Spotlight on Lynchburg, Virginia


I was out of town this weekend and will be basically for the rest of the month, and will be spending much of this time on the road. I hope though that while I’m out there I can spotlight some of the towns I visit and show what sort of urban design lessons can be learned from them. I’ll start in Lynchburg, Virginia.

I went to Lynchburg with Holly and three friends, and as we drove down the road the city just sort of emerged without warning; one moment we were on a country road and the next, boom, we saw something like the image above. Lynchburg is nestled in the hills along the James River and has received the nickname of “the Hill City.” One thing you will immediately notice when staying in downtown Lynchburg is that everything is very steep.In some places, the city has addressed this in different ways. They have a number of stairways of varying grandeur:And, in at least one case, a municipal elevator, although it was out of order when we saw it:However, many of the streets had no such help, and you just had to be very careful walking down them.

Some interventions that you see in situations like this in Pittsburgh and San Francisco include sidewalks that are partially or completely stairs, or that have handrails to help people steady themselves.

Main Street in Lynchburg is very well designed. It is oriented to the hill in such a way that it is virtually flat, making it much easier to walk, and features well-maintained planters and bus stops, most of which have benches:

The buildings are mostly of a classic American Main Street architecture, with a few modern and even post-modern additions, but not a lot of new development. There were actually a few very lovely structures that were vacant and for sale. I don’t know enough about the history or current economy of the city to make any strong judgements, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of housing downtown (or even people, for that matter), and I wonder if planning the downtown for more people would enliven it a bit.

There were a few newer public spaces close to the river, such as Amazement Square, which definitely had a strong family focus:All in all, I was very impressed with Lynchburg. I didn’t really know what to expect coming down there: based on its relative isolation, I assumed is was a little podunk town. Instead, I was greeted with a classic American small town, with some really great features, both natural and designed. I had a lovely time in Lynchburg and would recommend it to anyone.

Also, just for fun, here is my favorite picture from the wedding that brought me and my friends to Lynchburg:Congratulations, Anne and Erik!


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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