Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come on Williamson Road?

Hispanic vendor at Happy's Flea Market on Williamson Road.

I'm not one to corner public officials and give directions on how to do their jobs (I can corner them in print without chancing personal injury), but I couldn't resist backing Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill into a figurative corner last night and trying to sell him on an idea that has been rattling around in my head for a year: the Williamson Road International Corridor.

We were at a function at a downtown law firm (see two posts back) and lawyer Marryellen Goodlatte and I had been talking about the international flavor of Williamson Road and how it would be beneficial to everybody concerned to put up some festive flags at businesses owned by immigrants and celebrate this cosmopolitan feature of one of Roanoke's homeliest stretches of road. The idea is not mine: it belongs to Christina Koomen, who passed it to me about a year ago and I wrote a column about it for FRONT. It is one of about 20 dozen really good ideas she's had for the city in the past two or three years, but she's not good at sales, so most of those ideas await a champion.

Williamson Road is mostly known for being an urban planner's nightmare and for a 1950s-style cruising extravaganza, Motor Madness, held every spring. People with old cars cruise up and down the stretch, looking for a drive-in restaurant and some hot chicks. The hot chicks are fatter and older and the drive-in restaurant is a memory.

The international restaurants, food stores, garages and a whole variety of other ventures aren't gone, though, and they need to be celebrated, encouraged and promoted. This could be a marvelous and shining feature of a progressive Roanoke. You will note that the cities in the U.S. that are the most diverse and who celebrate that fact are generally the most economically stable. That's putting our money where our collective mouths are.

Chris has been an impressive city manager to date and my guess is that he'll take this as far as he can. It may or may not work, but I suspect it'll get a shot. I'll be satisfied with that, given the vagaries of political reality.

(Photo by me, not Val Garner.)

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