Investigating the Future and Image of Leesburg, VA

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Over the past several decades, the Washington metropolitan area (Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV) has experienced extraordinary levels of growth, facilitating the region's emergence as not only a center of national governance but increasingly a nationally and internationally significant location for population and economic development. Leesburg, Virginia, located approximately forty miles northwest of the downtown core, has historically avoided the sprawling suburbanization characteristic of more proximate locations such as Fairfax and Arlington, instead serving as a distinct economic center for Loudoun County. However, as the Town of Leesburg has grown in both population and landmass over the past approximately fifty years, it has also become increasingly incorporated into an outward-pushing Northern Virginia region, dramatically reducing the once-evident buffer physically and psychologically separating those two entities. The increasing interconnection between Leesburg and the Washington metro region raises questions about the futures of both, with impacts for ongoing conversations regarding urban and regional-scale growth dynamics, governance, and place-making, as well as their intersections with local economic development. This thesis seeks to understand the methods by which Leesburg navigates the challenge to retain a unique and distinctive character while acknowledging the new spatial reality of its connections to the larger region. To better understand this complex situation, we conducted semi-structured interviews with fourteen individuals having strong understanding and expertise regarding economic development, governance, and place making in Leesburg and the rest of the Northern Virginia region. The interviews suggest that Leesburg is becoming a destination for outside visitors and tourists, while also crafting a 'complete community' in which residents can live, work, and enjoy recreational activities; Leesburg increasingly serves a number of distinct purposes for growing and varying audiences. While interesting in itself for observers of the Washington metro region, the Leesburg case also presents relevant implications for the future of large-scale urban and regional growth and change, as well as the continued validity of heritage-based place images given contemporary economic and development imperatives.



place image, urban economic development, regional governance, metropolitan-scale development