Steve Buschor, director of the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Roanoke, has been on the job since 2002. Before that he worked in suburban community Kansas City for eight years and, prior to that, served as a director of Parks and Recreation for twelve years in Ohio.
In his present position, Buschor oversees numerous divisions within his department: greenways, park maintenance, urban forestry, athletics, recreation, aquatics, fitness, leisure tourism, and outdoor recreation. With summer here, Parks and Recreation is focusing attention on traditional baseball-softball type programs, outdoor summer camps and the opening of public swimming pools. Buschor’s department is also responsible for the city’s parks, which are open year-round.
While conceding that his department, like others in the city, have confronted financial challenges, Buschor notes that “at the same time we have focused very much so on our key businesses—the [ones] that keep us going, looking at and focusing on maintenance, doing the best that we can, making sure that our parks are well maintained and that they are safe.” Safe playgrounds are another priority. In Buschor’s opinion, the biggest difference Parks and Recreation is making—both in Roanoke and the Roanoke region—is in his department’s greenway system.
That network of urban trails includes the Roanoke River, Lick Run, Tinker Creek, Murray Run and Mill Mountain greenways. Buschor takes great pride in them, adding, “I think that they are amenities …that our citizens and visitors enjoy tremendously, by the thousands. They affect a lot of different parts of the community with regards to livability, property values and [other] aspects. The greenways have been very popular and they have really, really, really met the expectations of a lot of our folks.”
The main reason for the success of Roanoke’s greenway system, according to Buschor, is the many different kinds of benefits provided to those using them. For starters they offer an alternative means of transportation. “We are getting more and more folks that are using the greenways to ride their bikes to and from work,” said Buschor. “ We have established mile post markers along the way [funded by the Roanoke Kiwanis Club], and we have provided teachers guides to interpret the greenways from an educational perspective. We can actually [take] the students from the classroom, allow them to walk and exercise along the greenway while enjoying an educational benefit.”
There is also the social benefit, where people come together for jogging, running, walking, and sightseeing. Finally, the greenways have a positive impact on adjacent property values, according to Buschor: “It has been found that people that live in close proximity to the green spaces [and] do enjoy the opportunity of seeing their property values increase. We’re not only creating a wonderful amenity for people to use, but it’s also of benefit to those people that live in close proximity.”
Buschor believes that citizen feedback is a significant element of Parks and Recreation’s mission. “Through master planning processes, through processes of program evaluations, [surveys and the use of] social media, we are constantly in communication with our users and potential customers, asking them what they want. Everything from programs to facilities and amenities—we have always tried and we will continue to use those methods in determining what the best use of parks facilities are, what programs and what things people want to see happen within our department. Our goal is very much to make sure that we serve our customers [and] our citizens. By asking them what it is that they want is one step in helping fulfill that promise.”
Buschor cites numerous studies demonstrating that people desire to reside in communities that place a premium on offering them the chance to interact socially – like encountering others on the greenway. “That’s important to the livability of our community. That’s very much what we try to provide to our citizens and to visitors.”