Roanoke Rising

Back in July I made a significant life transition, moving from Blacksburg, Virginia, to Roanoke, Virginia. Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech and the Hokies thereof, is a terrific place to be. But I needed to be 1) closer to work and 2) closer to someplace where there was something to do on any given weekend. And that second part is why I landed in Roanoke.

When I lived in Blacksburg, there was rarely time to come out to Roanoke to check things out, so I wasn’t sure what to find. But when I got here, I was welcomed by events happening regularly: Grandin Chillage, the Greek Heritage Fesitval, the Grandin Theater, the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, a great scene for decent beers and bars that are at once not college bars and not snooty. And nestled here in the Roanoke Valley is this gem.

Parts of Roanoke have experienced a renaissance. On the near West End of town, city and business leaders have made a concerted effort to improve living conditions and reduce crime without crossing the line into gentrification. The community is still closely knit. There are still problems, but nightly gunfire and drug dealing on the street, in broad daylight, aren’t the problems they once were.

And people are friendly. Here is a happy crossing of northern, southern, and Appalachian cultures where the best in each is brought out and highlighted. And there’s not a paucity of culture, either. There is a sizable and diverse refugee and immigrant community, each person and their family bringing a certain color and flavor to the community. It’s surprising, to find the diversity of culture where people think of former coal-mining country in southwest Virginia.

And there’s a good local market movement, with LEAP for Local Food spearheading several local markets in neighborhoods, stocked by local farmers with fresh produce. And the food is good. I’m lucky to live mere blocks away from Wildflour and a place I can always count on for a good beer, Old Southwest Grill.

Going through news archives of the past decades, it looked like Roanoke was a dying city, with a culture that wasn’t living up to its capacities. Today, I think we see a Roanoke rising: a youthful population near downtown providing a rich mixture of backgrounds and energy that I never saw when I’ve lived other places. It’s amazing. And I’m lucky to be here. Here’s to Roanoke’s rising.

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