Urban Vitality in Lynchburg

Downtown Lynchburg

It’s a fact, Bacon’s Rebellion doesn’t write enough about Lynchburg. So let me remedy that deficiency by highlighting the following factoid: Lynchburg has been highlighted in a Smart Growth America report as one of Top Ten small metros in the United States in which the core city is growing faster than its outlying jurisdictions.

Between 2010 and 2011, the city’s population grew 1.04% while the outlying counties grew only 0.2% — a differential of 0.84%. While the back-to-the-city trend is a national trend, it is even stronger in small metro areas than large ones, the report says.

Bacon’s bottom line: Virginia has many attractive small cities. (My favorites are Roanoke and Staunton.) Most lost vitality as they experienced their own localized, versions of sprawl (scattered, disconnected, low-density growth). It’s a positive sign that some of them are making a come-back.

My question is this: How much is Lynchburg’s faster growth due to smarter urban planning, and how much is it due to the spectacular growth of Liberty University, which now bills itself as the largest university in Virginia?


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5 responses to “Urban Vitality in Lynchburg”

  1. DJRippert Avatar


    Your point is well taken with regard to Lynchburg. The city of Lynchburg is slightly smaller than 50 sq mi. So, the growth in the city is legitimate. For example, Clarksville, TN (#1 on the list of small metro area cities) is almost 100 sq mi in size. However, both cities check in with a density of about 1,400 per sq mi so I guess it’s apples to apples. Other cities on the list pose bigger comparative issues. Athens, GA is a combined “city – county” of about 118 sq mi with a density of 851 per sq mi. So, I’d see the “urbanization” of Lynchburg as more impressive than the “urbanization” of Athens, GA. However, as a side note – I am told over and over and over again that Athens is turning into one hell of a good place to live. Something of a mini-Austin. It would be an interesting analysis to compare Athens and Charlottesville.

    The problem with this analysis comes in thinking that a move from the suburbs into the city of Lynchburg is a move into an urban area. Lynchburg’s population density of 1,400 per sq mi should be compared to Fairfax County’s population density of 2,700 per sq mi.

    My second hometown of Easton, MD has a density of about 1,100 per sq mi – roughly comparable to Lynchburg. Since Fairfax County is a “suburb” and Easton is a “small city” you could infer that I bought a second home in Easton in order to be “more urban”. You would be wrong. When I leave Fairfax County for Easton I don’t think I am going from a suburban area to an urban area. I think I am going from a city to a small town.

    Terms like “city core” are hard to understand without thinking in terms of density.

  2. Don, you make good points about density. It is worth remembering, as you point out, that the “city” of Lynchburg has less density than the “county” of Fairfax. But it still has greater density than the surrounding counties of Bedford and Campbell, so it represents a step toward more fiscally sustainable human settlement patterns as well as toward creating the kind of community where the local creative class (sorry, Peter, I still find the term useful) wants to congregate.

  3. Lynchburg is the quintessential town MSA surrounded by a rural countryside with few other nearby urban influences except for perhaps Danville. It’s not a mega MSA like NoVa/DC/MD is but it’s a pretty significant urbanized MSA with accouterments like Amtrak, several University/colleges, and several corporations.

    One of the earmarks of denser settlement patterns is centralized water and sewer because both are needed if any kind of urbanized settlement pattern is going to succeed and prosper. This is no afterthought for a place like Lynchburg because such things are costly and regulatory-laden in order to protect natural resources like the James River – which is the same river that flows through downtown Richmond and is celebrated for it’s human-friendly characteristics which is possible in no small part because places like Lynchburg provide sewer to their urban citizens and at the same time keep the river relatively clean for downstream denizens.

  4. Hamilton Lombard Avatar
    Hamilton Lombard

    Lynchburg has been growing faster than its neighboring counties since the recession began. Though Lynchburg’s growth doesn’t fit as easily into the idea of city centers growing faster than suburbs. Liberty University’s growth in residential student enrollment accounted for roughly half of Lynchburg’s total growth in the last five years. The growth in faculty and staff likely accounted for a portion of the rest.

    Liberty University is located past the River Ridge Mall, out in Lynchburg’s suburbs, nearly seven miles from downtown Lynchburg. If it wasn’t for some very ambitious annexations in the 1960’s, Liberty would be well within Campbell County. But even if you remove Liberty’s growth, Lynchburg would likely have still grown faster than its neighboring counties. With the Wyndhurst and Cornerstone mixed-use developments, some of that growth may also have been smart too.

  5. […] growth of Liberty University, which now bills itself as the largest university in Virginia? via dev.baconsrebellion.com Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Leave a […]

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