Tysons, White Flint and the continued "maturation" of the suburbs
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."
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.
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:
Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, on this topic. (I haven't read it yet.)
Principles of intensification are universal
I 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.)