I wish to speak about the schools, education, life downtown, and several other topics which might seem dreadfully boring at first, but walk with me for a few moments.
All reasons why it is so hard to attract people to cities, versus the suburbs. And for downtown reasons, you can magnify those tenfold.
Archetypes: Existing cities are all built off the same basic construct. A centralized location (which has shifted over the lifespan of the city) for all shopping and services. Small area grade schools, larger coverage area for the middle, and zoned High Schools, regional higher education. Access to interstate highways, centralized work areas, recreational areas. These are the hallmarks of any city. From Manhattan (planned as such) to Manhattan, KS. Some grow more organically than others, but most have some human hand behind the development at some point in the process. Every city, in it's very design - holds the prototype from it's inception.
Safety: It is difficult to provide 100% assurance that the world is safe, no matter where you are - or where you go. Even the best police department is still going to have a less than desirable track record when the community decides it will not be policed. Think the "Wild, Wild West" or 1920's Chicago. It's an organic machination that at some point the citizens of the city grow restless - weather it be in the midst of a heat wave, as in New York in 1977 during the blackout, or Los Angles during the 1992 Riots. There will always be an element that suffers from a dysfunctional moral compass. There will always be disagreement as to why this exists. Safety is in the heart of the individual, not in the collective of the population. Why can one person walk where others fear to tread? They know they can. And if two people know they can, then more will follow.
Education: There are few choices when it comes to education. Either you have it, or you do not. You cannot have some. Neither can you have all. Education is an ongoing process through which the human learns of the world around them. No, you do not want to do the homework - but you know you must. There are no options. Hard realization for someone who nearly skipped every homework assignment for the last 2 years of high school. But I continue to pay for that fact daily. But I continue to educate myself.
I believe if you look at the data (should it ever have been collected), you will find a direct correlation between Roanoke's current drop-out dilemma, and the parents they come from. If education is not prioritized in the home, it will not be in life. And the reason Roanoke's numbers are so dismal? The "brain drain" the city has suffered in the past. The smarter you were - the more likely you were to leave. Leaving behind those of less education to fill the factory jobs. Well now the factories have closed, and these workers are finding themselves in a world where they have been rendered obsolete. But they lack the skills to educate themselves for a new career. They lack the knowledge that further education will allow them more opportunities. Sure, they know the smart people get better jobs - but they cannot conceive how. Want to solve the school problem Roanoke has? You need the families to invest the time and effort into making the schools the best they can be. Money and new buildings are meaningless when the population lacks the ability to grow.
Ambivalence: A city disengaged is a city unmotivated, and no amount of civic cheer-leading or campaigning can change that. In life, one has to choose one's battles - and the same holds true for populations. How many issues went unknown because the focus was on Victory Stadium? An excellent smokescreen, but of little value in the long run. Sad part being that a few council canidates (now members) were duped into thinking that Victory Stadium's demise would actually have some sort of effect on the city. Aside from a giant wreath placed on the gates, a special section in the paper, and a fight over bricks (and people will fight over anything free, esp. from the government) - the gain was negligible. We now have more space for soccer fields. Or a possible kayak park?
Who thinks of these things? Who thinks the city is doing a good job, or the citizens holding up their end of the bargain? We are only as good as those we allow to represent us. And we are only as effective as the leadership we select. Judging by the form of governance we have here, we are not very effective as citizens. We love committees, always hoping they will validate our ideas. Cries of conspiracy when they do not. But we do not communicate well our ideas, or worse - we question the ideas of those who do. Our representative government is a poor reflection upon us, and we of it. It works both ways, and both go against Roanoke evolving into the New Roanoke it so desperately needs to be. You will never 100% agree with everything the city does, but you should at least feel like you had a voice. Everyone over the age of 18, and registered is eligible to vote - but many see nothing but futility when they look at a ballot.
Fear: Finally, down to the true crux of the issue. Fear. Fear of success, fear of change, fear of oppression, fear of power, fear of the unknown. Baseless, pointless, endless fear. A town that walks on eggshells is a town without.
Summation: Roanoke lacks nothing. It does not lack hotel rooms, with 31 and counting hotels in the area - that should not be a concern. It lacks a cohesive use for the rooms. Atlantic City knows it's trade. Gaming, conventions and tourism. New York City, Conventions and tourism. Chicago, Conventions and tourism. Atlanta, Conventions and tourism. Roanoke, Conventions and... Well, we don't really have as much tourism as we like to think we do.
Where is the draw? A downtown Farmer's Market is a good start. Museums located right there are helpful - but what about activity? And no, the Greenway system is not a tourist activity. When, and if, Explore Park opens - it will be an activity center. But it will be self sustaining, and most of it's revenue will go to Roanoke County. Has the developer of Explore Park ever come before the City Council to discuss the impact it will have on the City of Roanoke? Considering Bedford County and Roanoke County have a solid stake in this venture - I would garner the city should be asking some questions as well.
We have much to offer - but we have to offer it. We need to find the concept, and chase the dream. We have plenty of available space downtown for things such as movie theaters, grocery stores, drug stores, bowling alleys... but the narrow view of "it is what it is" supersedes all future uses. The Heironimous building, along with Mr. Spud's next door - empty and devoid of uses. Same with several other buildings, lots, and storefronts downtown.
Yet we as a community do nothing to foster business growth. There once was a coffee shop downtown, and no - not Mill Mountain. De Espresso, for what it was worth, was one hell of a coffee shop. Serving Seattle's Best - parent company of Starbuck's, and serving ice cream and sandwiches - De Espresso was a large but cozy - and just around the corner from the Market. Yet it stumbled and failed. First problem was lack of support. People do not wander anywhere but the Market. The only way they go off-Market is for work. If you cannot get the locals to frequent anyplace but the market, you will not get others to do so. Nor will you attract business' to the areas anywhere but on-Market.
In real cities, people are not afraid to walk when they are in an area with poor parking. As long as they can get within a * block radius of where they want to go - they park and walk. Along they way, they might stop into a business or two. On Jefferson, there are very few business to stop into while walking from the Market to the Library - which might be why they built that little green strip-park connecting the two.
We expect others to come, tourists, and get out and explore when we are not even willing to do that ourselves. We aren't even willing to be the city we claim to be. Or are we? There are two types of thought here, the "can do" and the "cannot do." One allows the other, but for how long. I see signs of change.
Again, thanks for allowing me this moment. Some of the things brought up here have been festering for an exit for a while.
Anyone care to discuss? I'm all ears...