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A Vision for a Village

Christiansburg, Va. -- When CHP Architect Brooke Karius and 15 other rising architects were challenged by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects (VSAIA) to develop a group project that would help improve the West End neighborhood of Roanoke through architecture, the young designers agreed they wanted to help change negative perceptions of the neglected neighborhood. 

As part of the VSAIA’s Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) program to develop future leaders in the community and the field of architecture, Karius and her team spent several months studying Roanoke’s once prosperous and desirable West End, examining its steady decline over the past several decades, and envisioning a more vibrant future for it and its residents. 

According to Karius, even though the West End’s  bleak streetscapes, damaged sidewalks, vacant buildings, and numerous “no trespassing” signs currently convey an unwelcoming or even dangerous atmosphere, her team’s  analysis shows that the neighborhood has significant opportunities to act as a hub of activity in Roanoke.

“While the West End community (and surrounding areas) are no longer the premier residential neighborhoods they once were, the area has retained much of its historic qualities and offers solid residential, commercial and industrial redevelopment opportunities,” contends Karius’ group in a report outlining their vision. 

“But before significant infrastructure and economic changes can take place, we feel strongly that there needs to be a shift in public attitude about the area,” it suggests.  Fortunately, says Karius, “city planners and residents have the ability to change this perception through design.”

The group explained in a formal presentation to a panel of  Roanoke’s City planners and designers that a  few intentional improvements can turn the side of a street into an edge of movement creating a whole new streetscape for drivers, bikers, and walkers. And that a decision to remove expanses of blacktop can bring whole sections of a neighborhood back down to the scale of the individual.

“That is our goal,” Karius says.  “ By implementing small design changes we can reveal the vibrancy of a neighborhood and shake off the shadow of the reputation that has become synonymous with the West End.  The West End truly is a village and should be recognized as such.” 

Specific suggestions made by the group include making cosmetic changes such as the development and promotion of a West End brand identity and the addition of banners, bike lanes, and crosswalks to encourage street activity. More substantial changes could involve adding street furniture, lit sidewalks, neighborhood signs, and landscaping, as well as upgrading an important community resource called the West End Center.  Recommended long-term goals for the area outlined the development of a laundromat, grocery store, restaurants, and retail shops.

“This will give the West End community the opportunity to shine as a unique destination in Roanoke,” concluded the team.