Roanoke has about 200,000 people in its urbanized area, making it about the same size as Amarillo TX, Evansville IN, or York PA. It's not a large city. But it's an important regional center, with oversized influence.
Roanoke is the largest city in Virginia that's outside the state's so-called "Urban Crescent," the southerly extension of the Northeast Corridor from Washington through Richmond to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, where all the state's major metropolitan areas are located.
Because of the geographic separation between the Urban Crescent and the rest of Virginia, the state sort of functions as two separate states. Roanoke would be the capital of the western rural part.
And although it's small on its own, if it were combined with nearby Blacksburg and Lynchburg, the overall population of that south-central Virginia metropolitan area would be a respectable three-quarter million.
Although small, Roanoke's urbanity easily goes toe-to-toe, and arguably beats, bigger nearby Carolina cities like Winston-Salem or Raleigh. It doesn't have as many new skyscrapers, but on the ground it's at least as walkable, if not more so.
Here's the classic view of the city, viewed from a city park atop a nearby mountain. Every Roanoke thread includes this view.
On the left, 320-foot Wells Fargo tower, tallest building in the city. To the top right, St. Andrews Catholic church. Between them, the locally-famous Hotel Roanoke.
Hotel Roanoke by Kurt Konrad via Flickr. Unless otherwise noted, all other photos & graphics in the thread are mine.
Roanoke's raison d'être: Railroads.
Let's go downtown.
The best part about downtown is Market Square, where the old Roanoke City Market building fronts on a public square, which is itself lined by vendor kiosks and adorable shops. It's a solid place to wander.
Most of these pictures, unfortunately, are not from a busy (or well-lit) time of day.
Two miles west of downtown is Grandin Village, Roanoke's only other walkable commercial area.
The city's residential neighborhoods are almost entirely detached houses. Richmond has rowhouses, but Roanoke and Norfolk generally don't. The James River seems to be about the southern limit of rowhouse country.
Usually when I do a photo tour of a city, I talk a lot about its transit. There's not much in Roanoke to show. There's a local bus system with daily ridership about 8,500 (respectable for a city this size but nothing to write home about), and a terribly unpleasant subterranean downtown terminal.
Amtrak will begin serving Roanoke this fall
, but as of today you can't yet use it.
When Amtrak does begin, Roanoke will only have a platform, not an actual station. It'll be right in the center of downtown, but outside. There are talks about building a new combined rail station and bus terminal
, which if built will be a lot nicer.
But Roanoke does have a great transportation museum, with old trains, cars, and more.
Goodbye from Roanoke!
Downtown Roanoke via Google's 3D imagery. Unless otherwise noted, all other photos & graphics in the thread are mine.