Tyson's Corner Sprawl "Real Urban Experience?" -- Suburban Soul -- Washington Post

crandell's picture

Steven Pearlstein from the Washington Post lauds Tysons Corner for its suburb grit in his article "Suburban Soul: Reston Is Hot Property, but Tysons Hums With 'Messy Vitality.'" While I would tend to agree that the best places evolve over time, creating that "messy vitality," I think Pearlstein is missing the mark here trying to apply that philosophy to sprawl. Reston will evolve over time, becoming more messy -- and more valuable. But I think without urban retrofit, Tysons will just continue to get plain messy.

Follow this link to the original article and highlights follow.

"[...] Reston Town Center was commanding rents and condo prices equal to, or even exceeding, those at Tysons. In terms of planning, it looked like a victory for place-making over sprawl, of tight zoning and master-planning over property rights and crass commercialism."

Which zoning is really tighter? What do property rights have to do with it?

"Sure, Tysons is one traffic jam after another -- but when was the last time you tried to get across Midtown Manhattan?"

About a month ago. It was pretty easy on foot.

"Like people in Chicago, people in Tysons don't amble or poke along -- they've got things to do."

I am from Chicago, and I have to say, though I often have things to do, when I don't, I do enjoy ambling and poking along in my neighborhood or in the park. And I imagine it would be very difficult to do the things I have to do in Tysons without a car.

"By those criteria, Tysons will never become a city in the way we think of Baltimore or Boston, even with a subway line running through it. To think otherwise is fantasy."

Of course it won't, but that's just a poor and unfair comparison since its a suburb and not the main event. I don't think it's fantasy though to think that one day, with a lot of care, it could become a vibrant suburban city. DC can't keep up with the demand for urban housing, and I'm sure many people would be happy to be able to find urban housing outside the city. I'm looking forward to watching how Tysons will begin its urban evolution -- http://www.tysonsfuture.com .

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norabeck's picture

Zoning and property rights

Pearlstein continues this ridiculous fallacy that New Urbanism is executed by placing regulations on development while suburban sprawl is solely a response to the market without government regulation. Come on now, we know both types of developments occur under a mixture of market demands and government regulation. But he's right about crass commercialism, if by that he means commercial development that is only thinking 5 to 10 years out. Like Lee said, Renton has a higher probability of becoming more messy with urban vitality and more valuable over time.

Just a glimmer to learn (and much to forget) from this column

The best thing about the article is that this professional real estate observer crowns urban Reston Town Center as the most desirable commercial (actually mixed-use) center in suburban DC, ousting the sprawling former champion Tyson's. While Pearlstein appreciates some things about Reston, he misses the business of Tyson's. There's something to learn from his personal preference -- Reston may be too sanitized an urban place -- but more to learn from the reaction of the marketplace. Suburban DC businesspeople and consumers prefer the urbanism of Reston to the sprawl of Tyson's and they want more of it.

Good comments here about the Reston Town Center evolving over time, but in determining whether that prediction will come true, it would really help to know the ownership of the town center. Is it more like a real downtown with multiple owners and public streets, or more like an urban shopping center with just an owner or two and privately owned and managed streets? (Payton?) If it's the latter, it's less likely a better, griitier neighborhood will emerge over time.

Laurence Aurbach has posted his views on this column at Ped Shed,
http://pedshed.net/ .

norabeck's picture

Messy vitality and physical design

Washington Post columnist, Roger Lewis, takes issue with the way the term 'messy vitality' was used by Pearlstein in his Reston Town Center-Tyson's Corner comparison. Some highlights:

"In reality, the right kind of messy vitality cannot be achieved solely through physical design. However, flawed design theories, or ill-conceived public policies regulating land use and urban design, can impede achievement of desired vitality, messy or otherwise."

"Reston Town Center is not yet on the list because it is still relatively young. With continued growth and increased functional and demographic diversity, it too could join the list. Whatever happens, its ultimate success as an urban place, and its ability to rival other urban places in messy vitality, will not be hindered by its urban and architectural form. On the contrary, its physical form will prove to be a vital asset."

For the full article, click here

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