In the first of many steps to engage youth in planning efforts, Roanoke County Planners collaborated with a City of Roanoke Planner to show Roanoke County Student Advisory Council (SAC) members how they can influence the future of their community. SAC is a student group composed of 8th-12th graders from every County school who serve the School Board by advocating for student issues. They provide communication between the students, the administration and the community.
Students were asked to redesign the Oak Grove area based on the shops and amenities they’d like to see there. They worked in small groups to mark up maps with their ideas for new restaurants, shops and entertainment; infill or redevelopment of commercial and residential spaces; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; walkable, connected areas; and outdoor and indoor public spaces (including parks and sports facilities). Students also voted on a Visual Preference Survey on Kahoot.it to indicate their favorite styles of architecture, multi-modal design, public space, mixed use development and more.
Planning staff then explained some of the complicating realities of planning for Oak Grove. This included discussion of jurisdictional boundaries and different zoning, market conditions, vacant or underutilized properties and community engagement.
There was general consensus that a variety of new businesses could improve the livability of the Oak Grove community. These included restaurants and coffee shops, much more retail including niche shops and chain stores, grocery stores, a sports complex including hockey, and a garden center, all housed in modernized developments accessible by foot.
The groups agreed that Oak Grove would also be improved by adding public infrastructure and amenities. Bicycle and pedestrian connectivity throughout residential and commercial areas was a high priority. The students suggested installing a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Route 419, signalized pedestrian crossings at intersections along Route 419, and an off-road multi-use path paralleling Route 419 and connecting to multi-use trails leading to residential and commercial areas. Other desirable public amenities included plazas, improved parks, and mass transit. Higher density residential developments near the commercial areas were also discussed.
To wrap up, students were shown staff-generated design ideas for redevelopment of the area. These possibilities of “before” photos and “after” concepts for redevelopment helped them understand what could be possible and generated excitement about potential changes.
About 70 percent of the students submitted feedback after the exercise, and their response was overwhelmingly positive. Students recommended that staff bring future planning activities to the schools directly in order to involve many more of their peers in community planning.
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