The Real State of the City (Part III)

When we last left the State of the City address, we had covered the ongoing (yes, I said it - we have another 10-20 years at least of this nonsense) Victory Stadium debacle, and the repairs and refurbishment of the Market Area.

Today we come to the meat of the battle, the city's (mostly) pitiful attempt at attracting and retaining younger people. The Mayor leads off with the forceful statement we have all heard from everyone in the city for the past few years. "Roanoke must retain and attract young people." If the city council could only be this obvious when it comes to making decisions, we might still have some young people.

I am 31, and Roanoke attracted me because of it's quality of life, outdoors, downtown area, housing stock, and the Star. The rest is all happenstance, but thats the freedom you have when your a cook - you can go anywhere and find people who need to eat. I like the ease of commute, regardless of who thinks 581 "traffic is a New York nightmare..." I can assure you, at 3am in the middle of a snowstorm, the Belt Parkway is and always will be worse than 581 2 weeks before Christmas with Valley View having major sales. After work.

Ok, that being said - Im going to clue the city council in on a little fact. This might be a mobile culture, and a global economy - but I don't want to move. I happen to like the idea of being invested in the well being of an area (hence the blog, and the site), and perhaps setting roots. The conventional thinking looks at modern culture and says "mobile", but ask those living in this mobile world what they would love to have, and the response would usually be "roots."

Why is it hard to retain them? Well, for one thing - they are constantly having to compete with the Boomer generation (the members of the City Council will not get this, as they are the Boomer generation) for jobs, homes, and just about everything else. Back in the 1940's, a man worked as long as the man had to - and when it was possible, he moved on to retirement - spent time with the family and enjoyed the rest of his life. Now, man works till man gets pension, then moves onto 2nd career, and possibly 3rd. Companies complain about not being able to find young adults with sufficient experience, yet do nothing about getting the youth that experience. And the individuals whose jobs ARE that experience are not leaving them anytime soon.

Face facts; Party in the Park is not for the young. Neither are First Fridays. Most restaurants downtown cater to an older clientele with more available cash. Perfectly good buildings are being converted into condo and loft space outside the affordability of most hard-working young adults. The most prime piece of real estate downtown (Heironimous Building) sits empty. The other most important building downtown (Patrick Henry Hotel) is slated to become senior housing. We hear endlessly about how this development is going to sell for $300k and up, and those condo's are selling for 400k. Yet the market has yet to bring wages up to the levels where that would be even remotely accessable.

Partly, the blame for the low wages lies in those who accept them. And in those who offer them. But the solution to the problem does not lie in models, programs, or events.. it lies within the city itself.

I understand why the city wants the retirement money. It's nearly free cash, and a good portion of the retirement population will sell a home someplace else and move here, spending only 1/3rd of what they made on the sale of the old home. Services and support for an older population are fairly easy. Keep the roads clear, the sidewalks passable, the EMS fully staffed, and a great selection of doctors on hand. Whereas the younger people require a bit more.

As it stands, the city is generally not bothered by any clubs. With the exception of CB&Co., the city has very few nightspots for young adults. It also does not attract the attention of national acts, which keeps it from having to spend money to upgrade the Civic Center, or similar things. With national, larger and more popular acts - parking, roads surrounding, services, and the physical structure of the CC would need to be upgraded.

What the city fails to realize is that the influx of people for such concerts (and other things) would pay for all the upgrades. If you provide it, they will come - and spend. The tax revenue on hotel rooms alone would make it worthwhile.

Beyond that, the Roanoke Connect Job Database is something that we here at Forgotten-Roanoke.com have personally signed on for. It's a good idea that could yield good results. The "Roanoke Wants U." program is cute, however I would feel better about it if the city did not go out and recruit these students, rather the students wanted to come here, signed up and were given a tour of Roanoke. If the city attracts 2 of the 50 students as residents, then I guess it's not the worst idea.

And as always Job Fairs are a good idea, and why not market the city during one. But actively calling it a Quality of Life Fair sounds rather desperate. And no one wants to live in a city thats is needy.

Why is the city needy? Well, someone has to fill the service jobs it will take to keep the city moving with all these retirees here. Performing service-oriented jobs, basically taking care of everyone and everything - with no qualms about being stepped on and passed over in favor of the "Disposeable Income" crowd. Which will continue to happen as long as the young people allow it.

I have alot to say about the way the city treats the younger population here in Roanoke, but that is going to have to wait... I have to go to work.. from which I will gladly retire.

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