Can Tysons Corner Become a City?

It’s all about the sidewalks. In other words, can people easily walk around the new Tysons? I’m not entirely sure (boldface mine):

What would you do if you were tasked with doubling the number of jobs and raising the number of residents from about 14,000 people to 100,000 in a city? Plus you need to add 113 million square feet of new construction (for reference, Tysons mall is two million square feet). And that city needs to be a bustling urban center at all hours, complete with a walkable street grid, bike paths, and more—all by 2050.

That’s the challenge posed to Tysons, and to the many people vested in developing this four-square-mile “edge city” in Northern Virginia into a city in its own right. “It is an audacious experiment—and it still is an experiment,” says Sol Glasner, president and CEO of the Tysons Partnership, an association of business, civic, and government leaders dedicated to transforming Tysons into “a 24/7 live, work, play destination.”

…So Tysons has money and jobs. What it doesn’t have? A good street grid, for starters. Since the area grew up around highways, it’s not easy or pleasant for people on foot or other modes to navigate. Few people live there. They mostly flock to the area to work or to shop at its iconic mall, and leave when the sun goes down. It lacks civic culture; there are no places of worship within the city limits. To become a sustainable, modern city where people want to stay to live and play, you need a plan.

…To this end, Tysons is putting a lot of effort into building green space. It wants to build a “green network” of parks, including 20 athletic fields. The Tysons Partnership has commissioned massive murals around a popup beer garden near the Greensboro stop. It’s just one of many long-term, temporary amenities built in Tysons in an effort to get people to stay and linger.

The problem is when one looks at Tysons from the air: the blocks are too long. These are ‘office park’ blocks, sized for driving commuters, not city blocks, scaled for pedestrians. The streets are too wide, and the buildings, as best as I can tell, are set back too far from the sidewalk. Cities are about walking, and Tysons, at least from the plans that are available, is not. Green space is nice, but if that green space interferes with pedestrian movement, then it’s actually a negative. The point isn’t if it’s a place people want to visit, but if it’s a place in which it’s easy to live. That said, having a lot of housing near Metro stations and near a shopping center will cut down on the number of car trips taken (and their length). Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I think this is what happens when suburbanites try to build cities, when they lack experience living in them.

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4 Responses to Can Tysons Corner Become a City?

  1. Adam Gaffin says:

    Suburbanites? It’s a city issue too – look at Boston’s Seaport: An overnight “neighborhood” of office and condo towers stuck on former parking lots off highway ramps with a single bus route, no supermarkets, no drug stores, no schools and no houses of worship save one small Catholic chapel originally built for sailors (that itself was moved to make way for new condos).

  2. coloncancercommunity says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Constant growth is not a constant. Growth can not continue indefinitely and the difficulty is that we are FORCING massive growth in tiny slivers of the country. We need to STOP. Maybe admit that some areas are FULL. Gear development in these places for the current residents to keep populations constant and economically diverse.

    What do we do with all the people? It’s a HUGE COUNTRY and entire states are being emptied out. They need to be redeveloped and we need to push industries and corporate HQ’s to these God-forsaken areas and give them a bit of what the coastal cities benefit from.

    This isn’t good for people who live in areas that lock them out of opportunities that prosperous cities offer. It isn’t good for people being pushed out of prosperous cities. It isn’t good for people being told that they will live in a sardine can and like it in order to cram more people into too little space.

    I also think that more of this is designed to make developers rich than anything else. I’m not seeing ANY suggestions on the drawing boards that do anything rain money down on them. If you actually think that this is coincidental, I’ve got this bridge in Brooklyn….

  3. kaleberg says:

    I had friends in McLean, so I remember Tyson’s. There were a few good restaurants in the office buildings up there, and that was back in the golden age of retail. Tyson’s was like Dallas, an automotive city. I actually managed to walk from Tyson’s II to the main Tyson’s, and I remember walking from Tyson’s to the Giant (I think it was) in the Tyson’s parking lot. Being an urban boy, I remember walking around McLean which was more walkable than it looked.

    Maybe they should approach a mixed use Tyson’s N by building a parking platform, as for Tyson’s II, and designed the mall as the street grid and putting housing on top of it. They could link everything with elevated, air conditioned passageways like they do in Calgary and Rochester, MN. This would create its own retail opportunities if designed right. Calgary and Rochester do this because their winters are bitter. With global warming, a similar design in Virginia might give us a glimpse of the future.

  4. Bern says:

    Take half the pavement – the part right down the middle of those pathetically wide roads – and turn it into the walkable part of the town: narrow, small-medium scaled retail & apartment buildings with walkways throughout, bike lanes both directions, mass transit-optimized lanes, bike/ped-favored signaling at intersections, congestion-priced entry for cars…for instance…

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