Of Cars and People

Before Christmas I heard an interesting NPR piece on Tyson’s Corner, Virgina, attempting to urbanize (here is a NY Times Piece as well). I was excited when I heard this, but also wondered how this was possible. Tyson’s Corner (TC), which is a suburb of Washington, D.C, is perhaps one of the most suburban (by design not necessarily culturally) places that I have been. It is impossible to get anywhere without getting on large, curved and fast roads. It feels like you are joining in a hyper-active assembly line of prefabricated SUV’s and Sedans that all have to go to the same place.  TC  is perhaps one of the most difficult places to get around, when people talk about the horrible Northern, VA traffic much of it is due to TC.

In reality, TC is more of and edge city. a city that has developed next to a large metropolitan city, however TC is the antithesis of a bedroom community which houses families and individuals who commute to the city for work. As the 12th largest employment center in the U.S, everyday more than 90,000 people commute TC.  TC maintains a daytime population of workers, shoppers, and others of  greater than 110,000 and a nighttime population of less than 20,000 – essentially a Ghost Town. For the 20, 000 that do live in the city there is little to do but shop. The civic life of the city is scarce so even those who live in the city have to drive outside of the city for entertainment, civic life, parks etc.

Tyson’s Corner seems almost nonredeemable. Suburban design found a home here and had been hanging round for a while. The NY Times piece found that more than half of TC is either parking or highway. However, urbanization is perhaps possible. Below are the goals and visions for the new project.

Vision and Goals

Transit Oriented Development
Provide a Full Range of Community Services
Protect and Enhance the Environment
Provide a Full Range of Housing Affordability
Ensure Public Participation and Effective Implementation

Additionally, here is a PowerPoint presentation from  the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who is assisting with he project. The PowerPoint lays out some of the problems and gives some simple solutions. The efforts are essentially and attempt to curve the suburban growth and transform TC into an urban hub with mixed use neighborhoods, walkable areas and a thriving civic life. Nothing extravagant but a noble move.

I really and pessimistic about the development. Although I hope that it is successful and large part of me  wonders how, in a recessed economy, a city can become pedestrian friendly and a place of people rather than cars. It will be interesting to track the redevelopment process over the next couple of years. Although pessimistic about this particular development, if TC can make itself somewhat urban then almost anywhere can.