Cities: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Posted Jan 3rd, 2018

Cities: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Over this past Christmas, my wife and I decided to explore the US, so drove from Niagara to Florida (Orlando & Daytona Beach). Being a nerdy urban planner, naturally I decided to observe and report on the various cities encountered, and what makes/breaks them.


We start with Leesburg, VA, a city of 52,000 (Wikipedia) and a suburb of Washington, DC. This was on our 2nd day of travel. Highway 15 is the main arterial through Leesburg, which we followed to avoid anticipated heavy traffic on the Washington Beltway (I-390).

The city was so clean and well manicured, I wondered if we were driving through a private club, or if they knew we were coming through so tied up a bit... Boulevards had well cut grass, brilliant foliage and green sidewalk areas. It almost felt too clean. Then I wondered how they paid for all of it. The roads were well maintained too. Then I noticed all of the commercial uses: Premium Factory Outlets; Hotels; and many, many supporting businesses. This was coupled with extensive housing, mostly single-detached houses, although several townhouses were also viewed. We didn't see any apartment buildings, nor buildings taller than 4 stories. To my naïve Ontario eyes, this was sprawl paid for by the mid-senior level bureaucrats from the DC area who earned enough to finance the 30 - 60 minute daily commute.

There were few local businesses apparent, aside from professional offices (accountants, dentists, lawyers, investment firms). What we didn't see was the historic downtown and plentiful historic properties on the fringe of the city.

Leaving Leesburg, we travelled through some rich rolling hills, which contained both large equestrian properties, as well as estate residential. These are the large house on a large lot, located in the countryside. Ontario effectively banned these developments with the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement.

Key Words for Leesburg:

  • Sprawl
  • Clean
  • Auto reliant
  • Heritage

Good planning:

  • Proximate to large centres
  • Strong agricultural community
  • Very well maintained
  • Historical preservation

Bad planning:

  • Vehicle dependent
  • Low density
  • Public transit?
  • Growth at the expense of agricultural lands

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