Tag Archives: Science City

Will Tysons halfway plan bolster or doom the future city?

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us this story on the future of Tysons Corner.  Tysons is in many ways the poster-boy for post-war American suburbia.  Even PBS has noted it’s car-dependent, highway-oriented state.  Pedestrians in Tysons are taking their lives into their hands.  The city is made up of single-use office towers, strip shopping centers, tract housing, and parking, parking, parking.  Fortunately, Tysons’ local leaders are aware of the changing market conditions pointing toward mixed use development, and they are trying to fix their city.  Fairfax County has produced Transforming Tysons, a document that is still being revised that will guide more pedestrian-scaled development, focused on Tysons’ four Metro stops and tapering down to the surrounding low-density development.

Traffic engineers don’t believe that the plan will work, and are advocating expanded freeway facilities.  But Washington has ample examples, the District in particular, of how wrong traffic engineers could be.  According to their models, DC couldn’t be built today.  This and other debate has encouraged Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn to propose that 3/4 of the proposed density be built in the next 20 years instead of building 100% in the next 40 years, as well as eliminating density maximums in favor of having the Board of Supervisors analyze every proposal in turn.  The Sierra Club endorsed Alcorn’s plan, hoping that the shorter time frame will encourage that the necessary transit upgrades to the periphery of the city are built.  The Audubon Society, on the other hand, wants the complete plan.  Stella Koch of Audubon said, “This plan must be implemented as a whole or it falls apart. Without the internal grid of streets, transportation inside of Tysons does not work. Without an integrated network of sidewalks and paths, and inviting shops and storefronts, people do not want to walk to destinations. The Tysons Vision must be implemented as a whole.”

Also agitating the process are landowners in the non-transit-oriented areas.  Many have been waiting on the plan to be finished, and some people are worried that these land owners may just up and build a strip mall instead of waiting for pedestrian-friendly guidelines.  If Alcorn’s plan is implemented, it could hurt the county’s ability to pay for necessary amenities, such as the improved street grid, storm water system, transit, and streetscapes.  The plan also opens up the possibility of the plan being compromised a little bit more for every project.  By doing it all at once, it’s easier for elected officials to do what is right for the largest number and not be swayed by NIMBYs.  Tysons should work to avoid the evenly spread, low density development of nearby failures such as Gaithersburg‘s Science City.  This type of development is hard because instead of trying to build a city from green fields like Washington was, Tysons is trying to build it out of an existing framework of suburban sprawl.  Development happens fast today, and if the leaders of Tysons don’t get this plan figured out quick, they may have a few thousand more acres of strip malls to deal with.


Gaithersbungle, part 5: What you callin’ a city?

This is the second of David Alpert’s Gaithersbungle series on Greater Greater Washington that I’ve covered, although the rest are worth looking at, and also the second look at Science City.  Alpert again says that this development on the west side of Gaithersburg, MD, is no city.  He lists a variety of reasons for this conclusion.  First of all, instead of creating land use patterns based on transportation and transit, they are creating them so that all of the biggest land owners can sell their land to developers, regardless of pattern.  Floor-area ratio is another point.  Cities have a high floor-area ratio (FAR), i.e. they have a higher density.  Most places cannot truly be considered urban unless they have a FAR of over 1.5, which unfortunately is the limit at Science City.  Also, even if they were to reach the 1.5 mark, they would have an island of barely-walkable space surrounded by car-dependent suburbs, which diminishes the vitality of that space and makes it just a slightly better version of sprawl.  A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program has been suggested to concentrate development in one part of Science City, making it denser, but the planning department isn’t interested.  Gaitheresburg is already a center for office parks and other sprawl development, and unless they change their point of view, they will be left behind as my generation returns to the cities.

Sprawl is the only option at the Planning Board

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington writes this post about the development of “Science City” between Gaithersburg and Rockville, to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  Science City is not a city at all, but just more sprawl and office parks.  They are not currently transit-oriented, or even transit-ready like Kentlands, and have a FAR of about 0.51, in the range that Chris Leinberger calls “neverlands,” areas that are not cities, not country, just depressing.  According to Alpert, if they were really thinking regionally, they would have built to the Northeast of DC, where they would have access to commuter rail, DC’s green line, and the University of Maryland, a well-established university and leader in planning.  They would also have easy access to Baltimore as well as DC instead of being off on their own in an area that will force its workers to drive.  If you live in the DC area, especially in Montgomery County, contact the Planning Board and tell them that you don’t want Science Suburb, you want Science City.