Sunday, June 22, 2008

Asheville v. Roanoke

For many years, I have heard Asheville compared to Roanoke, with Roanoke on the lower end in the favorable column.

Indeed, Asheville does look a lot like Roanoke. The elevation is similar.

The mountains are similar.

The trees are similar.

Asheville is older than Roanoke, though. Asheville was established in the late 1700s. Big Lick's history doesn't go back that far.

The one thing Asheville has that Roanoke does not is a tourist attraction. When you have 1.4 million people trudging through Biltmore Estate, you are bound to have more money to do things with.

Roanoke, bless her little heart, hasn't anything to draw in the tourists. After all, no one says "I'm going to Roanoke to see the Mill Mountain Star!" when they live in New York City.

Maybe if Vanderbilt had come to Roanoke first, he'd have built here. Who knows?

In any event, Asheville has a thriving creative population that I practically drooled over. It is obviously a very progressive city and based on the revitalization of Grove Arcade in downtown I would say it does its work very well. That old building is now a major shopping attraction in its own right, I understand, although we did not make it there this trip.

I felt like plopping down somewhere and reading poetry. The only other place that has ever happened to me has been on the Hollins University campus. The whole city has that kind of atmosphere.

I also noticed a lack of church steeples. Unlike Roanoke, which boasts a symbol of the devout nearly on every city block, churches were remarkably absent. Or at least for someone who is used to seeing church steeples rising above the horizon in all directions it so appeared.

That is not to say there weren't churches - there were. Several large ones, in fact. But they weren't splashed all over the place like they are around here.

Another thing I found interesting was that the stores, from clothing outlets to restuarants, played oldies music. We went into two malls and not once did I hear that loud hippity-hop garbage spewing forth from the speakers. There were plenty of teenagers roaming about so I don't think it made a whole lot of difference in terms of attracting shoppers, either.

It was a lot easier on the nerves, anyway.

I think Roanoke is too uptight and too wrapped up in itself to ever have a bustling downtown like I saw in Asheville.

Even so, I like this area and it suits me fine. I am a seventh generation settler here so it's pretty much in my bones. But if I ever want to move, I might just have to take another look at Asheville.


  1. Though we now live in the North Carolina mountains (not too far from Asheville), my husband grew up in Roanoke and we lived there for a short while when we were first married. In fact, my daughter was born in Bedford. I hiked up McAfee's Knob when I was nine months pregnant with her (yes, I know that was kind of dumb). So I find your comparison very interesting. I really loved Roanoke and the Mill Mountain Star and the nice folks we met there. But I do love the creative atmosphere here and the progressive energy, though I'll like it even better when we find work. :-)

  2. I have tried to visit Asheville so many times and have just been unable to make it there. We almost stopped on the way back from the beach but I was vetoed down, again. I imagine it to look like your description and hope to one day visit there.

  3. I enjoyed reading your perspective on each place. As someone who is looking to move asap, there is nothing like a native's opinion on their own city.

  4. SF - Roanoke is a great place. You'll like it here if you come. It is easy to find fault with your hometown. I love this area and have never lived anywhere else. Furthermore, I really have no desire to move anywhere else!

  5. Imagine living in Asheville and dealing with the tourists though. After a week at the beach, I can say I don't mind Roanoke's traffic eventhough we lack a lot of fun stuff by comparison. I spoke with some people who were from Charleston. While I absolutely loved it, they were like, "it's a great place to live, but we get so tired of tourists..."

    I'll have to check out Asheville more extensively. I've only driven through. You're my second friend to visit there this year and both reviews have been favorable.

  6. I've never been to Asheville. Every time we make plans for a small trip, gas prices rise again. Your pictures make me want to go even more now!!

  7. Thanks, Dew. I really liked Roanoke when we visited last year. It just kind of sticks with you, ya know? But it's good to hear about the bad side too, and decide if you can live with those things. And after living in Pgh for the past 20 or so years, Roanoke sounds like heaven, faults and all!

  8. I know people like to compare Roanoke & Asheville but they are very different cities. The majority of Asheville's economy is based around The Biltmore Estates. Tourism drives Asheville.
    When I have walked down the streets of Asheville it is apparent I, and the vast majority of the people I encounter are visitors. This by default makes the city feel like a place to visit but not neccessarily a place to live. Currently when you walk the streets of Downtown Roanoke you are walking with neighbors. Perhaps the Taubman Museum of Art will change this feeling, but I enjoy bumping into old friends.
    Roanoke is a city for a home.
    Asheville, to me, is a city to visit.

  9. We discovered Asheville when my son Josh found Warren Wilson College. If I had to live in a city Asheville would be it. Josh loves it but when he comes home he wonders if he made a mistake settling there cause he loves Floyd too. A three chamber kiln is impossible to move though.


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