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What's the Future for Tysons?

The concept of reconstructing Tysons Corner into a high-density, walkable urban center is under serious discussion in Fairfax County, Amy Gardner reports this morning.

Her report on the years-long work of the Tysons Land Use Task Force has predictably divided our readers who comment into two camps -- those who think Tysons needs a lot of help and those who like it the way it is -- full of automobiles and parking lots and devoid of any conceivably safe way to walk across Route 7.

Tysons Corner is the intersection of Routes 7 and 123, the one-time site of a country store that is now the 15th largest commercial district in the nation and the heart of Virginia's economy.

But in a time of rapidly rising gasoline prices and concerns about global warming, the automobile-necessary center is exactly the kind of place that is part of the problem, not part of the solution. As Matt Power writes in the June edition of Wired, "The fact is, urban living is kinder to the planet, and Manhattan is perhaps the greenest place in the US. A Manhattanite's carbon footprint is 30 percent smaller than the average American's."

The comments this morning reflect the concerns of those who dislike density and those who feel it needs to happen. Their discussion is the sound-bite preview of where the conversation about Tysons future is certain to go.

We'll start with nocando who said, "So glad my business and I are moving out of Virginia. This is another brilliant example of why. Tysons isn't enough of a nightmare already, let's make it worse. Brilliant!"

But huristm wrote, "I'm all for it and I say that because everything we have tried before to curb dense developments have failed. Its time for the NIMBYers to get out of the way of change."

The article cites as a positive the urbanization and vehicle reduction that occurred in the Clarendon section of Arlington -- on top of Metro's Orange line. And it appears that Metro will now be extended through Tysons to Dulles International Airport -- although as an elevated line instead of in a tunnel as it is through Clarendon.

Noting all that, ooyah32 said, "...Clarendon is NOT a "wonderful example" of anything except how to ruin a good thing. I used to go to Clarendon all the time -- when it was an open place (i.e. closer to nature) -- and now that it is little more than concrete and tall buildings that have INCREASED traffic jams..."

tchtic agreed, writing, "They turned Crystal City, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, Clarendon, into concrete canyons with no setback, no access, no lively shops, no street level vitality, no humanity. All the night life of K-Street. Contrast to Georgetown, Old Towne Alexandria, Del Ray, and the old Clarendon. You know they'll get it wrong... Please, just plow Tysons under and spare us all the misery."

cavalierauc said, "Yeah for big corporate landowners who will be able to raise property taxes for the County to spend money! Dense housing=high property values. Also, I cant wait to see how much Metro will cost into DC by 2015..."

merganser said, "Unless a sizable number of those 120,000 [workers who drive into Tysons] ... move into the new high-rises, still have the problem of traffic and this development will exacerbate it... If this mismatch is left unresolved or left to developers to solve, the urban utopia the planners foresee will be derailed by reality."

niceshoes1 wrote, "I prefer the suburbs. Thats why I live in them. Had I wanted to live in an urban environment, I would be living in Arlington and not Fairfax County.
This is an not an argument for big box stores and Wal Mart. It is an argument for grass and trees. It is an argument for low rise structures..."

But LukasWP said, "To the nay sayers, how long do you anticipate new workers in the job force will be able to afford $5+ gas and the housing options which currently exist? If you all get your way, northern Virginia WILL become a wasteland that the idealic 1950's vision you possess have long since passed."

sivadthe4th predicted, "I hate to be pessimistic, but it will never happen. If it was in Maryland then maybe it would have a chance. Reston is probably the only place in all of Northern Virginia that has a city downtown feel and that is not saying much. The vision simply isn't there. The leadership isn't there..."

timscanlon underlined a very practical issue in writing, "I'd be a lot happier if they quite blathering witlessly and made it safe to cross the beltway on route 7 by foot. Right now with not even a sidewalk, it's very dangerous."

gary4books wrote, "Density or auto-dependent suburban sprawl are not the only options. One could have suburban low density with jobs and markets close to people's homes. But that would need coordination and planning, with taxes on driving and commuting. Who wants to study that option?"

We'll close with jabreal00, who said, "When gas was $1-3 car friendly development was the norm. However with gas $4 or more better urban planning is necessary. The US needs to model some of it's bigger towns and cities after Europe with pedestrian friendly layout as well as better mass transit. A lot of people are going to be hurting paying gas."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  May 29, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Don't forget the aging population of baby boomers when planning for increased pedestrian traffic and less vehicular access. This bolus of citizens will be less inclined, and able, to negotiate extended walking distances, especially with shopping packages. Plans for the new and improved Tysons Corner area could well disenfranchise this large group of potential users.

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Posted by: sylvia | May 30, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The Tysons planners are not just imitating Arlington. They are borrowing best practices from throughout the world. The rest of the country is watching what we do in Tysons If we get it right, Tysons will set a new standard for creating livable, walkable communities.

Posted by: newtysons | May 29, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I thought it was funny that the development plan proposed by SAIC/Gerry Connolly proposes the destruction of the Booz Allen HQ at the corner of Greensboro Dr/Solutions Drive. SAIC's HQ gets to remain and have a metro stop built next to it.

Posted by: BAH Humbug | May 29, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

It is disturbing that anything that changes our static norm frightens some people. But, like it or not Tysons Corner will change dramatically in the years ahead. Existing zoning allows this by right, a legally binding commitment. What happens via this means may not be good, but it can't be stopped. If we want a better solution, then we must not fear new approachs. A well-planned, urban Tysons can be a far more livable place with less dominant through traffic. All important facilities and services can be provided, and new ones added. With the type of good planning that is now taking place in Fairfax County, we can have change for the better. No, the sky is not falling. Better days can be ahead for those with the courage to try.

Posted by: daeco | May 29, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

The densification of Tysons Corner is an excellent policy, but I will wait to see the success of the implementation. As I look at the renderings, I still see sidewalks along blank-walled parking garages and bleak public plazas. The key to success will be designing places that people will actually WANT to get out of there cars and enjoy.

Posted by: Gordon | May 29, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

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