Virginia Beach, VA aims to attract new businesses and residents with more walkable neighborhoods

Virginia Beach, VA’s Town Center. Photo by Barb Watson via Flickr.

Virginia Beach, VA is already a popular summertime destination. Now, city leaders are working to attract more year-round businesses and residents, and they’re using smart growth strategies to make it happen.

Virginia Beach is beginning to implement its comprehensive plan, beginning with the city’s Central Business District Core. The neighborhood is one of the city’s eight strategic growth areas, and Virginia Beach residents have said they want it to have “a mix of urban uses, great streets, mobility and transit alternatives.”

City leaders support the idea. “It’s about attracting businesses here, and attracting the bright young people who those business want to live here,” says Virginia Beach City Planner Ashby Moss.

To make that happen, Moss and her colleagues are building on the success of Virginia Beach Town Center, a walkable area with a mix of retail, housing, and space for public events and art, to the blocks surrounding it. The success of Virginia Beach Town Center was instructive to some local business owners and developers, Moss explains, who had thought drivable suburban development was the only way to turn a profit. “Our local businesses saw a very strong return on investment in the Town Center,” Moss explains, “and now there’s this understanding that we’ve been awfully inefficient with our land.”

Policy changes are part of making that vision a reality. New regulations and design guidelines are already in the works for they city’s Central Business District. And the City is in the process of developing a Complete Streets policy that will ensure the whole of the city designs streets with all users in mind. In April of this year, Smart Growth America held a technical assistance workshop in Virginia Beach to help officials and residents better understand a Complete Streets approach.*

Underscoring efforts to make Virginia Beach more walkable is the pending possibility of a light rail line to Norfolk, which could be built as soon as 2020 and would benefit tourists and year-rounders alike. “Visitor surveys say that people want to visit downtown Norfolk—if they could only get there,” says City Transportation Planner Mark Shea.

The city still has work ahead, though. “It has been a challenge to convince long-time residents that a big shift in development strategy is the right thing to do,” says Moss. “The proof is in the pudding, though, when we talk to young people or the elderly. They know they want walkable neighborhoods.”

*Virginia Beach’s workshop was part of Smart Growth America’s free technical assistance program, which is now accepting applications for 2014. If your community is interested in learning about smart growth strategies, consider applying for a workshop today!

Complete Streets