Princess Anne Commons: Virginia Beach, Virginia

City Parks Forum Case Study


Aerial view of the areaMany metropolitan regions in the United States have grown beyond a single central city and adjacent suburbs to include multiple cities and far-flung communities across hundreds of square miles. It is difficult to build local identity in regions such as these, because the distribution and complexity of neighborhoods within the metropolitan area make it difficult for people to interact and share common interests. The Virginia Beach area of Virginia is no exception. Officially, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan Statistical Area has three core cities and an additional 13 independent cities and counties spread over two states. Numerous annexations, mergers, and consolidations resulted in the total disappearance of some communities and the birth of new communities, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, Virginia Beach and many other municipalities in the region do not offer a sense of history and place to residents and business owners that might otherwise be more prevalent in communities with greater contiguity.

Parks can often become the central gathering place for a community, to foster a stronger sense of commonality and self-identity. They are public spaces where everybody can congregate to pursue different interests and interact with one another. However, where communities are newly formed and rapidly growing, it may be difficult for parks to serve as community magnets without some help from civic leaders. Good marketing and site-specific design can facilitate the transformation of parks and other public gathering spaces into destinations that people recognize and embrace as their own.

The southeastern portion of the Virginia Beach metropolitan region was a prime candidate for a marketing and design intervention due to the newness of the communities, lack of identifiable community center, and extremely rapid growth. Both Chesapeake and Virginia Beach were created in the 1960s and have since grown into some of the largest cities in Virginia (220,000 and 440,000 respectively). Currituck County, North Carolina, bordering both cities to the south, is also growing explosively (more than doubling its population in the last 20 years) but lacks connectivity to the rest of North Carolina; Currituck has stronger ties to Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Collectively, the three communities have grown from less than 390,000 in 1980 to more than 680,000 in 2005. The State of Virginia and the City of Virginia Beach had been developing a 1,200-acre education and recreation campus called Princess Anne Commons to serve the new residents, but most people were unaware of the variety and locations of facilities the commons offered.

Rendering for projectThe American Planning Association and the City of Virginia Beach teamed up through the City Parks Forum to bring Princess Anne Commons into the spotlight, through both a new marketing brochure and a permanent gateway to identify the site. Under Mayor Meyera Oberndorf in September 2002, Virginia Beach successfully obtained a Catalyst Grant from APA to design a new marketing brochure for Princess Anne Commons and a new crossroads gateway for motorists entering the district. Information and maps direct potential patrons to the soccer complex, field hockey training center, picnic areas, baseball and softball diamonds, and the local YMCA recreational facility.

The goal of the Virginia Beach government and APA was to raise community awareness about the commons so that residents would begin to treat it as their recreational, entertainment, and cultural center. Out of a group of communities that had been artificially created under an onslaught of new arrivals to the region in the post-World War II decades, local officials wanted to carve a community niche where everyone would feel at home. Future plans for medical office facilities and more affordable housing would only further complete Princess Anne Commons as the nerve center for southeast metropolitan Virginia Beach.


Pete Hangen
Coordinator, Marketing and Information Systems
Department of Parks and Recreation, Building 21
2408 Courthouse Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23456
(P) 757-471-5839

Images: Top — Aerial view of the area. Source: City of Virginia Beach. Bottom — Rendering for project. Source: City of Virginia Beach.