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One of Roanoke’s most challenged areas has a unique opportunity to plan a turnaround. Community involvement will be key to success.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
When Roanoke City Council members two years ago pondered which area of the city to target next for revitalization, the neighborhoods bordered by Melrose and Orange avenues to the north and the Norfolk Southern tracks to the south were passed over. Instead, the West End, which takes in parts of Old Southwest, Mountain View and Wasena, gained favor as the area best primed to take advantage of the community’s limited block grants. Private projects were under way; neighbors, churches and organizations were already pulling together, and a new, desirable community was emerging. Synergy beat out the competition.
But the Loudon-Melrose and Shenandoah neighborhoods were not content to be wait-listed. Their own long list of partners is emerging. And last fall, the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority beat out a nationwide field of 72 competitors to win one of 17 Choice Neighborhood planning grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Roanoke will use the $200,000 to develop a revitalization plan that will be used to compete for serious HUD money — average grant awards are $30 million — to make a serious investment.
According to the grant award, “The vision is to transform the neighborhood into a livable, sustainable, mixed-income community with economically thriving retail, commercial and industrial development by building on its strengths.” It’s an ambitious goal for a high-poverty area that has watched people with means move away and people without then grow older.
Two distressed public housing projects, Landsdowne Park and Melrose Towers, contribute to what grant writers term “the disinvestment in the community.” While public housing developments could be renovated without bringing in the larger neighborhood, this would do little more than tack a bright facade on bleakness — far from the solution that neighborhood residents desire.
During the next few months, they will be asked to express their desires and hopes and offer ideas that would help to turn around their prospects.
Those dreams should stretch far beyond bricks and mortar. The goal is to develop a “transformation plan” that will include not only housing, but jobs, education, transportation and health. All integral components of desirable neighborhoods.
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