Hampton Roads is the metropolitan area of Norfolk, sometimes referred to as the Norfolk-Virginia Beach metro area, at other times referred to as Tidewater or even as the Southside and the Peninsula. What this is, is a metropolitan area of 7 cities with 1.6 million inhabitants.
To appreciate Hampton Roads, you have to divorce yourself of a few urban concepts that do not apply to all of Virginia. The Commonwealth has created “Independent Cities” out of 38 cities; these cities are not part of any county (though are typically the size of a county). The seven cities of Hampton Roads; Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Newport News, Chesapeake, and Williamsburg , are all Independent Cities. Administratively, they operate differently from most cities in America.
But what does this mean, on a practical level? Well in Hampton Roads the cities are incredibly large, and often contain areas that would typically be considered suburban, exurban, even rural, within the city limits. This does lead to lower population densities than what one would expect in a major city, but it does lead to variety of interpretations as to the definition of city life, than one would expect to appreciate in a major city like New York, which Hampton Roads is often compared to, incorrectly. New York City is a city of five boroughs, that are actually five counties, that do not act as Independent Cities, that was created administratively over time. The real New York City, is the borough of Manhattan, with the other four boroughs added on over time; Brooklyn, which was its own city (functionally a sister city, or auxiliary city to New York). The other three boroughs were created in a manner not unlike the way that the Independent Cities were created in Virginia, but again, these areas were never independent, and many of them were actually rural areas that developed into an urban area after being annexed into New York City.
If you want to live in a city that has city, suburb, and farmland in the same city Hampton Roads is the place for you. The Northern sections of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Suffolk that are closer to Norfolk and Portsmouth are the urban regions. The Southern sections start off as suburban and become rural by the time you reach the city limits and approach North Carolina. This will probably never change, because the bulk of development in each of these cities is still in the Northern section. Norfolk and Portsmouth are urban throughout, but neither city is as large as these other cities. But, Norfolk and Portsmouth is large enough for most people, and if these cities were built out vertically, they would offer the same variety as larger cities.
But enough of the technicalities; what about the culture of Hampton Roads? There are a lot of transients in the area and there are a lot of people that have moved to Hampton Roads from other parts of the country. So if you cannot find yourself in the MidAtlantic /Southern/Virginia culture, there is someone else that shares your beliefs. There are probably a hundred thousand other Northerners, Midwesterners, and Westerners you can meet up with. The area is parts this, parts that, but in my opinion that is one of the strengths of the area; with no real dominate culture you are free to do your own thing. Unlike a city like New York or LA, you do not have to assimilate into some cultural norm or be forced to create your own thing here, you are free to be yourself. It is not a fast pace, and it is not overwhelmed by skyscrapers or any other singular architectural form or structural density.
This is not a sunny place. It rains, it snows, right now there is sleet out on the ground and people cannot drive; but you cannot tell if the people that face difficulty driving are from here or from somewhere else. Some people never renew their drivers license and still have their plates from their home state, a lot of other people still use a phone number that is registered to some other state, so it is very hard to tell. When there is some sunlight people flock to the beach, and when we finally do experience the unseasonably warm, humid, tropical environment this place can often be you cannot find a place to park on the beach.
There are a few beaches worth looking at; the Oceanfront is the most commercial place, in Virginia Beach, but Ocean View was a heavily trafficked beach with a boardwalk back in the fifties ; Ocean View is in Norfolk. Hampton has Buckaroe Beach, which is sure to take you back into time. It makes me nostalgic for what Ocean View used to be back when. But it does remind me of when I used to go to the local beaches in Ohio. Then you have more secluded beaches, like Sandbridge .
So Hampton Roads is one of those incredibly large places that is large enough, but with a pace slow enough in that it would not overwhelm people from small towns. So it attracts people looking for something different, that would be overwhelmed by New York or LA, or even Atlanta. Will Hampton Roads continue to grow? Without question, there is plenty of room, vertically and horizontally, to continue to build. Of course the area easily floods, but that hasn’t really stopped anyone from moving here. Will it continue to become more diverse? Without question, Hampton Roads, as expensive as it is, is still cheaper than large metropolitan areas and cities known as household names throughout America, and is a viable alternative to anyone looking for big city life. It is not just Blacks, or Whites, moving to Hampton Roads, but everyone. The stark contrast between the rich and poor does not seem to exist here, that does not mean that it never will, but you should not feel out of place because you aren’t rich or upper middle class.