Unlike many southern towns whose centers have been consumed by suburban sprawl over the last few decades, Roanoke has been moving in the opposite direction — revitalizing downtown, investing in the arts, leveraging the incredible natural beauty and amenities, and encouraging and promoting local business like crazy. It’s all in the name of making a great community.
I remember the heart of downtown 25 years ago. It was a seedy, unwelcoming place at night. Now, it’s hoppin’ with local restaurants and shops, museums, music venues, art galleries, and the oldest continuously operating farmers market in VA (which just got a facelift).
10 years ago, there were fewer than a dozen people living downtown. Today, the downtown population is well over 2,000 thanks to the redevelopment of old buildings by progressive developers.
5 years ago, we had one farmers market. Now, we have 5 thanks to a growing grassroots commitment to caring about the origin of our food. That commitment extends to Roanoke’s natural beauty, which has always been here, but is now being rediscovered and leveraged by groups like Roanoke Outside. Events like the Blue Ridge Marathon endure one of the country’s toughest road races.
There are so many things that still need to be done to realize all of Roanoke’s potential. There’s a small ground swell of interest in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship requires an eco-system of mentors, investors, infrastructure, and peers. Newly opened places like the CoLab are creating synergistic gathering and co-working spaces combined with programming, in an attempt to stimulate and nurture entrepreneurship that endures in our valley.
Just like everything in life, good things happen when multiple stars align. Roanoke has always had the fundamentals in place to be a truly amazing small city: natural beauty and outdoor amenities, a friendly and welcoming culture and that quintessential easy southern lifestyle.
When preparation meets opportunity, it’s called luck. It takes innovative people to see possibility and prepare their community for it. But that’s just the beginning. The real joy of this work comes when a community realizes its potential and decides to march toward opportunity together–full steam ahead.