Most of us understand just how special Roanoke is—its people, its mountain setting, its culture, etc. A few things this past week reminded me just how much more Roanoke is, than what one might assume. The first was affirmation of the type of world-class medical research that goes on here and through that, the access we have to researchers from throughout the world. The second was a couple of articles in the magazine published by the Government Finance Officers Association—one written by a Roanoker about Roanoke, and the other written about the need to take some steps to address equity related to budgeting, steps we initiated months ago.
The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is an amazing asset in our community, filled with internationally known researchers conducting innovative, impactful research. A few examples include researchers who have done incredible work to establish the first pediatric rehabilitation resource center in the Nation, perform world-renown work on cancers, and conduct cutting-edge research on substance use disorders. The presence of the Institute and its work also grants access to researchers from the world over, not only to those working at the Institute but, thanks to the Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series, to the entire community. This year, the series has brought experts on pandemics, vaccines, pediatric robots, and pain management, including a Nobel Prize winner. You can learn more about the amazing work taking place at the Institute by visiting the website, and also learn more about the happenings going on in Roanoke’s Innovation Corridor at this link. Recordings of the most recent lectures from the Strauss series may be viewed at this site.
Leading the Way
The GFOA—an international organization based in Chicago and led by former Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, who has opted to continue to call Roanoke home—recently featured an article in its Government Finance Review written by Roanoke College Professor Liz Ackley. Dr. Ackley, who has been instrumental in ensuring the lack of a grocer in Northwest Roanoke is not forgotten and in doing all she can to see one locate there, writes about cutting-edge community engagement—in this case, efforts that accompanied the recent selection of the Belmont-Fallon neighborhood as the next focus area for funding we receive from HUD. Dr. Ackley discusses the need for a more thoughtful and beneficial process of community engagement, and uses the process the City used in partnership with ChangeLab Solutions and the New York Academy of Medicine as a case study for this better approach, highlighting the successful results.
This same edition of the magazine included a series of articles extolling the need to infuse equity into municipal strategies and financial decisions. Though the article highlights efforts in Austin, Texas and Duluth, Minn., it is rewarding to note that Roanoke City Council last year ensured their Strategic Plan update (adopted earlier this year) aligns with their equity objectives. This, of course, was accompanied by an update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan (City Plan 2040) and formation of the Citizen-based Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board. These efforts have now been followed with initiation of what will be a two-year undertaking, ensuring our budget yields equitable and empowering outcomes.
In each of these instances, it is easy to forget that we are a small post-industrial city of 100,000 people that many have never heard of (though, thanks to activities such as those noted, this is becoming less and less the case). So often, in so many ways, I am reminded that Roanoke is much more than what you might think. And that’s a part of why this is such a special place!
-- Bob Cowell