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.
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.