealth scheme has put a bunch of projects in motion.  I'm also interested to see what a few thousand more downtown residents will do for the city.  Additionally I feel the general public and media is finally hearing and caring about city government antics and hopefully this will push for change.  While I'd like to see a little bit of shake up in the elected officials a big priority should be correcting antiquated policies and procedures.

But how can you do that without with out a shake up? Many of the council members have been part of it for years and years.  As I see it, it is exactly what they want it to be.  The biggest issue I see is there inability to "choose" a direction and work towards with regards to the city. We have seen them do counter productive things throughout the years and a lot of that have stagnated Norfolk. Definitely the developers had a lot to do with holding up land, raising rents, etc... You hear all the time about people saying the market dedicates the market dedicates and it is true to a point, however, how many of us have money that make money? That is the fundamental difference that allows developers to do what they do. The new trend over the last 10 years has been to get the city to finance part of whatever they try and do.  There is a lot that attributes to the slow growth of Norfolk and the upsurge of Va.beach and other areas. Norfolk needs to find its equivalent core competency and strive towards that. Stop trying to be so suburban yet urban with your development and coding. Breath some life i nto your city. Acity doesn't have to be boring and only family friendly, a city can be so much more than that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's the way i look at it a downtown/urban core should be entertaining to all types of individuals not just families or singles and what not in order for it to be called a successful place it should draw all types of life. However Norfolk and really all of Virginia is so conservative and onky wants to cater to familiy friendly things but that's not going to make downtown successful yes you want families to come too but you need to be able to draw everyone. I feel like council is too suburban to turn Norfolk into the true urban core of Hampton Roads that it should be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


I agree that downtown should have something for everyone and that council as a whole needs to get with the times (there are some older folks on council that actually do get it and are trying to create a young, vibrant downtown, there are also some that are conservative).  But I would disagree that they have a suburban mentality and family friendly environment view towards Downtown Norfolk.  All downtown is right now is full of bars and non-family friendly restaurants.  The only thing downtown for families is Nauticus and maybe the mall with its movie theater.  As far as everything else, there’s nothing to cater to families.  It’s all based on nightlife, which is why it’s dead during the day.  They need more that would stimulate daytime activity such as street level retail, more street festivals to include farmer’s markets, craft shows, and arts festivals, and more family-friendly establishments (kid-focused museums, restaurants, toy stores, ice cream shops, etc).  And to their credit, the city is working on the retail and festival part of it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that downtown should have something for everyone and that council as a whole needs to get with the times (there are some older folks on council that actually do get it and are trying to create a young, vibrant downtown, there are also some that are conservative).  But I would disagree that they have a suburban mentality and family friendly environment view towards Downtown Norfolk.  All downtown is right now is full of bars and non-family friendly restaurants.  The only thing downtown for families is Nauticus and maybe the mall with its movie theater.  As far as everything else, there’s nothing to cater to families.  It’s all based on nightlife, which is why it’s dead during the day.  They need more that would stimulate daytime activity such as street level retail, more street festivals to include farmer’s markets, craft shows, and arts festivals, and more family-friendly establishments (kid-focused museums, restaurants, toy stores, ice cream shops, etc).  And to their credit, the city is working on the retail and festival part of it.

But that is the part that has pissed me off. I've being saying that for years (not that they read this forum), but street festivals and community concerts should have always been part of their plan. The issue with having a DT that is only vibrant during certain times is a problem and you have to way the best approach in trying to create a place that everyone is welcomed. I do not think you do that by only focusing on one thing, especially if that one thing is "family". The problem with family is, it is only good for one part, its awfully subjective in what they will or won't attend. Thus focusing solely on that is a loosing approach if you do not do something else in parallel. 

 

What should have happen was this, they could have focused on a section of DT (this where saint pauls quad is a big issue for me) and focused it on districts. That would give people something to flock to instead of everyone banging heads and what to do's on granby street. We heard all types of things that have prevent and shut down establishments in DT, Granby street particularly. Adding festivals throughout the year would have done WONDERS for DT and it pisses me off that they can't see that. Its relativity cheap thing to do and it can include all people, young or old. Everything shouldn't be TPP, in the spring and summer, do it through out the year. Invite local groups and schools to perform. Shut down granby a day or two a month and have a freaking gathering. What's so hard about that? Many people who comment on Norfolk provide unfair criticism about crime and more specifically WHERE crime is in Norfolk. But break down their thought process:

A. They, especially the older types are scared of the urban feel start with

B. They aren't really motivated to do anything different because they don't care to frequent bars, happy hours, etc...

C. They hear about crime, but they have no idea where it is, its all visual for them so they make assumptions

D. They will take any one incident and blow it up.

 

So to combat that, you have to give them a reason to come to DT. Ok, so it won't be for the bars and happy hour, so what. But it has to be more than Xmas parade and TTP festivals. All of those little side streets and empty lots can be turned in entertainment, spot entertainment to give people a reason to say "hey, lets check it out". Entertainment can be free, ask any local bad, local ballet group, local dance team, local anything will they perform free in front of people on granby street. I can promise you they will all accept it. And to boot, its good clean fun...

 

The biggest thing I see and one main thing that fires me up, they need "consultants" to tell them this. Its almost like they can't do things in parallel. Who is ever responsible for setting these types of things up should be removed or demoted, this isn't rocket science. Vibrant cities across america do just these things, but Norfolk struggles with coming up with the idea. Most of us can't speak intelligently about how to bring developers fand investors at the level the council debates at. however, this family friendly, events, etc.. DRAWWWW with out structure, many of can speak to that with no problem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I don't disagree, I will say Norfolk has made more strides in the last 5-10 years, and I think a lot of it is thanks to the efforts of AltDaily. They (just like we posters here) know the city has a lot of potential, and I think many of the things Norfolk has done comes thanks to AD. It reminds me of the homely high school student that finally realizes how attractive she really is and starts blossoming.

 

The street festivals are awesome; I love the wine and beer festivals at Town Point, and I'd like to do a block party on Granby. With the Arts District growing, I think they need a bigger festival that could draw national attention. Not quite on the level of SXSW in Austin, but something that could really put them on the map. City council wants to make Norfolk a destination city...a big festival could help.

 

I'm interested to see how the city will look in about five more years. Not sitting on their hands with SPQ would be a nice start. I'd like to see an airport expansion too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But that is the part that has pissed me off. I've being saying that for years (not that they read this forum), but street festivals and community concerts should have always been part of their plan. The issue with having a DT that is only vibrant during certain times is a problem and you have to way the best approach in trying to create a place that everyone is welcomed. I do not think you do that by only focusing on one thing, especially if that one thing is "family". The problem with family is, it is only good for one part, its awfully subjective in what they will or won't attend. Thus focusing solely on that is a loosing approach if you do not do something else in parallel. 

 

What should have happen was this, they could have focused on a section of DT (this where saint pauls quad is a big issue for me) and focused it on districts. That would give people something to flock to instead of everyone banging heads and what to do's on granby street. We heard all types of things that have prevent and shut down establishments in DT, Granby street particularly. Adding festivals throughout the year would have done WONDERS for DT and it pisses me off that they can't see that. Its relativity cheap thing to do and it can include all people, young or old. Everything shouldn't be TPP, in the spring and summer, do it through out the year. Invite local groups and schools to perform. Shut down granby a day or two a month and have a freaking gathering. What's so hard about that? Many people who comment on Norfolk provide unfair criticism about crime and more specifically WHERE crime is in Norfolk. But break down their thought process:

A. They, especially the older types are scared of the urban feel start with

B. They aren't really motivated to do anything different because they don't care to frequent bars, happy hours, etc...

C. They hear about crime, but they have no idea where it is, its all visual for them so they make assumptions

D. They will take any one incident and blow it up.

 

So to combat that, you have to give them a reason to come to DT. Ok, so it won't be for the bars and happy hour, so what. But it has to be more than Xmas parade and TTP festivals. All of those little side streets and empty lots can be turned in entertainment, spot entertainment to give people a reason to say "hey, lets check it out". Entertainment can be free, ask any local bad, local ballet group, local dance team, local anything will they perform free in front of people on granby street. I can promise you they will all accept it. And to boot, its good clean fun...

 

The biggest thing I see and one main thing that fires me up, they need "consultants" to tell them this. Its almost like they can't do things in parallel. Who is ever responsible for setting these types of things up should be removed or demoted, this isn't rocket science. Vibrant cities across america do just these things, but Norfolk struggles with coming up with the idea. Most of us can't speak intelligently about how to bring developers fand investors at the level the council debates at. however, this family friendly, events, etc.. DRAWWWW with out structure, many of can speak to that with no problem.

I think we're agreeing with each other.  I agree with everything you wrote.  My only defense with the city is that they're finally getting around to doing some of the things that we've been asking for.  It took a while and they should have been doing them all along but they're finally starting to listen.  So in my mind, that's a plus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I don't disagree, I will say Norfolk has made more strides in the last 5-10 years, and I think a lot of it is thanks to the efforts of AltDaily. They (just like we posters here) know the city has a lot of potential, and I think many of the things Norfolk has done comes thanks to AD. It reminds me of the homely high school student that finally realizes how attractive she really is and starts blossoming.

 

 

AD has played a role in this (they're primary focus being the Arts District right now) but they're members of a larger group of young Norfolk advocates known as Revision Norfolk ( It's made up of the creative class (architects, city planners, business owners, writers, ad executives, artists, etc.) who are trying to create the vibrant downtown we all know it can be.  It's members have lived in other cities,  have seen what works in other cities and are trying to bring some of that here.  It's taken three years to build the necessary relationships with the city officials, but the lobbying is finally starting to pay off and trust is being built between the group and city. RVN has been tackling all the messy issues that are old and out of date and had been working with the city to fix them.  So far you're seeing the result of RVN's work through food trucks, the PLOT, bike racks downtown and more street festivals.  Future initiatives you'll see are the downtown lighting plan (BTW RVN blasted the city for hiring a consultant for that), parklets, and new parking rules that would bring people downtown.  Some of this stuff isn't exciting but every little change is a step in the right direction.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The street festivals are awesome; I love the wine and beer festivals at Town Point, and I'd like to do a block party on Granby. With the Arts District growing, I think they need a bigger festival that could draw national attention. Not quite on the level of SXSW in Austin, but something that could really put them on the map. City council wants to make Norfolk a destination city...a big festival could help.

 

I'm interested to see how the city will look in about five more years. Not sitting on their hands with SPQ would be a nice start. I'd like to see an airport expansion too.

I agree having a big festival that draws national attention instead of just locals would be great for the city. And they need to do something with SPQ and expanding the airport, maybe making it an actual international airport for travelers, would be great.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

AD has played a role in this (they're primary focus being the Arts District right now) but they're members of a larger group of young Norfolk advocates known as Revision Norfolk ( It's made up of the creative class (architects, city planners, business owners, writers, ad executives, artists, etc.) who are trying to create the vibrant downtown we all know it can be.  It's members have lived in other cities,  have seen what works in other cities and are trying to bring some of that here.  It's taken three years to build the necessary relationships with the city officials, but the lobbying is finally starting to pay off and trust is being built between the group and city. RVN has been tackling all the messy issues that are old and out of date and had been working with the city to fix them.  So far you're seeing the result of RVN's work through food trucks, the PLOT, bike racks downtown and more street festivals.  Future initiatives you'll see are the downtown lighting plan (BTW RVN blasted the city for hiring a consultant for that), parklets, and new parking rules that would bring people downtown.  Some of this stuff isn't exciting but every little change is a step in the right direction.

I agree, they are definitely making moves in the right direction, I was just hoping to see more changes than I did in 13 years...but then again at the same sense, Norfolk has changed a lot in just 13 years which is also something to be impressed with.  I just wish they would figure out how to get people out and about in downtown on weekends that aren't coming into downtown at night to go to clubs on Granby.  It was kind of depressing to see everything closed in the middle of the afternoon on Granby, only to find that inside the mall was busy.  

 

But there is definitely the structure there for Norfolk to have a great little downtown if they keep doing what they are doing, unfortunately I don't see them ever being the dominant city in the metro anymore, I think they lost that title to VB some time ago.

I agree having a big festival that draws national attention instead of just locals would be great for the city. And they need to do something with SPQ and expanding the airport, maybe making it an actual international airport for travelers, would be great.

Hampton Roads needs to come together and fund a true international airport somewhere else in the metro where it can handle something of this scale, Norfolk International will never be anything more than a commuter airport, which really sucks because it is near impossible to get any direct flights out of Norfolk unless you are flying to a hub somewhere else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Certainly, Cogans pizza is not the sum total of our crowning glory! The OP might do well to remember that there has been a recession going on in this country since 2008, and I think Norfolk has done quite well despite the hard economic times. The apartment boom along 21st St., Granby Street/Monticello, Freemason-Brambleton and Downtown, coupled with the impending redevelopment of Waterside Festival Marketplace and construction of the Hilton and Convention Center speaks for itself. The Chrysler Museum of Art is about ready to unveil a $25 million expansion and renovation. They raised a whopping $45 million during the economic downturn. That's a lot of pizzas!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Certainly, Cogans pizza is not the sum total of our crowning glory! The OP might do well to remember that there has been a recession going on in this country since 2008, and I think Norfolk has done quite well despite the hard economic times. The apartment boom along 21st St., Granby Street/Monticello, Freemason-Brambleton and Downtown, coupled with the impending redevelopment of Waterside Festival Marketplace and construction of the Hilton and Convention Center speaks for itself. The Chrysler Museum of Art is about ready to unveil a $25 million expansion and renovation. They raised a whopping $45 million during the economic downturn. That's a lot of pizzas!

Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to spend in Norfolk.  I grew up in Virginia Beach and with the limited amount of time I had, I wanted to show my wife where I grew up and catch up with a friend or two while in the city.  But we did manage to spend a little bit of time in Norfolk, and there were definitely lots of changes that had happened, but in the grand scheme of things, the city still has a long way to go, but has definitely made improvements.

 

Though with that said, I still think Norfolk will continue to see Virginia Beach surpass the city due to the fact that the metro doesn't function like a traditional metro.  It would be wise of Norfolk to focus on renovating its neighborhoods and try to make more of the city a desirable place to live.  

 

As for the Waterside redevelopment and the Hilton Convention Center, I don't have high hopes for either of those two, basically I will believe it when I see it.  The new library looks like it is coming along nicely, and good to hear about the museum expanding, always been a favorite museum of mine.  The apartment boom is definitely a boom for Norfolk, though it still has a long way to go before making a major impact on the city, granted Granby is already that active inner city neighborhood that Norfolk should be trying to create more of in other neighborhoods.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, but they are going to come to fruition! The Hilton has broken ground, and Waterside will not be far behind. Both

projects are being backed by companies with a proven track record and possessing the financial resources to get things done in difficult economic times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, but they are going to come to fruition! The Hilton has broken ground, and Waterside will not be far behind. Both

projects are being backed by companies with a proven track record and possessing the financial resources to get things done in difficult economic times.

That is good to hear and I hope the city does well and pushes forward to expand the successes of places like Ghent and can get streets like Granby active with foot traffic and businesses for them to go to outside of the mall.

 

Unfortunately this trip to Hampton Roads will probably be one of my last trips, I don't know when I will make it back there again, but I hope the city pushes forward.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.