The great promise of Metro through Tysons has never been the new commuter routes or the transit link to Dulles, but the possibility of a dramatic reversal of years of sprawling, automobile oriented development in one of the nations largest business districts. With the rail proposal seemingly back on track, the move to reinvent Tysons is proceeding. The Post reports:
The task is daunting. It’s not easy to imagine a future city while idling at one of the interminable left-turn signals, or spilling off the eight-lane Capital Beltway, or sliding behind the wheel for a lunch date two blocks away because walking is out of the question. Tysons is Fairfax’s de facto downtown, but it is a place with more parking (40 million square feet) than offices (28 million square feet); more workers who drive in (120,000) than residents who sleep in (17,000); highways that divide (Route 7, Route 123, the Dulles Toll Road, the Capital Beltway); and too few ways in and out.
Once upon a time, those were all seen as advantages. No more. A functioning jobs center can’t rely on this model and expect to grow steadily or survive in a world of $130 oil and climate change. Why must development patterns shift?
Property owners stand to make huge profits. But they also argue for the environmental benefit of high-density development, particularly around Metro. People drive less when they live and work in urban areas and when parking is less abundant, they say. Their homes, with shared walls, cost less to heat and cool. They require fewer feet of water and sewer lines. Their carbon footprints shrink.
The story notes that there is opposition from some local neighborhood groups. The language is familiar (is there a NIMBY handbook of some sort that these groups rely upon?). But as is nearly always the case, the opposition’s fear of uncertainty and change places them at odds with a shift that’s certain to be both green and desirable:
Environmentalists and smart-growth advocates agree that urban density, “green” building requirements and deep limits on parking are proven ways to reduce traffic, storm water pollution and energy consumption, improve air quality and protect streambeds.
“I don’t understand the hysteria,” said Stella M. Koch of the Audubon Naturalist Society, who sits on the Tysons task force. “Every place that has these kinds of densities that people get frightened of are all places people like to go. Clarendon is a wonderful example where they’ve actually reduced car ownership, and where people go because it is so pleasant. If Tysons looked like that, with streams restored and improvements in air quality, we will have succeeded.”
This is the new green, folks. And the icing on the cake is that people like walkable environments and there’s money to be made building them. Fairfax County messed up several decades ago, by failing to ask for Metro service to Tysons, and by failing to develop well around its Metro assets. Fortunately, this is something that Fairfax can now fix.