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.