It’s been about 15 years since an idea and dream of two local real estate men began to take shape. The idea was to create what is now the Chester Village Green development: a traditionally-urban neighborhood that brings the city to the burbs. Jim Daniels and Courtney Wells were the groundbreakers whose creation was the first in Chesterfield. The idea of such a project like the Chester Village Green had been seeing some action in other places in the country through the forward-thinking designs of architect Andres Duany, but Chesterfield also took a step forward when it approved the urbanlike concept.
Now, there are only a couple of empty sites left in what is becoming a vibrant community, not only for those who live there, but for an area that stretches for miles around it and gives Chester an expanded focus and a sort of downtown identity. Ettrick will also expand its uniqueness with a similar project initiated by Virginia State University and Chesterfield, and there have been some others that have followed suit.
But what took 15 or so years to come to fruition has taken at least 10 years to become what it was intended to be: the center of a town that would garner a sense of place and become the center of a communty with an old-town flavor.
Other than Chesterfest in its 10th year, a project of the Chester Community Association, that takes place at the center of the epi center of the development, there has been only a few community-oriented events that took place there. The green, until just a few short years ago, for the most part was occupied by only a few dog walkers and skateboarders. Now, it is becoming what it was meant to be. This spring a stage was built into the landscape, financed by local civic groups and carried out by some industrious Chesterites.
This effort is not to discount communities such as Bensley, which has enjoyble community activities through their community center, or Courthouse where a good many events based on history occur or other community centers that hold events for their close -in residents, but Chester has evolved into the center of the Bermuda District.
As an impetus for the installation of the new stage, a number of new events had been conceived. An event being called “Second Thursdays,” supported by local civic groups and the Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation; an event called “Family Fridays,” conceived by the Chester Communty Association, and of course ChesterFest provides music, entertainment and performances on the green.
In addition to two monthly musical events, the Chester Village Green hosts the Chester Farmer’s Market each Saturday from May through October. The Chester Library, the linchpin of Chester’s center, draws hundreds of people every week as do the three restaurants now located there, a unique stationary shop, a store the sells distinctive home items and a womens accessory shop accompany a beauty shop, nail shop and a number of offices. Soon a bakery will be in place. The shopping and dining area is surrounded by apartments and houses.
This is essentially a smaller version of what Duany envisioned and has carried out across the country, although he didn’t actually design Chester’s center. Duany and his firm advocate “zoning reform, [which] is essential to allow walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, thereby combating sprawl, preserving open lands and reducing energy use and carbon emissions.” This is also being attempted in Chesterfield’s new comprehensive plan, although if the “editing” process continues as it is now proceeding, it will look nothing like what the planning visionary would endorse.
But the Chester vision goes further by promoting quality of life through a sense of place, which builds community and heightens communication among residents. Just meander down into the Chester Village Green one Saturday morning and see what I mean. A dozen, and sometimes twice that, produce and sundry vendors gather, offering hundreds of shoppers non-supermarket items. People are walking their dogs, neighbors chatting and commerce taking place.
It really does take a village, and a village of folks who care about the place they live, to make what was the vision of a couple of guys, into a vibrant place where people gather, gain fellowship and build a truly cohesive community.
Just like the song from my teenage years, “Brandy” lyricized, “Brandy, you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, but my life, my love and my lady is the sea,” I have found that those lines from the song by Looking Glass are a metaphor for the idea that I might run for Supervisor of the Bermuda Magisterial District. While I think Chesterfield is a fine girl and I could love changing Bermuda, my life, my love and my lady is this newspaper. And so it goes and, hopefully, that puts an end to that.