Regionalism is the idea that the City should work with its neighbors as a unit that thrives from collective strengths. Roanoke has worked with its neighboring localities on numerous fronts over the years. From solid waste management to utilities to public safety, there are many ways Roanoke works with Roanoke County, Vinton, Salem and others to achieve the efficiency and cost savings of providing services at the regional level.
The Commonwealth of Virginia makes cooperation challenging for its cities and counties. With each city being like a county within a county, Virginia’s unique system of independent cities puts its cities in direct competition with surrounding counties. The system enables suburban counties to reap the benefits of the infrastructure and economic activity of cities and avoid sharing in the responsibilities. Counties have little incentive to cooperate with independent cities within their boundaries. Moreover, since 1976, cities have not been able to capture the growth that counties create through annexation. The system has seriously stunted the economic growth potential of cities to the point that some are considering reversion to towns. Roanoke considered consolidation with Roanoke County in the 1980s. Despite strong support in the City, consolidation did not happen because the referendum failed in Roanoke County.
Action by the Virginia General Assembly would be required to modify the nature of the relationship between cities and counties to facilitate regionalism. While such action is unlikely, it is important for people to understand this structural obstacle to our prosperity.
What is the region?
During the planning process there was discussion about what constitutes our region. There was a consensus that the Roanoke region encompasses the area shown here. Other ways to define the region include: