For more than 100 years the City of Roanoke has formally planned for its future. Beginning in 1907 through the work of renowned city planner John Nolen, the City began planning for the extension of its streets, the expansion of its boundaries and the development of its parks and recreation amenities. Of course, this plan was summarily dismissed by the City Fathers and only brought back to life through the dedicated work of a number of committed women – but that is another story for another time!
The City has prepared: five comprehensive plans for its overall growth; seven plans for downtown or a portion of downtown; plans for more than 25 of its neighborhoods; dozens of plans focused on specific areas or opportunities, such as a bikeway plan; master plans for parks and recreation; and an arts and culture master plan. Each of these plans has contributed significantly to identifying aspirations, challenges, and possibilities. And each of these plans has resulted in meaningful actions and accomplishments.
The most recent comprehensive plan was adopted in 2001 with a planning horizon out to 2020. The accomplishments associated with this plan are numerous and impressive. Some of the most significant include:
- Transformed the South Jefferson Redevelopment Area into a major economic activity center for the region.
- Expanded and designated historic districts to drive rehabilitation of historic buildings in downtown; 1,000 residential units were created in downtown.
- Completed a neighborhood/area plan for every area of the city.
- Adopted new land development codes to implement policies related to land use, urban form, site design, building form, street design, and water quality.
- Constructed a network of greenways along the Roanoke River, Lick Run, and Tinker Creek and to the top of Mill Mountain. Developed unpaved trail systems at Carvins Cove, Mill Mountain, and Fishburn/Woodlawn Park.
- Adopted a Complete Streets Policy and Street Design Guidelines, and retrofitted miles of streets to make them more pedestrian and bike friendly.
- Targeted CDBG funds into a single neighborhood to create more impact. Between 2001 and 2018, we had five target areas: Belmont, Gainsboro, Hurt Park, West End, and Melrose-Orange.
- Updated or reconstructed public facilities, including our network of Fire-EMS stations, our libraries, our schools, and new stadiums at each high school.
- Facilitated strategic downtown projects such as the Market Building, Market Square, Elmwood Park and its Amphitheater, Campbell Parking Garage, Market Garage Hotel, and the Civic Center Special Events Center.
- Enabled future housing development at Countryside and Colonial Green.
These same types of accomplishments are readily identifiable in the areas of economic development, infrastructure, and public safety, and within each of the neighborhoods. Each of these accomplishments started as an idea but are the result of action – plan the work then work the plan!
As noted earlier, the planning horizon associated with the current comprehensive plan is 2020, which of course, is but a couple of years away. The City, through its Planning, Building, and Development Department in partnership with the Planning Commission, has initiated work on the update to Vision 2020. At the June 4 City Council meeting, an overview of the update process was provided. The update is expected to take approximately two years to complete and will involve a myriad of ways to engage the community. This update process, known as Plan Roanoke, includes a series of community meetings this August where much more information about the process will be shared and where you can begin to share with the City’s planners your aspirations, where you believe challenges exist, and what you see as opportunities.
Not every element of every plan prepared by the City has been successfully implemented and not every process has gone smoothly – as noted in the very first effort back in 1907. But every plan has resulted in identification of things important to the community and in real and meaningful change. I encourage you to take the time to learn more about the role planning has played in Roanoke, about the current effort to update the comprehensive plan, and about how you can play an active role in shaping the future of our great city!
- Bob Cowell