Monday, February 22, 2010

Save Our Lands

Sustainability means self-supporting. It doesn't mean a Walmart on every corner.

What would a good community be like?

Sunday I thought I might find out. I slipped over to Troutville to watch a video called Save Our Towns, Save Our Land, by Tom Hylton. It originally appeared on PBS.

I have long had an interest in conservation issues. As far back as the early 1990s, I ghostwrote a column called "Rural by Design" for a conservation group. I advocated things like greenways, cluster designs in development, and sustainability long before it became the "in" thing to do. Back then, it seemed, no one listened.

Fast forward to today. The Town of Troutville has embarked on a study to find itself. What kind of town is it and what does it want to be? A steering committee has been holding meetings to see what the public thinks.

The video was a part of this process. Unfortunately, technical difficulties meant the video did not show.

Enter then the Conservation Steward for the Valley Conservation Council, Genevieve Goss. She stepped forward and gave an excellent presentation on the issues.

Essentially, a good town would be sustainable, she said. It would have affordable housing. It would have health care (like a doctor's office, not necessarily a hospital). It would have economic viability (stores, retail, maybe even a place that provided jobs). It would support and enhance communities that already exist. In other words, it wouldn't be a drag on the county by taking anything away from it, it would "add to." And it would be a neighborhood and a community, one in which folks waved and said "howdy" and looked after one another's kids.

An essential element is a "sense of place." That means that when you are in a community, you know it. The Town of Fincastle, for instance, is identifiable by the Courthouse and maybe the church steeples. It is steeped in history, Goss said. Buchanan has shops, retail and the river. Troutville has ... well, that is what they're working on. I know it has a nice little park, for one thing. It has some cool stuff, it just needs packaging.

Another essential is "built on a human scale," Goss said. This means that it is built for feet, not wheels. It's people-sized, not Hummer-sized.

Other components include diversity - old, young, middle-aged, white, black, male, female - people in all their forms. It offers trees. It has parking to the rear of buildings and buried utility lines. The architecture fits its surroundings (I hate to say it, but think "Taubman" art building in downtown Roanoke - does that crashed spaceship really belong there? Really?).

And last, but not least, is maintenance and safety. A community must stay spruced up and cleaned up. The buildings shouldn't be run down and the trash shouldn't overflow. Civic and community pride in appearance is a must.

Making these kinds of decisions takes courage and effort. Zoning laws must be reviewed. People who don't want change must have things explained to them until they are otherwise convinced. It is a long process. Troutville is to be commended for taking on this challenge.


  1. I think it's wonderful that Troutville is making an effort to become a great town. My home town has declined over the years. What used to be a bustling downtown is now almost deserted. We don't even have a grocery store. I wish someone had made the effort to save my town before it died.

  2. I love this post. I wish I could forward this to the Boones Mill Town Council. I would love to see more small businesses move in as well as a grocery store and library. Our little town has exploded at the seams so much that our small rescue squad can't keep up. But it's such a special community and I hope that we can keep that sense. Community is a rare treasure these days. I'm so thankful for the neighbors that I have.

  3. I hope they read up about Ebeneezer Howard and the Garden City Movement. Really powerful ideas which could transform the lives of ordinary people.

  4. Troutville is to be commended for being proactive in this effort. Maybe I haven't lived here long enough to know, but has Fincastle ever done anything like this?

  5. Lenora - the short answer is "no" but the true answer is "not exactly." There have been recent efforts but generally they lack in follow-through. Town council is doing a good thing with sidewalks at the moment; I hope that project is completed. That said, Fincastle was an early believer in historic preservation thanks to the work of Historic Fincastle, Inc. That group, which established in 1969, I think it was, managed to save a great number of the historic properties in town prior to 1985. More recent efforts include a boundary adjustment change, which failed and which left a bit of acrimony in the mouths of some, and a few other initiatives. The town needs someone to step up and take on a leadership role, I suspect. That person could be a paid person or a volunteer; I don't think it matters - but they do need to be committed to the vision.

  6. It's very impressive that Troutville is going about this in such a thoughtful way and is making certain that they involve all of the community in doing so. I've seen too many small towns become defined by long commercial strips of fast-food places, convenience stores, and a Walmart---not too conducive to instilling a sense of community.


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