Lauren and Whit Ellerman
Lauren and Whit Ellerman walk near their home on Jefferson Street with Gracie (white coat) and Atticus. Lauren Ellerman’s sentiment: “Family or no family, we are all welcome.”
A non-family-raising 30-something faces the hard questions: Is “great place to raise a family” actually true? And how about “great place to not raise a family”?
Fact: Roanoke is a great place to raise a family. Not a mediocre place to raise a family, or even a fair place to raise a family; a great place.
How do I know this? I’ve read it on bumper stickers, heard it from church pulpits and been told as much in job interviews. Three independent sources confirming a single statement, it must be true.
I am also quite confident that with little effort, I could find a statistic or study that reflects persons with young children are not leaving Roanoke in large numbers to pursue urban living in Richmond, Charlotte or Washington. Further, there seems to be a fair amount of evidence that affordable homes, green space and minimal commuting make a community more appealing for those drawn to parenthood.
So we all agree, Roanoke is a great place to raise a family.
But is it a great place for the 23 Roanokers (myself included) that are not involved in some stage of family raising?
The year I moved to a Roanoke, a new friend and Northern Virginian native told me that if she and her husband decided not to have kids, they would certainly sell their home in Roanoke and move back to the big city. A Northern Virginia escapee myself, I didn’t understand her meaning. She explained that with expendable income, and more free time, parentless couples were drawn to communities outside of Washington which had more to offer than the valley – theater, restaurants, shops, etc.
I saw her point but wasn’t ready to concede. I began to argue for the Star City, stating that a 30-something person in Roanoke without kids could lead a wonderfully fulfilling life. Couldn’t she? I sure hoped so as I was recently married and about to turn 30. Further, for various reasons which I do not plan on sharing in print, I was not and am not now, planning to have kids.
Certainly my husband and I are not alone. There must be couples or singles, gay or straight, in Roanoke who do not feel awkward being childless in a city focused on child rearing? I decided I would investigate the situation prior to making judgment.
More facts: During my investigation, I attended 13 baby showers (17 if you include smaller celebrations for second children). I was asked by three church members and four well-meaning persons at social gatherings when my husband and I were starting our family. Not if, but when.
Clients have asked me if I plan to keep practicing law when my children are born. At the same time, I am aware of three single female friends who say they will leave Roanoke if they cannot find a special someone within the next year. I have gay friends who moved here with their partners, to settle down – but I have not witnessed an influx of 20- and 30-somethings moving to Roanoke alone or unattached. I have also heard older friends wonder aloud why their 25-year-old children are not rushing back to the area to start their professional lives.
I know anecdotal observations cannot be supported numerically in economic studies on the region’s growth. But my experiences have made me wonder: Roanoke may be a great place to raise a family, but is it great for the few of us in that age group without children? Is there enough here to keep that non-parent demographic connected and involved in our community?
This weekend my husband went for a 20-mile bike ride up Roanoke Mountain. We took our dogs to the public dog park for a morning romp. We saw a great live band from New York City for $10 downtown. We made fresh tomato soup from tomatoes grown in our city kitchen garden. I rode the trolley instead of driving to work. We bought gifts for the next baby shower at a local boutique and not a large chain store.
OK, you get my point. If you are the type of person who needs peace over adventure, Roanoke is a great place. If you are looking for Capital-C community, and not just new faces, Roanoke is a great place. If you want your weekend choices to be a farmers’ market or a day hike, Roanoke is a great place.
So I counted, made notes and wrote down my findings. In sum, research now complete, I am comfortable making the following conclusion: For those of us who like a slower pace, Roanoke is a great place to live, period. Family, no family – we are all welcome.
Yes, Roanoke is a great place to raise a family, but I recommend we ditch the tagline. I suggest a new slogan and bumper sticker that reads “Roanoke is a great place to…” And let everyone who makes the valley home fill in the rest.
We’ll see if it catches on.