901 and counting.

It's been 901 posts since I first started this venture, which I would call a benchmark. At times I have wandered the past, and the path which stems from it. I took time out for personal matters (the BST chronicles), championed unpopular ideas (the fight against the Art Museum comes to mind) and reported on the loss of historic sites. I have taken up the gauntlet of 'selling Roanoke'. Or, to be honest - selling the HELL out of Roanoke.

But to be honest and forward about everything - I know I am off course. I have stepped away from the focus on the past, the historic aspect which used to rule the blog - and walked deep into the battle for the future of Roanoke. Understand this: I left New York City for all the right reasons, the same reasons we all move - a better life, a better home - boundless opportunity.

Yes, you heard me right. Boundless opportunity. From the first moment I laid eyes on Roanoke I knew this place offered things that even big ol' Noo Yawk Sitee could not. Sometimes it takes the eyes of an outsider to see things like that.

In all this time I have struggled with the lack of comments, the lack of engagement among the hundred or so readers I have daily. Oh, I hear word from plenty of you... some I hear about directly, and some as 2nd hand reports as to who knows about the blog and my positions on things. It's those that I find interesting. The ones who have the ability to actually direct change can't even post an anonymous comment to encourage discussion amongst the populous.

I do get the occasional comment anon - usually something benign and easy. Today, someone left me some flame bait. In reference to my post titled 'Whose Valley?', I received this lovely missive: "Chances are, if you need to take the damn bus to get up there, you won't be spending anything anyway. " (emphasis added)

I could debate that point endlessly - backed up with fact, statistics, and opinions. Suffice it to say that not everyone who rides the bus is poor, sometimes it's just a good method of saving a dime or two. But let's take that at face value: someone was so offended by the very concept of my championing the use of Mill Mountain by all citizens - they were moved to leave a comment. Granted, it's not a good comment - it's base and smacks of class warfare - but thats the purpose of flame bait. It's to goad the author into a pointless argument. But it's something.

If there is one thing I hope to do is spawn conversation. I recently had opportunity to give a guided photograph tour of old Roanoke to a 20 year resident who had not the slightest idea of the history of the very downtown they have worked in, up to and including the 20 years they lived here.

I also gained some insight into the neighborhood she has lived in since moving here. It's a two-way street. The city is undertaking a massive project for it's 125th anniversary - recording the memories and stories of any resident who wishes to take part. They are encouraging the use of photographs and other 'props' in the storytelling.

There is still much to be gained by looking back at the past, and still a ton of hope for the future. But we all need to connect, become part of the 'problem' (he said with irony). The last election proved one thing to all of us - we need to become more organized - or the next city council will be 100% "For the(our) City". I am not asking you as a democrat, a republican, or an independent - I am asking you as a citizen of Roanoke.

Stop for a moment, and think about the city. Is this how you imagined it would be? And what do you think this will lead to in the future?

Look no further than the shell of the Art Museum, whose overhangs cover nearly half of Salem Avenue. And because they are sloped as they are, when the skin is added to the shell - I do not want to think about what Salem Avenue will be like after a snowfall, or worse. The simple act of decision-making has ramifications that some people would not like you to consider.

But this is the 21st century, and perhaps it's time to start working in OUR interests, not MY interests. If not, I fear South Roanoke will overrun the city, and the hardworking residents who keep the city going will be looking elsewhere for opportunity.

We are still strong, and on the razor's edge between a successful future and one which is troubled - and the decision lies in the hands of each and every person in Roanoke. Dangerous prospect, I know - but the truth.

As we press on with our mission here, I would like to invite all of you to take part. Through community effort the City Market was saved and revived, and through the same effort - the entire city can be the true Magic City once again.

Welcome to post 902


Anonymous said...

I've lived in many places over the years -- Portland, OR, Los Angeles, CA, Ann Arbor, MI, Boston, MA, Dayton, OH -- and I knew the first time I visited Roanoke that it still had potential. Not yet a Dayton, OH (with its abandoned urban core that only with constant, expensive efforts keeps a murmur of a heartbeat) but certainly not a Portland, OR (with one of the most vibrant small city urban cores in america), Roanoke clearly has to make a decision of what it wants to be.

One path is to become an Asheville -- hip, smart and urbane, but ultimately a tourist draw. Another path is to become a Dayton -- another midwest city flanked by rapid urban sprawl with it the loss of the character that made the city once great.

The path I hope for is the most difficult, and I don't see the leadership in the city or the desire by its residents to accomplish it. This path requires building Roanoke to be self-sufficient. This means jobs downtown, rather than the county. It means good city schools, something that I feel we still have. It means affordable housing, not just retiree retreats. It means attracting outside investment, but also promoting and growing our own.

Things such as an art museum, upscale housing, a lodge on Mill Mountain, the demolition of Victory Stadium, construction of a whitewater park, are not problems individually. Each one may or may not provide some added benefit to the Roanoke mix. However, to be on this latter path requires more than just a single precipitating idea. It requires a commitment from the residents of the community. Without it, Roanoke will be just another mid-sized city, over-run by its suburbs, its greatness diluted into strip-mall mediocrity.

RoanokeFound said...

I have always likened Roanoke to Providence, RI. I think the main difference between the two would be Providence has private investors. Armory Revival for example. Here is a company that buys up derelict housing, and can turn it within months (and some in the worst condition imaginable). When all is said and done, they add to the housing stock some amazing spaces, for prices that are inline with the local rates. A 600 sq. ft. apartment goes for $800 a month, and is in a historic property in pristine condition. Private investment makes it possible.

We need to worry less for the moment about attracting and retaining young professionals, and start marketing Roanoke to those with the will and the means to get it back in shape.

armoryrevival.com if your interested in what a transformation is like.

Anonymous said...

The image to me, of some of the more vociferous "Save Victory Stadium (nevermind that we haven't been there in 20 years)" bunch, is that of Lee Harvey Oswald hawking anti-Castro leaflets in Miami in the '60s.

Anonymous said...

I admit it, I made that post yesterday behind the shroud of Internet anonymity, because I don't feel like having my inbox flooded with missives such as yours. Plus, anyone with 5 minutes and access to Google can find out your real name, employer and address simply from an email address.

Allow me to clarify my original point. When I said "Chances are, if you need to take the damn bus to get up there, you won't be spending anything anyway", I really meant it. If you can honestly tell me that someone who takes the bus daily as a matter of NECESSITY ( which would be the majority of riders on Valley Metro )would have the money to spend on a meal or stay at the proposed Mill Mtn Inn, I'll eat my hat. You know as well as I do you wouldn't be able to get a meal there under 20$ per person. The small percentage of riders who are taking the bus simply to ease traffic, or to save a dime may very well pony up for a 20$ meal, and who knows what they'll charge for a room. If my comment offended, I apologize, but stand by it.

RoanokeFound said...

Well, I respect you for standing behind your comment, but I still say that if Mill Mountain is truly a City Park - then it needs to be available to ALL citizens, and not just those who can afford a $20 plate. Understand, the $20 bucks a plate crowd is a limited slice of the Roanoke population. And there are already enough places down-mountain to get that. The Mountain needs something different - not a novelty.

People tend to forget - the majority of Roanoke is not the Trio-Metro-TableFrankie's crowd, as much as we might want to portray the population as such.

I don't have a problem with a restaurant on Mill Mountain, I do have a problem with a group that says "make it available for all" and suffers from early senility when it comes to what "all" really encompasses.

But thanks for clarifying.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough..when you put it that way I agree with you.

Jeff St Real said...

This morning, I just made a left off Williamson onto Salem for the first time in a month or so, and WOW, you are right about that giant steel awning hanging right over the street.

That would be a hell of a thing when the snow slides off of it.

Anonymous said...

I think Roanoke would really benefit from pouring more energy into housing. We have some gorgeous old homes in this city that are a complete shambles because no one maintains them. Plus, some of the most beautiful homes, duplexes and apartments are in vile, crime-ridden streets where no one wants to live (Old Southwest, anyone?). I am prowling for a new apartment now and it's so disappointing when I find a great place but I can't live there because I don't want to get mugged/raped/find my car stolen.

Don't underestimate the power of a nice place to live. I don't think people leave cities and their lives behind because they can't find the perfect home, but who wants to live next door to a derelict house? Who wants to live in an unsafe area? Drive out the crack dealers and make homes that decent professionals want. We might feel more inclined to stay.