The New Metropolis Of Tysons, Virginia

Wednesday, May 12 2010 05:34:46 PM
I am a city boy, through and through. I hated camping trips as a kid, and could never understand why otherwise civilized people would willfully put themselves into situations where they have to forage for firewood, endure countless mosquito bites, dig holes to relieve themselves, dodge bee stings and even, in one case for me, a too-close-for-comfort run-in with a rattlesnake.

On the other hand, nothing thrilled me more as a young boy than coming across the Bay Bridge to embrace the great San Francisco skyline, to explore stamp shops with my grandmother on Market Street, to behold the humongous Christmas tree in the City of Paris department store, watch the moving displays behind the giant windows on the street, and being awestruck by the singers in Union Square belting out Christmas carols. Then there were, on countless other trips from my small home town to the big city, the zoo, the Golden Gate Park, and the Playland at the Beach.

Yes, my beloved San Francisco had it all, and without a single mosquito bite.

Great cities, it is fun to learn, aren’t simply there, like wonders of nature, which present themselves for our appreciation without any involvement by the hand of man. Cities get built through a lengthy sequence of highly-willful human actions, for better or for worse.

There is the mandate to build a great port on an inhabitable marsh that cost countless lives in the construction of modern day St. Petersburg, Russia.

There is the construction of a great wonder of the world, the majestic Hoover Dam, at another high cost to humanity, which captured and steered the mighty Colorado River to nurture the growth of the Los Angeles basin from a dusty, semi-arid plain with a population capacity of about 20,000 into one of the great economic and population centers of the world.

There is the design of Central Park, and the race to the top between builders of the Chrysler Building and the 40 Wall Street Building in 1928, including the Chrysler’s last minute elevation of a spire to win and make it the world’s tallest building for all of 11 months until the Empire State Building eclipsed it.

Then, there are the new cities, the cities of the 21st century. There is no better example of one than right across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia. It’s in 1,700 acres of what was a farm not too long ago, and is currently called Tysons Corner.

Already, Tysons (for short) is the 12th largest business district in America, twice the size of Atlanta and bigger than Denver. It is home to Fortune 500 companies, some recently removed to there from California, such as the Hilton Hotels Company, CSC and Northrop Grumman.

But despite my love for cities, as a Northern Virginia resident, I have had no love for Tysons Corner, consisting of mushrooming corporate office centers, two big shopping malls and a few hotels. That’s because it was not a city, it was what rapidly became a very oversized suburban office park.

However, this is in the process of change right before our eyes. With years of planning, billions in federal, including stimulus, and state dollars, the region is now up to its ears in heavy earth moving and construction equipment, high mendounds of dirt, and tons of concrete.

The Greater Washington, D.C. rail system is building four new stations, extending a new line right through Tysons Corner. Where today there are 100,000 people working and only 17,000 living, plans are now being finalized that would permit housing, including a major component of “workforce housing,” for over 100,000.

But most of all, along with this, are aggressive plans to make Tysons into a true urban center, a new metropolis with nightlife, a theater district, pocket parks and much more. There is even talk of incorporating itself, officially, as its own city, but that is premature.

Those planning Tysons’ future are aware that their work is being looked at as a model for “edge cities” all over the world, the emerging great cities of the future. It is an exciting time to be on the ground floor, so to speak, of a brand new version of the kind of cities I love.