Home to 100,000 residents, Roanoke is a mountain city and hub for innovation offering award-winning outdoor amenities, endless trails, friendly neighborhoods with character, public art, the famous Roanoke Star, museums, craft breweries, one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, and historical attractions. Nestled among Southwest Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, the City of Roanoke is the metropolitan heart of the greater Roanoke Valley.
Located midway between New York and Atlanta on Interstate 81 and 168 miles west of the state capital, Richmond, the Roanoke Valley was first settled around 1740. The City of Roanoke officially formed in 1884. Historically a railroad town, Roanoke is evolving into a place known for its mountain biking, craft brewery scene, and brains–today, Roanoke is home to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
The city is the center of one of Virginia’s largest metropolitan regions, and is a hub for healthcare, transportation, finance, and industry in southwestern Virginia. Its symbol is the Roanoke Star. Constructed in 1949, the Roanoke Star was originally intended to serve as a temporary and seasonal Christmas decoration, but has become a landmark atop Mill Mountain ever since. Roanoke’s nickname is the Star City because of its physical star and because of how brightly its community shines.
City Plan 2040
Since 1907, Roanokers have developed and implemented Comprehensive Plans for the city’s future. As Vision 2001-2020 was winding down, we got together as a community to develop our shared vision for what we want Roanoke to look like in 2040. The development process included community meetings across the city and involved the input of hundreds of residents.
Adopted in December 2020, City Plan 2040 is focused on a complete neighborhoods model and on reducing disparities and the distrust in institutions brought on by past policies. Based on best practices, City Plan 2040 is centered around six key themes: interwoven equity, healthy community, harmony with nature, livable built environment, responsible regionalism, and resilient economy. The beginning of our vision statement reads as follows: “In 2040, Roanoke will be a city that considers equity in each of its policies and provides opportunity for all, regardless of background.”
In 2019, the Roanoke Public Libraries vacated its old Melrose Branch Library, just across the street from Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Lansdowne Park property, in order to occupy a new, larger space at the Goodwill Jobs Campus around the corner. The Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) procured the old branch building and has converted it into the 6,000 square-foot EnVision Center.
The newly-renovated space is scheduled to open in early June 2022. It offers community meeting spaces, partner offices so residents don’t have to travel for appointments with providers, telehealth spaces, a computer lab, and a youth garden. Adults taking remote college or vocational courses can use the satellite education room. In addition, the EnVision Center will host an artist-in-residence for a year; this artist will work with community members of all ages. Services are open to the public and not just to RRHA residents.
Local Impact for Tomorrow
Opened in March 2022, the Local Impact for Tomorrow (LIFT) Center at Fallon Park Elementary is a health and wellness initiative sponsored by a coalition of community partners. These partners include Carilion Clinic, Carilion Children’s, Delta Dental, Freedom First Credit Union, and the Roanoke City Public Schools. Fallon Park Elementary serves predominantly low-income and immigrant families in the Southeast section of Roanoke, which is a Medically Underserved Area and historically has some of the worst health outcomes in the state of Virginia. Over 100 Fallon park students live in public housing, and many more receive housing assistance. Open to Fallon Park Elementary School students and their immediate families, LIFT offers physical, dental, and mental health care, as well as financial education and service coordination.
Star City Safe
Faced with increasing numbers of youth gun violence, the City of Roanoke formed Star City Safe in 2021. This initiative focuses on expanded services and access to public facilities to keep our youth and neighborhoods safe. When asked what he was doing for the youth in the community by his family, the Director of General Services for the City of Roanoke was empowered to make a change. He began working across departments with the City Manager’s vision from a Whole-of-Government perspective. This created a two-way dialogue between the City and the community. Funding was provided to allow for extended hours at the Melrose Branch Library, which is located within walking distance of two large public housing communities as well as the Roanoke EnVision Center. The City provided funding to extend hours at Parks & Recreation facilities. Star City Safe provides mentorships and paid apprenticeships with various departments in the City.
The City of Roanoke is one of seven refugee resettlement communities in Virginia, and has welcomed over 7,000 refugees since the 1970s. Today, most of the newcomers arriving in Roanoke are from Afghanistan and West Africa. Multiple organizations, including Commonwealth Catholic Charities and the Roanoke Refugee Partnership, work to help refugees find housing, jobs, and education.
Housed at the Main Library downtown, Blue Ridge Literacy is a nonprofit that provides literacy services for adults, the majority of whom are learning English. Its 214 learners go on to master English, pass the citizenship test, and gain employment. Blue Ridge Literacy is a major partner in Roanoke’s Welcoming Week events and the annual Local Colors festival, a celebration of Roanokers’ diverse heritage. The majority of its learners live in the Melrose neighborhood, and will benefit greatly from the collaborative efforts taking place there.