I spent last weekend in Leavenworth.  No, not the prison; that’s in Kansas.  This is Leavenworth, Washington – the  mock Bavarian town.


And yes, it’s easy to mock Leavenworth.  It is very faux Bavarian indeed:


Originally a railroad and timber town, Leavenworth chose to go German in 1962 as an economic strategy.  It worked, even if on a summer’s day the primary economic activity looks to be the consumption of ice cream.



But there’s something about Leavenworth that satisfies, that makes it successful for the tourists it attacts.   And why is that? 

Because it’s an urban experience.  Because it meets David Sucher’s three rules:

(1)  Build to the sidewalk property line.

(2) Make the building front ‘permeable’ – no blank walls.

(3) Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.


The sidewalks may be skimpy, but the crowding adds to the effect, rather like Robson Street.  And the over-exuberant decoration constantly stimulates, with never a blank wall or parking lot to dilute the energy.  It goes on for about four shaded blocks – the right length for an urban village, similar (not coincidentally) to the length of a shopping mall.

And one thing more.  Leavenworth has the right combination of highway and commercial streets close by and in parallel – a model that works around the world.  I explored this phenomenon in Price Tags 102, comparing our version (Georgia/Robson) with Paris’s (Champs Elysees / Rue du Faubourg St. Honore):



In the case of Leavenworth, the traffic pours by on Highway 2 (solid red), capturing glimpses of the three-storey streetwall on Front Street (dotted line)  in all its kitschy glory. 

Leavenworth street combination

How could you not be curious and want to pull off? – which is easy enough to do at the intersections.


Front Street is narrow enough, with angled parking to slow down the traffic, breaking down the constraints of Motordom.  Here, people jaywalk.


Add in the oom-pah band, the crafts market, the unique boutiques, the flowers, the treed parks and the ice cream – altogether not a bad if totally incongruous experience on the far side of the Cascades.



  1. When I was young, my parents would take me and my sisters camping near Leavenworth.. and we’d usually make a stop in the town at least twice per trip. It was a pleasure every time, for the reasons you’ve been able to list, as well as the memories we had/made (though at that time, I might not have seen it as a defined urban experience).

    Great article 🙂

  2. By analogy, I don’t understand why Richmond is trying to make No. 3 Rd. its pedestrian street – it’s a throughfare (like Georgia St.). Its pedestrian street should be Hazelbridge Way which is smaller scaled and parallel to it.

    At Brentwood, Burnaby has realized this and the pedestrian street is Dawson St., which is parallel to Lougheed Highway.

  3. Interesting article. Makes me think of how much equity small towns around British Columbia have if viable economics would allow them to focus on their downtown core. I think of places like Fernie, Duncan, Courtney and even Kelowna that have quaint downtown village possibility. Unfortunately an opportunity for village development is being missed because of a commitment to move the hoards along on multi-lane highways. A nice village walk complete with window shopping at local merchants and interacting with local citizens has been replaced with pulling up to the drive-thru to pick up a briquet of fast food?

    How do we undo the big box / highway strip culture?

  4. @ RC, actually Garden City and River Road are the informal through-fares, whereas No. 3 will become the new pedestrian street.

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  6. As someone noted above, Kimberly BC, is also a faux Bavarian town. The city fathers decided on this approach back in the 60s (maybe the 70s?) as they new that their economic mainstay, the Sullivan mine, would not be open forever.

    Kimberly was able to combine that with two very nice golf courses as well as a decent ski resort. It would be interesting to compare the two communities side by side.

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