Tuesday, October 4, 2011

CityWorks (X)PO: Roanoke's Next Big Step

Sharon Rappaport
You probably haven't heard about CityWorks (X)PO 2011 yet, but you will, and I hope you get as pumped about it as I am. I sat with Lisa Soltis of Roanoke's economic development department and the Energizer Bunny Sharon Rappaport, a PR whiz, a little while ago and heard what I've been wanting to hear for a long time about our fair city.

They are part of a group of enormously talented and visionary people who are making a concerted effort to help Roanoke break out of its morass of negativity and to not only move into the 21st Century, but to lead the small city charge toward a re-definition of who we are and what it is important to become.

The (X)PO will be held Oct. 27-30 at Charter Hall in Roanoke's City Market Building. It will be a series of discussions, based on the famous Ted Talks (we have those weekly at the Shadowbox Theatre on Kirk Avenue) from the West Coast. The (X)PO will feature some national figures leading brainstorming sessions for economic developers, mayors, city managers and others with an interest in the potential for small cities. The public can come and share what will be enormous intellectual energy, I suspect.

Lisa Soltis
The topics will be Outdoors & Recreation (with Mia Birk, who made Portland a biking capital), Leadership & Good Government (Kennedy Smith, a cities expert), Arts & Design (Theaster Gates), Capital & Social Entrepreneurship (our own Ed Walker, a developer whose reputation is going national), Food & Drink (Ben Hewitt, two books on small-scale farming) and Knowledge & New Media (Nicco Mele, who teaches at Harvard and understands social media).

Sharon and Lisa got wound up on this and couldn't stop. It was fun to listen to this level of involvement in the future of Roanoke, a city that has most often had trouble thinking of itself as a player. Ed Walker has done a lot in recent years to help us turn that perspective toward a real vision and this (X)PO thingy is the next logical step. There has been little time or money for the kind of marketing that would make the first event a huge, measurable success, but in my mind, the very idea of doing it makes it instantly successful.

The practical Sharon says that the idea is to stamp the first one home, then start thinking about 2012 and the huge national impact this conference can have. "It's a big deal," she says, perhaps understating. "The movement is happening, but it isn't owned. We want to own it."

That's not typical Roanoke-think. Maybe it's the future. Let's hope so.

Hold on for updates 'cause this baby ain't going away.

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