Close your eyes and imagine this: You’re walking across the Compass at Virginia Commonwealth University. It is mid-semester, bright blue in the sky. Students are heading to class and a group of people — standing along the low wall in front of Shafer Court — are collecting donations for a food drive. Two cyclists pedal by on their way toward Monroe Park. There is an upbeat song playing over a set of nearby speakers, and though you can’t quite identify the music, it adds an extra bounce to your step.
You walk south, toward Floyd Avenue, following the brick path along the renovated front of James Branch Cabell Library. At Floyd, you turn right, and then stop and glance across the street.
In front of you, in the place that used to be the University Student Commons, is an open green space, crisscrossed by walking paths, lined by mid-rise buildings, trees and street lamps, and full of people sitting at cafe tables, walking and lounging on the grass. The green is a half-block wide and more than a block long, stretching past West Main Street — a small oasis in the middle of Richmond.