Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Tysons, White Flint and the continued "maturation" of the suburbs

This post is in response to this article, "Tysons Corner, on the verge of a do-over," in today's Post, and this quote:

But now that the county has embarked on the redevelopment effort, some remain skeptical that such an ambitious, expensive urban retrofitting will ever come to fruition. Will anyone want to live in place long known for shopping malls and some of the region’s most horrific traffic? Will a shaky market emerging from recession support such development?

“We’re trying to create utopia through regulation,” said Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), one of two county supervisors who voted against adopting the Tysons plan in 2010.

“But is anyone going to buy the product? Will it be too expensive? All of these costs we’re attaching to it — they will be passed down.”

All I can say is that it is the responsibility of elected and appointed officials to prepare their communities to be resilient and ready for the future. Not doing anything does not position Fairfax County and the Tysons area for the future.

Also see the past blog entries "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC" and "Without the right planning "controls" you can't stop change: Loudoun County and rail service in Northern Virginia."

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In college, I was very much intrigued by the concept from geography called "location theory," because if you mapped the major cities in Michigan, for example from Toledo, Ohio to Flint, it was about a day's horseback/carriage ride from Toledo to Monroe, from Monroe to Detroit, from Detroit to Pontiac, and from Pontiac to Flint.  Similarly, it was about one day west from Detroit to Ann Arbor, another day's ride to Jackson, and so forth westward to Chicago.

And back when for a little while DC had a history museum and I was talking with the then interim director I made the point that a "DC" history museum could just as easily be a museum with a regional reach and scale because the history of the region is intertwined with the center city.

Large scale development intensification as the next stage in development ("maturation") of the suburbs

At the same time, with the rise of the "regional city" (Muller, Peter O., “Transportation and urban form: Stages in the spatial evolution of the American metropolis;” Adams, J.S., "Residential structure of Midwestern cities") as the automobile enabled outmigration significantly beyond the urban core, suburbs are going through their own phases of development, decline and reinvention.

It's not like counties were undeveloped before the onset of post World War II housing development.  Typically there were towns, there had been transit, etc.  And most of the pre-war towns have traditional grid street patterns, blocks, etc.

It was not until residential subdivisions began to be developed outside of incorporated towns but in unincorporated parts of counties and townships that the curvilinear street network and disconnected development pattern that we associate with residential housing in the suburbs became prevalent.

I hate to admit I haven't read a lot of the literature on the history of suburban development, such as Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth Jackson and the writings of John Brinckerhoff Jackson, John Stilgoe, and Sam Bass Warner (among others).  Another good introduction is the National Register of Historic Places bulletin, Historical Residential Suburbs and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's webpage on suburban development.

Arlington County as one of the earliest examples of large scale suburban intensification

In the early 1970s, Arlington County, Virginia, then a declining inner ring suburban county, decided to reorient development by deciding to route the forthcoming Orange Line subway through one of the county's major commercial corridors rather than in the middle of a freeway, thereby using  transit oriented development to reboot the county from its previous iteration of mostly single family residences and garden apartments into a denser "core."  And while Ballston had never been super-successful as one of the region's first shopping malls ("The mixed blessings of success: The Hecht Company and department store branch development after World War II," Richard Longstreth) after a couple decades of experimentation, Arlington County is developing a new town center between Courthouse/Clarendon and Ballston, a center that competes favorably with commercial and entertainment districts in DC, Montgomery County, and Alexandria.

Smaller scale intensification projects in the suburbs

More typically, suburban developments thus far focused on intensification have been much smaller than the effort in Arlington.  Other examples of this kind of development in the Washington region include Bethesda Row, Rockville Town Center, "Downtown" Silver Spring, and the intensification of the area around the Twinbrook Metro Station in Montgomery County, the Mosaic District in Merrified in Fairfax County (which made the New York Times a few weeks ago, "A Suburban Wasteland in Virginia Gets a Modern Urban Feel").

All are examples of intensification that are more similar to center city development patterns than previous suburban practices.

Plus there are examples of shopping malls being redeveloped in multi-use places, such as with the addition of housing, which was proposed--I don't know the status of this--for the Natick Mall in Massachusetts.  I guess with the real estate crash in 2008, it didn't fully work out, at least not according to this article, "Natick Mall condo owners allege fraud, seek refunds," from the Boston Globe.

Tysons and White Flint projects as a scalar change in the size of suburban intensification efforts

Because Fairfax and Montgomery Counties are economically successful, they have a lot more options than do communities and counties in regions that are in decline.

Plans to redevelop Tysons (formerly Tysons Corner) and White Flint as major destinations-town centers-"Downtowns"-central business districts in their respective suburban counties are an indication of the next phase of suburban development from a disconnected land development and automobile-centric mobility paradigm to a more connected scenario that is more comparable to the urban design and development pattern more typical of center cities.

In addition to these earlier reports:
the Urban Land Institute has released a new report, Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, on this topic.  (I haven't read it yet.)

Principles of intensification are universal

Build a Better Burb website screenshotI will note that these principles are hardly exclusive to the suburbs or to the center cities, they are the tactics and strategies that are going to have to be employed going forward, as our household income shrinks, land prices increase, and the national economy becomes more subservient to global economic trends.

I mean to get around to create a section of links on the right sidebar dedicated to suburban revitalization, if only as a form of keeping eyes on the competition (to cities).

Declining regions don't have the same options for intensification

In Cleveland's suburbs, the First Suburbs Consortium focuses on revitalization of what we call innter ring or first stage suburbs, a response to exurban migration, where people continue to move outward out from the core, abandoning communities, even the once promised suburban land, instead of staying and working to revitalize them.

Because of declining land values, it's very difficult for suburban communities to shift towards an intensive development paradigm, because land values don't support the higher construction costs and longer payback periods of this kind of development.  (It's tough even in strong markets, look up the history of Federal Real Estate Investment Trust, which did this kind of development, stepped back from it, and then returned to it.)

The best strategy is to focus attention on those submarkets, like Tysons or White Flint and the local equivalents, that have the best opportunity for growth and intensification.  And then build outward from success.

Note that this recent entry, "Long Island, New York and suburban revitalization more generally" also discusses these issues.

-- Long Island Index, Build a Better Burb project

Transit helps but intensification is still tough in weak markets

Transit can help communities in weak markets, by making transit-connected neighborhoods more competitive and in-demand vis-a-vis other neighborhoods that are served less well by transit, but intensified developments for the most part don't pencil out, because there isn't the demand and the real estate values necessary to support that type of development.

Owings Mills and Lutherville in Baltimore County are good examples of this fact. See "State vs. local control over land use: Maryland edition."  (Although this is true for center cities in weak markets also. Again Baltimore provides a good example, with the starts and stops concerning the proposed redevelopment of the State Center.)

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9 Comments:

At 4:49 PM, Blogger dan reed! said...

Why is "Downtown" Silver Spring in quotation marks? As you know, there's a difference between the development called "Downtown" along Ellsworth Drive and the actual downtown of Silver Spring, which covers 360 acres and, like you point out, was a pre-war, transit-served town with a regional-serving business district.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

'cause I was making a comment on the Peterson Companies development, but your description and the reality of Silver Spring being a legitimate central business district is unquestionable.

Thanks for reading so closely.

 
At 8:41 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Actually, re-reading what I wrote I stand by the quote marks. Silver Spring wasn't mentioned but is one of the places described in the section on prewar development.

OTOH, the "Downtown" Silver Spring development by the Peterson Companies is one such example of more recent suburban intensification efforts.

That's the point I was trying to make in that paragraph.

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Dan, I've actually read this paper:

Silver Spring: Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road and the Creation of an Alternative
`Downtown' for Metropolitan Washington," in Zeynep Celik, Diane Favro, and
Richard Ingersoll, eds., Streets: Critical Perspectives on Public Space, Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1994, 247-58, 294; paperback ed., 1996

by Richard Longstreth. It's good but "old." I can't remember if I read it in that book (I think I picked it up used somewhere--my library isn't super well organized) or if it was reprinted elsewhere.

If you haven't, you should read it, + the other paper cited in the text by Longstreth about shopping center development. That paper discusses Hecht's building of their first suburban store in Silver Spring. (Parkington in Ballston was 3rd.)

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

sorry, parkington was the 2nd suburban store for Hecth's but the third store in the DC metropolitan area.

 
At 1:44 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Not to be self-absorbed with the Belmont book, but that is one of his weakness -- he doesn't want to talk about suburbs becoming cities.

If anything, in 10 years, we've seen a lot of examples that have worked -- and many that did not. That isn't the take away from the polycentric point of view, but R-B have been succesful with one (very crappy and overcrowded) metro line.

Your point about strong market/weak market is very true, although in cleveland's case there are a lot of issues. Thank to "urban theory" under Mayor Jane and her planner husband, they killed Euclid Avenue* and didn't compete for business. There ins't a lot, but if you look at the Progressive/Cleveland Clinic/Eaton buildings along 270, there was investment in the naughts even in weak markets.

* And completely pissed off the Ratners/Forest City. Remind me to tell of of the summer I had to learn art history from Ratner Senior.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I wanna learn about that story, my Herbert Haft story is funny but very short...

At the 2002 Nat. Trust meeting in Cleveland, there was also simultaneously the Restoration show and they let NTHP people attend the other. So I did sit in on a presentation on Euclid Ave.--then they were considering light rail, and the group of local architects and planners pushing various alternatives.

2. But yep, in the past Dan Malouff (BeyondDC) has admonished some of my posts, making the point that even if the center cities are totally great, all the growth in a metropolitan area can't be accommodated only by focusing on the center cities.

3. My point in my "work" is to focus on making the center cities as great as possible, because the competition for success is ferocious and you can't falter or f* up too much, because the other jurisdictions are all at the ready to pounce.

So for various reasons, when there is polycentricity within cities and of course there is (e.g., in Detroit, GM started the "New Center" district uptown decades ago because for whatever reason they didn't want to be downtown), you can't totally fight it. You have to work with what you have.

OTOH, wrt what I all "intra-city sprawl," the moving of agencies etc. out of the core to locations that are deficient in terms of transportation infrastructure and counter to the concept of agglomeration economies.

So it's different from supporting and building upon the asset-anchor of Cleveland Clinic, vs. suggesting that the DMV move up somewhere on Georgia Avenue "to bring economic development to the neighborhood."

 
At 8:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

DK enough about Cleveland to comment about your point on Progressive etc. I don't know if they could have been successful in keeping those businesses downtown _at that time_.

Most big businesses moved out of core then. (E.g., Marriott and others around here.)

In Detroit though, you did start to see some companies moving to the city, almost 10 years before the current trends, specifically Compuware.

But yes, Cleveland I realize is a great counter example to all that I write. It has the transit, mostly, and yet that transit (like in Philadelphia but Philly's system is much more wide-reaching) wasn't enough to help the core compete and remain relevant.

Why do you think that is?

It's definitely worthy of a book length treatise-comparison...

 
At 11:22 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hmm, not sure if Cleveland is that transit friendly.

The red line doesn't go anywhere people want to go.

Green/Line blue line runs out to Shaker. Also only terminates in Tower City, which is 9 blocks from the business centers on E. 9th. It's more a classic study of the dangers of one or two lines than of the the multiplying effect of transit.

And shaker, while still beautiful, has been declining since they let black people in, and the white "middle" class hightailed it out to Solon, Orange, etc. Mostly b/c of the school issue. Rich white people left who can afford private schools are left -- sound familiar?*

The BRT killed the old merchants on Euclid through construction -- and I'll be honest they were dying since the department stores went away -- and it isn't really good enough to revitalize the area.

My larger point is that even in declining areas there is a lot of money being invested in the metro area, just not the center cities.

* Looking at the best high schools, you'll see Solon, Orange, Brecksville, Westlake but former standouts such as Cleveland Hts, Shaker, and Beachwood are gone as the students have been scooped by private schools.

 

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