“Streets Closed to Vehicular Traffic”

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How do you get suburbanites and small-town Americans to embrace car-free streets? Have a festival!

Back in April, my wife and I went to the Flower & Garden Festival in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. For those of you not familiar with the area, Leesburg is the county seat of Loudoun County, immediately west of Fairfax County, and it’s one of a few classic small towns out that way (another one to check out is Middleburg). Most of Leesburg’s recent population growth is standard sprawl past the town itself, but the old town is lively and successful, too. The whole county is growing, and seeing, unfortunately, the same suburbanization that Fairfax underwent in previous decades.

Several of the core downtown streets were closed to car traffic for the festival, leading to delays on the big, multi-lane stroad into town. Parking was also tricky; I almost had to drive up five stories in the first parking garage, only to drive back down and try another garage. Luckily we snagged a spot at the top floor!

And you know what? I wasn’t frustrated and annoyed that I couldn’t just breeze into town and find an easy parking spot. I was just excited to ditch the car and get to the streets. That’s a distinction with a difference. When easy parking is your major selling point, maybe you don’t really have all that much to sell.

We didn’t buy any plants or flowers or garden stuff—we were going to a winery later, and plants would wither in the car, plus, importantly, we don’t have a garden. But we did buy some salsa and pizza sauce from a local company owned by a veteran, and some herb-infused vinegar from a specialty oil and vinegar shop. We enjoyed just being around people, in a walkable, small-town setting. The festival vendors were just tents set up as informal shops. The stores in town were also open and were getting a lot of extra foot traffic and, presumably, business. Take a look:

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