The difference between working in the private and public sectors says Bob Clement, Neighborhood Services Coordinator for the Office of Neighborhood Services in Roanoke City, is simply one of money and public service: in the private sector, the first goal is profit and making money, while the public sector aims to make a difference in people’s lives. “I think as long as I’m making a difference in other people’s lives, helping it to be better than the way I found it, that’s what it’s all about, regardless if it’s here in Roanoke or elsewhere,” says Clement.
In his capacity as Neighborhood Services Coordinator, Clement works with residents, to help them become the voice of their respective communities. “I think it’s real important that our residents become engaged in the city in which they live, that they have a voice in the decisions that are being made to affect the neighborhoods in which activities are taking place.” As an example, Clement says that if the city wants to install curbing and sidewalk in a neighborhood that currently lacks such features, “it only makes sense to me that those residents who live in that neighborhood should have a voice [as to whether] they want that curbing and sidewalk or not.”
A descendant of the 1980s Roanoke Neighborhood Partnership, the Office of Neighborhood Services’ current stated mission in “to promote individual resident involvement in their neighborhoods and community; support community/neighborhood leaders in their efforts to formally organize their neighborhoods; assist community organizations to find creative, constructive, positive solutions to community problems and to serve as a clearinghouse for information, referrals, and resources to residents and neighborhood organizations to encourage civic engagement.”
Among the programs Clement offers is a nine-week Leadership College that allows city residents the opportunity to meet the various directors and department managers who provide the services they receive and provide access to them. “It helps create a relationship based on trust, understanding and knowledge, as opposed to a relationship that might not necessarily be based on fact,” notes Clement.
Another Neighborhood Services initiative, the Welcome Roanoke program, introduces new residents to those services they may need to know about, such as solid-waste pick up schedules, recycling programs and pet ordinances. “We think it’s important that they understand, because doing so helps to ensure a smooth transition into our city,” says Clement.
Among the projects Clement is currently involved with are concerns about the Ivy Springs property. The new interchange planned at Valley View Mall by VDOT will open up approximately one hundred acres of land for possible development on the other side of Interstate 581 from the mall. Because the property is privately owned, the city, Clement explains, “wants to engage the surrounding neighborhoods to make certain that whatever development is done on that property is blended in with the existing neighborhoods – so there’s a smooth transition between the two.”
His goal is to bring the neighborhoods together as one community. “When I first arrived here in Roanoke, I found the neighborhoods to be very [isolated]. They were primarily concerned only with the activities that were taking place in ther individual neighborhoods,” says Clements. “My goal has been to bring all the neighborhoods together in partnership with the city so that we are in essence one community—a community of neighborhoods.” That’s not easy perhaps: presently, there are roughly 42 neighborhood planning areas across the city, not all of them with neighborhood organizations to represent them. “My goal is [for] each of those planning areas [is to have] a voice, representing each neighborhood within those planning areas.”
A Roanoke native, Clement graduated from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business. He then went to work in the airline industry and became involved with community work in each place he lived. In 2003 those experiences helped him land his present job in Roanoke. Clement feels the major lesson he has learned has been the importance of working with all socioeconomic levels within a community, to bring it together.
“It [has] also taught me of the importance of a community being engaged with the government providing the services. I think that’s something that can be taken to any size of municipality across the nation.”
Further information about the city’s neighborhood programs (and a list of neighborhood associations) can be found online at www.roanokeva.gov/neighborhoods and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/roanoke.neighborhoods.