By Anna Allen, ’16
With all the activities that take place on campus, it can be easy to forget that the University of Richmond is part of the larger Richmond area. But Richmond is a city that is constantly growing, both culturally and economically. For Ryan Rinn, '04, executive director of Storefront for Community Design, making the most of what the city of Richmond has to offer is one of his main goals.
“Storefront is Richmond's community design center — basically the equivalent of a free clinic or legal aid, but in the planning, architecture, and design fields,” says Rinn. Storefront has four main programs: Design Plan, Community Engagement, Design Education, and the Middle of Broad (mOb) studio. Each program provides affordable opportunities for Richmond residents to share and execute their ideas for community design, including strategies for architectural, graphic, and landscape design. The Design Education program partners with local high schools and plans city walks, where students create a walk through the parts of Richmond that are important to them.
Most of the work Storefront does is volunteer driven. “We have a great network of supporters who help us carry out our mission,” says Rinn. “We meet neighborhood associations or merchant associations where they are able to design processes of engagement and feedback that allow them to express their desires for changes and progress in their communities.”
Lately, Storefront has been working in the East End around the Creighton Court community to get resident and community feedback on proposed initiatives for redesign. “No two days are the same here,” says Rinn. “A typical work day is a few dozen emails, a handful of phone calls, a couple community meetings, and some writing and research — mostly focused on making Richmond a better place to live, work, play, and raise a family.”
Making Richmond a better place to live is not without obstacles. “As a nonprofit organization all of our support comes from donors and grants,” says Rinn. Fundraising is difficult, and community meetings can be just as challenging. “Everyone wants to be heard, and making sure that all opinions and thoughts are expressed in a timely and productive manner can be difficult,” he says. But for Rinn and his colleagues, it is the relationships with people and a passion for making Richmond an even better city that make the experience meaningful.
“No matter what neighborhood we're working in, everyone really wants the same things — a safe neighborhood, good schools, caring neighbors, well-maintained public spaces, good infrastructure, and access to good jobs — a good quality of life,” says Rinn.
Rinn says his time at UR studying rhetoric and communication studies and political science really helped him prepare for his job as a community organizer and an urban planner. “UR also gave me a wonderful group of lifelong friends, many of whom still live here in Richmond. These folks are my family and give me tons of support and encouragement,” he says.
Paul Achter, professor of rhetoric and communication studies, says Rinn owes his success to his remarkable ability to communicate in a wide variety of contexts. “He listens to community members to identify and prioritize needs, he establishes productive relationships with design professionals, and he connects groups that can help one another in the city,” Achter says.
Rinn is also excited to see his alma mater engage with the city of Richmond. “I love the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and UR Downtown," says Rinn, who serves on the Bonner Center's Advisory Council. "Neither of these existed when I was at UR and they are great assets. Through both of these avenues, UR is making a big impact in the city of Richmond. I am looking forward to increased involvement from UR students in the many decisions the city of Richmond will make in the coming years.”