Today there are 38 cities in Virginia. Since the 1870 state constitution went into effect, they have been independent governments and separate from the 95 counties in the state. The General Assembly granted authorities to cities which were not automatically given to counties, reflecting the initial pattern of concentrated development within a city and low-density rural development in counties. Cities created water/sewer systems, hired police forces, and offered services to residents which were not vailable in counties. Today many cities have negotiated regional partnerships to share the costs for water/sewer systems, jails, and roads/transit.
Population growth and land use sprawl since World War I has blurred the traditional distinction between city and county. Arlington County has evolved into a fully-urbanized community.
Cities can expand their boundaries by annexing county land, but can not annex land from other cities. Typically counties opposed the transfer of commercial property to cities, since counties lose and cities gain the tax revenue from annexed land. In Hampton Roads, multiple counties transformed into cities after World War II in order to block hostile annexation initiatives.
Counties near large cities, especially in Northern Virginia, have defined growth boundaries in their long-range development plans to separate areas intended for future higher-density growth vs. continuation of low-density development. Virginia Beach, which became a city in 1963 through a merger with Princess Anne County, drew a Green Line to protect the agricultural area in the southern part of the new city.
Cities can revert to town status, in which case they become part of the county. Between 1995-2013, South Boston, Clifton Forge, and Bedford abandoned their status as independent cities and became towns instead. The remaining 38 cities are: