Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I got away from bad news this weekend with a trip to the sunny Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where I discovered this fascinating and informative local land use story (well, I do tend to look for these) about Stephens City, which is celebrating its 250th birthday. Stephens City was a typically dense town until the arrival of the Interstate (81, in this case) in the 1960s, right on the eastern edge of town. In addition to puling business away from Main Steet to the freeway ramps, the Interstate created a divided town, with the declining old walkable grid to the west, and new, auto-dominated, curving developments to the east (including a “Fredericktowne” – that extra “e” was sure to get an premium in home values). But the charm of the old buildings on Main Street is being revived (as it has been in force in nearby Winchester, the county seat), as the city government (which eventually annexed much of the eastern developments) has high hopes for attracting tourists to craft shops, restaurants, inns, and the like on old Main Street. (Winchester already has a downtown pedestrian mall (not always a great idea), which serves as a fairly successful tourist magnet. Indeed, one can still even buy a pair of cheap socks in downtown Winchester, although I suspect that this is a relic of the pre-tourism downtown, rather than a symbol of a revival.) Stephens City is planning bike routes and other features to encourage downtown living. While tourism is not a full substitute for the pre-auto town, it’s far better than the image of the abandoned downtown that places like Stephens City faced in the 1970s. I wish the town good luck …
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