An interesting read for your weekend....

I recently stumbled across a site called Cyburbia.org - which seems to be a meeting place for Urban and Town planners. They have a really interesting forum, along with articles that almost anyone could understand.

Roanoke is even mentioned a several times, a few of those being the now-infamous "best places to live" lists. Not directly mentioned on the lists, but referred to in a positive light.

This thread about a city in slightly worse shape than Roanoke - but on par in terms of population problems and such, is fascinating - especially the comments. The city in question is Cheektowaga, NY - a suburb (if one can call it that) of Buffalo, NY.

Reading through comments like "Western New York is generally built upon polarization; a perfect
example is Rochester vs. Buffalo. People are so bent on competing
against each other (especially in Albany) that no one will ever win
because every step forward is a step back at the same time," strikes me as reminiscent of Roanoke.

But one line stands out, taken out of context but within the larger topic of making Roanoke attractive and 'cool'. "There is no "there" there."

Big picture.. you want to go out and have some fun, maybe a drink and some food - maybe see a band play. Do you go there? Where is there? We don't have a "there."

We have a section of town that used to be 'there'. (As in "I'll meet you there." where both parties know where there is.) Now we have the mall, the area around the mall, the downtown (which is deeply lacking in basic services), and the place where we go to buy food.

Thats Roanoke in a nutshell. Ignoring the mountain, the zoo and the rest. Ignore what we know we have, but tend not to use - and focus on what we need and would use, but do not have.

Anyway, it's an interesting read.


Your weekend WOW... maybe

Scene - a Valley Metro bus

Players: a middle aged dad and a middle-teens daughter, making light conversation when the daughter turns to the father...

daughter: "Does 'just' start with a G or a J?"

dad: "What?" (noise of bus interfered with hearing)

daughter: "Does 'just' start with a G or a J?" (in all sincerity)

Dad: "J"

The daughter was easily 15 or so.. dad in his mid-50's. Dad, for his part kept calling Tanglewood Crossroads.

The circle of life...?


Whose Valley?

Keep your eyes on Valley Forward folks.. I smell another Art Museum in the making here..

I wonder, once they open membership - if the new members do not like the idea of the Inn, will they drop it? Or is the will of the upwardly mobile South Roanokers more important than the will of the people?

Oh wait, we already have the art museum..

Anyway - I invite anyone associated with Valley Forward to leave me a comment, or send me an e-mail (the address is not exactly hidden lately). Again, I'm not against the idea of something on Mill Mountain - but I'm not convinced a small upscale niche hotel is the way to go. That word 'upscale' has take this valley like wildfire, leaving the working people out in the cold.

And if the city council signs on to this without qualm or question - well, just remember - we are coming into an election year again. I've seen quite a few political suicides already from the city council, and the year has just begun.

Valley Forward? Could be.... if it's everyones valley.


Evolution calling.

Sometimes wisdom comes from the most unusual or unlikely of places. Case in point, a thread on Fark.com which uses a series of webpages documenting the abandoned environs of East St. Louis to launch a discussion. I had a friend once from there, and he would tell of the streets with 2 houses and 30 empty lots reclaimed by nature.

Now Fark.com is not exactly the Oppenheimer Think Tank that the first paragraph makes it sound like. The normal headlines run from the informative breaking news to the downright strange. Example: Man points gun-looking cordless drill at officer. Officer shoots gun-looking gun at man.

But being that Fark is open for anyone to comment (after registration and mandatory waiting period), it can be an interesting read. One little nugget stuck out in the comments of the thread above.

only way to fix the plight of the cities is to simply go back. " - smackem81

Followed a few comments later by this, from QuailhuntingwithCheney: "In alot of areas this is starting to happen. The young profesionals can't afford the exorbant housing costs, and don't want to live way out in the 'burbs, spending three hours a day in traffic isn't worth it. Plus as an added bonus mass transit is actually usable in most major metros.

Several people I know have bought houses in "bad parts of town" and are remodeling them to their liking, it's cheaper than a brand new cookie cutter home.And the houses are great, really ornate and have been standing over 100 years. I'd like to see how many of today's shoddily built houses will stand that long."

The technical name is Gentrification.. Gentrification, or more specifically urban gentrification, is a process in which low-cost, physically deteriorated neighborhoods experience physical renovation and an increase in property values, along with an influx of increasingly wealthier residents who typically displace the prior residents. (via Wikipedia)

And to that I would like to add the following if: IF there are prior residents.

Sections of Old Southwest, West End, Southeast, and other places around Roanoke have a multitude of empty lots with stairs. They also, Southeast and Old Southwest/West End especially, have a problem with historic houses vacant for a generation and rotten to the foundation. Think of the houses towards the far end of Elm/Patterson/Rorer to the west, and Church/Tazwell/Stuart to the east. Overlooking downtown itself are some of the best arguments for gentrification - but gentrification is dependent upon investment. And investment comes at a price.

This process, however, has it's faults. Having seen some of the gentrification which is still ongoing in New York City, I can tell you firsthand that gentrification usually begins with a single house, and ends with utter defeat. Defeat of the local population which struggled to live and work in the area they could afford. As the local houses are remodeled, remanufactured, and revitalized - the home values go up. Property taxes go up. And the neighborhood in which they lived suddenly becomes too expensive for them to afford.

It is not always a win-win situation. However, there is a way I believe that you can have gentrification without the high cost.

Valley Forward has put forth a proposal to rebuild Rockledge on Mill Mountain again. A full business proposal, waiting for an investor. It's an idea not without it's merits, but it speaks to one word: upscale.

We all want. The very nature of humanity is to want better, want more. More being defined by ones own wants and needs. What the young urban/urbane professional needs to recognize is that they are decidedly NOT what makes a city run. The blue collar workers, the labor jobs, the ones who work for someone else truly make a city what it is. The Young Professionals just fund it. For all it's money and importance, Manhattan could still be crippled by a garbage strike - the plumbers will always charge high rates because they do what most cannot. The very things that make New York City important are all serviced by working class stiffs.

Upscale only appeals to a certain sector of the population, and at this fragile moment in Roanoke's evolution - upscale is the last thing it should be worried about. This "community gentrification" needs some serious forward thinkers - those who are not afraid to try something new.

Why not a multiple layer property tax? This way, if you have been in a home for X number of years, you will not be taxed out of your community. Your taxes will still rise, but not at the same rate as a just-flipped home which sells for twice your assessed value. Historic tax credits for rebuilding a home (like some of those on Elm, or Jamison) to original stock, small city-backed loans for minor house repair and improvement, provided it falls within certain guidelines. An overhaul of the Architectural Review Board, and citywide implementation of "suggestions."(from the public)

Perhaps even to the point of "job-lot" purchasing by the city itself, for resale at a discounted rate to homeowners. Similar to the Habitat store. And rather than just arbitrarily demolish a home in poor repair - allow certified contractors to pick it over and salvage whatever possible for use in other homes and projects. There are numerous examples of homes in absolute abandon which still have architectural pieces in workable condition. Black Dog is a nice company, but not everyone can afford a tri-panel stained glass window to replace the one in the attic which is ruined, but is the same piece. The city could salvage them on it's own, and then turn and sell them to the public - at a small profit.

One of the things which makes gentrification work for everyone in the community is the city itself being involved in the process. We all know the City Council cannot see big picture, but what many don't realize is how often they cannot see the little one either. The most ambitious and important document in the past 10 years is the Vision 2001-2020 plan, of which precious little has been acted on. Looking at the 2006 report of what HAS been done, the only notable change enacted was the new zoning regulations. Everything else is from years past, and only 1/10th what could have been achieved.

Perhaps Valley Forward should commit its capabilities more towards rebuilding Roanoke as a whole, instead of the novelties. It's all well and good to have a amphitheater, but you need to have people to both staff and fill it. With the drastic declines in housing opportunities (ie. anything new is over 200k, anything old is either more expensive or in undesirable shape/neighborhood) the target audience for these changes will be more transient than rooted.

Again, I'm not against the idea of Rockledge being rebuilt - I'm just questioning the importance of it. Again, ask yourself - is the picture an 8x10, or wallet sized?

note: the view from the proposed Rockledge would be of South Roanoke, Old Southwest, and Downtown - a nice view, just don't have high powered telescopes for the public to use. They might get a glimpse of "certain" areas.


Not much better

This is almost as bad as a straight out ice storm. Rain, cold cold rain.. and we are waiting for the freezing rain like the plague.

I've had enough of this, if only I had thought to install a weather control device here at the F-R HQ high on a hilltop above Roanoke. But noooo.. it was still in BETA testing, and they were not offering open invites.


I solemnly swear that once I get my invite to Weathr2.0 I'll do what I can to make this better...


Ahh crud.

Open Call

Once again, I am putting forth an open call for anyone interested in blogging the news and information for Southeast Roanoke...


If you live or work in Southeast Roanoke, contact me at the address given on the blog, and let me know if you are interested in writing for it. I am looking for folks who are willing to share news, events, information, and stories about Southeast as it makes it's comeback.




So the city has put together a URL linked to a page under the City Manager's site on Roanokegov.com about it's 125th Anniversary.


It contains a list of all the activities planned to mark 125 years of Roanoke.
This is the list, in full.

125th Anniversary Celebration Calendar of Events
February 3, 2007 — Proclamation of the City's 125th Anniversary made by City Council
A commemoration of the City of Roanoke's 125th anniversary celebration in the Jefferson Center Atrium Hall and announcement of the March 31, 2007 kick-off event and other activities and events throughout the year.

March 31, 2007 — 125th Anniversary Kick-off Event
The event will include some of the following: a procession from Hotel Roanoke to the Roanoke Civic Center; an opening ceremony in the coliseum; exhibits in the new exhibit hall; family fun activities in the old exhibit hall.

April 2007 — America's Anniversary Gardens
Coordination with Parks & Recreation and garden club organizations for special landscaping to create America's Anniversary Garden at the main corridors, plazas, and thoroughfares of the City during 2007.

July 4th Fireworks
Recognition of the city's 125th anniversary and the 400th anniversary of Jamestown during the fireworks celebration at River's Edge.

July 27-29 — Antique Road Show
Antique and Collectible Appraisal Fair with Gordon Converse.

September 11-12, 2007 — Building New Partnerships Conference
Small and Minority Business Symposium

September 14-16 — Spirit in September
Music Extravaganza & Choral Exhibition at the Roanoke Civic Center.

October 4-7, 2007 — Roanoke Arts Festival
The first annual Roanoke Arts Festival will be held at various venues throughout the city. This four day extravaganza will incorporate all components of the performing arts, including the symphony, theatre, ballet and opera.

October 2007 — "Renovate Roanoke"
Preserving and renovating old buildings. This event will include hands-on workshops, speakers, research resources from the Virginia Room, etc. Committee of city staff and community leaders has been formed to plan the project.

December 24, 2007 — Finale Event/Reception at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
The Hotel Roanoke will celebrate its 125th Anniversary by hosting a reception for citizens early afternoon. The hotel will feature their nationally renowned Christmas trees, an antique Santa Claus, chamber music and hors d'oeuvres during the event.

Thats the entire list, everything the city has planned to make this year special. All I can say is, I'm sorry. I was hoping for something a little more lively and fun, perhaps even grander in scale - but once again, I overthink things too much. I guess 125 years is not really worthy of much community celebrating, but a choral exhibition.. wow.

Oh, and lets not bypass the parade on March 31st, which will go by in the blink of an eye as it only takes me 8 minutes to walk from the HRCC to the Civic Center - obviously a parade for the masses.

I propose a year filled with neighborhood block parties, special contests for decorating your house in it's original garb (the F-R HQ dates from 1925, and I am often curious what it looked like back then.), themed parties downtown on the streets, and special vendors on the market who make it look and feel like it did 100 or so years ago.

And let's not forget good ol' Fire Station #1, which also turns 100 this year.

But no, an antiques road show is much more important... much.