Thank You, Arlington and Alexandria, for Letting Re-Development Proceed

Arlington and Alexandria are two of the most densely populated jurisdictions in Virginia, but that’s not slowing the re-development of older neighborhoods at even higher densities. Densification proceeds despite objections by residents who worry about localized traffic congestion and don’t want to see the character of their neighborhoods change.

The Arlington County Board of Supervisors has just approved construction of a 10-story apartment building near the Clarendon METRO station. The project will contain 116 apartments, 70 of which will be designated as affordable housing and rented at below-market value rates. Writes the Connection Newspapers:

[Supervisor Walter] Tejada said that he “is not always a fan of maximizing density [in a neighborhood].” But he said that affordable housing is so crucial in Arlington right now that the Board cannot pass up this opportunity. “The 70 units are an enormous benefit to the community,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Connection Newspapers profiles the Parker-Gray neighborhood east of the Braddock Road METRO station in Alexandria, where abandoned industrial buildings are being demolished and replaced by six-story condos. Resident Steve Carman articulated the viewpoint of residents who don’t like to see their neighborhoods change:

“I suggest we define smart growth to emphasize the quality of life over the quality of jamming as many people as possible together in an area that already has a high level of traffic,” said Carman. “Few residents bought into this area hoping to see its character transformed in front of our eyes into the impersonal concrete giants of Ballston and Tysons Corner.”

I would say that Carman would have a legitimate point if he lived in, say, a historical district like Church Hill (Richmond) or downtown Fredericksburg, where legal covenants create an expectation among home buyers that the character of the neighborhood will be preserved. In the absence of legal covenants, I would suggest that Carman’s view is entirely unreasonable. Neighborhoods are continually in a state of evolution, falling or rising in value, deteriorating or re-developing. Who is Carman to say, “I want to freeze things the way they are — no more transformation”?

Carman’s desire for stasis is counterbalanced not only by the desire of “greedy” developers to make money but the desires of the people who buy those condominiums. Homeownership near the urban core is something that many people covet. Homeownership near a METRO station is valuable, too. Why should access to such housing be limited to the handful of people who live in those desirable locations right now?

Carman’s understandable desire to optimize his quality of life should not come at the expense of others who want to optimize their quality of life. Thousands of Northern Virginians would prefer to live in a location where they don’t have to commute 50 miles to work, where they have easy access to the METRO, and where they can enjoy the amenities of an urban community. Furthermore, putting more housing in Arlington and Alexandria helps to rectify the marked jobs-housing imbalance in the urban core of the Washington New Urban Region. That takes long-range commuters off Northern Virginia’s overloaded roads and provides a measure of relief for miles and miles of Interstates and arterials.

Thank you, Arlington and Alexandria, for letting the marketplace work its magic in providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

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35 responses to “Thank You, Arlington and Alexandria, for Letting Re-Development Proceed”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Why can’t the new building include most of the shops and amenities that make life within walking distance very livable – so the residents only use their cars to go visit friends or specialty needs – that one would have to do anywhere?

    If they are just building apartment blocks, then I understand the complaint about density. If density provides a quality of life – by foot (in the comfort of some covernings?) then it should be qualitatively different.

    Yes or no?

  2. Groveton Avatar

    Jim Bacon:

    Well said!

    Trying to freeze things in time is silly for 99.99% of Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg? Sure. Alexandria – Oh, Come on.

    Alexandria has been undergoing rapid change (almost all for the better) since I grew up there in the 1970s. Old Town, the area around the King Street Metro, Del Ray and on and on.

    If Fairfax County put as much thought into redevelopment as Arlington and Alexandria have, we’d all be better off.

    I am just back from a long business trip through Asia and will post some of what I saw there regarding development, redevelopment and transportation.

    JAB –

    How do you get the multi-use development you describe? Will it happen naturally as density increases? Do you have to zone for it?

  3. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    Redeveloping our cities and older
    suburbs is a public policy the state needs to promote to help us
    deal with future growth pressures.

    Alexandria, Arlington and Norfolk are good case studies in the state.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    JAB, The articles did not say whether the buildings would allow street-level shops and amenities. But developers should be encouraged to provide them. You’re exactly right: The greater the number of needs that can be met within walking distance, the better. More trips on foot means fewer trips in the car.

    Once again, I must emphasize for the benefit of others: I am not advocating anyone be MADE to live in urban mixed-use communities, only that the marketplace be allowed to serve those who do.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, I welcome your observations about Asia.

  6. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    I strongly suspect that these communities do a better job of addressing infrastructure needs generated by adding density than does Fairfax County — the county that asks virtually nothing from any developer. Of course, no one really wants more development in their neighborhood, but most people will accept it if the local government also ensures that adequate infrastructure is provided concomitantly with the new real estate development.

    Guess which large Virginia county simply ignores public facilities as part of the zoning process? For example, the 1994 Comp Plan for Tysons contemplated additional density, but with the assumption that certain, specified road improvements would be made as well. Virtually none of the road improvements occurred, but the Fairfax County supervisors voted 8-2 to grant Macerich Corp. the added density.

    Theory is one thing; Fairfax County is another.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: walkable amenities

    A developer down this way told me that business (amenities) follows rooftops not the other way around

    and it comes as regional malls for the bigger stores who require much more floor traffic than adjacent housing would provide.

    Ditto with medical care/hospitals.

    I’m not saying it won’t work but I am saying that as Groveton pointed out that things are different now than back when grid streets existed with a Leggets a few blocks away and a corner pharmacy just as close.

    I note that some companies are deploying smaller versions.. McDonalds makes smaller footprint stores as does Starbucks but I don’t think I’ve seen a New Urban version of Walmart or Targets yet.

    So it’s not only a difference between the appeal of living in a dense area like Alexandria verses Fairfax – it’s also a lifestyle where perhaps (and I say PERHAPS) life exists WITHOUT Walmart or Home Depot and/or smaller footprint versions of each.

    Gee.. I wonder what folks in major urban areas like NYC do when they need a Home Depot?

  8. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Jim Bacon: Great post!

    James A Bowden and I agree on two things now, Old Growth Forests and street level retial! Let the good times roll.


    Three answers to the Home Depot issue:

    One. Home Depot can build stores over parking garages and there is no reason they could not build offices and then appartments over the store. (I have proposed that for a redevelopment of the Wal*Mart / Home Depot site as the new South Neighborhood for Warrenton.)

    Two. “NYC” covers a lot of territory and only about five percent is the image that most have in their minds — Mid-Town Manhattan.

    Five percent is exactly the percentage of area with over four story buildings in Arlington County according the the Planning Director. That is inspite of Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Rossolyn Ballston Corridor.

    Three: Since Home Depot and Wal*Mart came to Warrenton I have been going out of my way to do specific price and avaliability checks. We still have a local hardware store a subregional lumber yard plus Tractor Supply and both the price and avaliablity have been better in those places than at Home Depot for at least 15 specific products I needed in the past 14 months. Most of the time the local hardware store is happy to order what I can not find. For specialty hardwoods I still have to drive to Claverton but it is still in Fauquier County.

    As to price, both Wal*Mart and Home Depot have cheaper prices on some things but frequently one can get the items they need for less at locally owned stores that have national affilitations.

    Do not believe the advertising slogans.


  9. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Gee, I am sooo excited to move out of my seaside nieghborhood of Sandbridge to move into an over priced “condo” (apartment i buy)constrcuted on top of a Home Depo store! Wo-hoo! Just think, my Quality of Life will be so much better!

    I can’t wait for my next summer barbeque when I invite all my friends and their kids over to join us in the “community open space” I have to sign up for – you know, with all the facist “Condo” rules enforced, like how loud our music can be played, or how many kids are allowed in the pool “community” pool at one time . . .

    Gosh, these new “Pedestrian Friendly” “villiages” are so wonderful!!!

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Reid, your sarcasm is totally misplaced. Nobody is asking you to move out of Sandbridge. But the marketplace demonstrates that there is an unmet demand for housing (even if it’s apartment-style condos) close to the urban core of the Washington New Urban Region.

    Are you proposing that people be denied the opportunity to make their own trade-offs between lot size, house size, cost and accessibility? Are you saying that everyone should be required to live like you do?

  11. Groveton Avatar

    Yeah – it’s not about moving out of single family residences. If you look at a city like Alexandria the consolidation is condo – to – condo not residence to condo. Since Alexandria showed little planning sense in years gone bye, a lot of small condo sites “popped up” separated from each other. You’d have condos, shopping, condos, offices, Army facilities, condos, etc. If you lived in a condo you still had to drive to shopping or drive to work or drive to the theater. Had anything been planned in advance there would have been a number of multi-use communities – condo/retail/office, condo/retail/entertainment. They have to be larger to make the retail work but they are better places to live and they cut congestion. So, as I understand it, Arlington and Alexandria are now trying to force this multi-use mentality. Good for them. You don’t trade your house for a condo, you trade you condo for a better condo.

    At least that’s what I get out of this.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Out in the hinterlands…

    About 3 miles from me in what NoVa types call the “country” is a mixed use development built by the Hazel Companies.

    On the road in front of the development is a small shopping center with a Food Lion and then some small shops.. cleaners, barber, pizza, etc.

    Behind the shopping center are about 6 different “pods” – each one with a different kind of home – ranging from rather large single family homes on 1/2 acre to townhouses (though no condos that I know of).

    There are sidewalks and bikepaths and jogging trails – a pool.. and community center…

    There is a pod with doctor offices.

    Another pod has a vetinary..

    Two schools paid for by proffers.

    A 7-11…

    and a massive storm water facility to capture nearly ever drop of runoff.

    Right in and right out lanes and dedicated turn lanes and a “smart” traffic signal…

    you get the picture.

    Now .. other than not having multi-story condos and grid streets it appears to me that this has many of the elements of the intent of the principles of New Urbanism (Note that I do NOT call it NU ..just that funny phrase in front of NU).

    Anyhow..other than the fact that virtually everyone of these folks get in a guy and drive to NoVa each morning…

    I’m trying to figure out what more the developer could have done to conform to more enlightened development principles.

    I Don’t think that multi-story condos would sell in this environment but perhaps I’m wrong.

    I’m not sure if you put in grid streets and a cityscape with shops on the first level and living space above that it would “out-compete” the SFR being offered.

    We’re going to find out though because 3 miles in the opposite direction dirt is being turned as we speak on a development to do just that.. grid streets and street level shops and living space above (along with some other housing options).

    There is some chance that the second development might attract local workers if they have appropriately priced housing – though if I were a developer.. why would I build something that sold for less profit…??

    My only point in going through all of this is to demonstrate that apparently there IS a market for these kinds of developments.

    The first one I talked about has had absolutely no trouble in selling out.

  13. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry – Interesting post. It would be instructive to know what types of jobs the residents of this community have and where they work.

    I suspect, without knowing, that a least a plurality of the residents work in Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, D.C., or suburban Maryland.

    I suspect, without knowing, that a significant minority of these residents could have afforded some type of clean, comfortable home closer their places of employment, but they wanted more home for the dollar spent. It’s probably a choice between a two-bedroom, one-bath home with no garage, family room, or eat-in kitchen or a four-bedroom, three-bath home with a two car garage, family room and big kitchen. Or it’s a choice between a two-bedroom condo/apartment and a three-bedroom townhouse.

    Urban and older suburban living is attractive to some, but not all, people. I doubt that will change. We need to start thinking about how to move some of the good-paying jobs to where the people live. As Ray Hyde would say, “We need more places.”

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The way I look at this is net jobs.

    What I mean is that retail jobs, teachers, police, service folks, etc, etc, etc are “spin-offs”.

    Those jobs … are in response to people who have a job that produces a product or a service that has a wider market than local.

    So .. in the Fredericksburg Area – the PRIMARY jobs (vice the spin-offs) ARE, in fact, Federal and Federal-allied jobs in NoVa.

    and these are the folks that commute every day.

    Because they live in Fredericksburg, they need goods and services.

    They need homes, furniture, food, schools, police, etc, etc and these “secondary” jobs depend on these folks who work in NoVa.

    Without these jobs – Fredericksburg would be like a lot of communities without a primary employer OR a diversity of primary employers.

    In yesterdays, local Free Lance Star, it was trumpheted that Medicor – our local hospital was one of the major employers in the region.

    think about this – would that Hospital be such a huge employer if we did not have such tremendous growth from those who have jobs in NoVa and live here.

    Without the NoVa jobs, we’d still have a hospital but it would be a rather modest one like most cities the size of Fredericksburg without primary employers.

    And I’ll finish with a little history.

    BEFORE the expansion of the Federal Government and NoVa jobs, Fredericksburg DID have a primary employer.

    It was called Avisco and they made cellophane.. LOTs and LOTs of cellophane… way back when things were wrapped in cellophane and not plastic.

    Most everyone in the Fredericksburg Area either had a job there or had someone in their family that had a job there.

    When it closed down… there was gloom and doom… Many thought Fredericksburg would wither and die.

    Then .. along came I-95 .. and the rest IS history.


  15. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Enjoyed my week off 🙂


    So looks like Fredericksubrg primiarily has service jobs to support the people that live there

    It seems that some day a Northrop Grumman or Lockheed or SAIC would build an office down there since so many fed/contractors live there.

    Given the cost of living and land is propably cheaper.

    I guess that just makes too much sense and the fact that you aren’t as close to the airports or the pentagon.


    Get ready to pay $20 bucks for those HOT lanes 🙂

    Lots of interesting stuff in the article

    “Aside from the new roads, fees are expected to rise on the region’s two existing toll roads: the Dulles Greenway and Dulles Toll Road. The private owners of the 14-mile Greenway, from Dulles International Airport to Leesburg, have asked Virginia regulators for permission to raise rush-hour tolls from $3.20 to $4.80 by 2012.

    Management of the Dulles Toll Road was recently transferred from the state of Virginia to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which plans to raise tolls regularly to pay for an extension of Metro’s Orange Line to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport.”

    Yikes better make sure we have better regulation on what the toll money is used for.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Well – first the member jurisdictions of the MPO have to approve it and some have already indicated that they won’t – Prince William for one.

    Then we have this other problem that NMM alludes to which is what happens to the TOLL revenues and we already know the answer to that if it’s left up to predatory folks.

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Studies have shown that trips on foot are not entirely in place of trips by car, but rather in addition to them.

    Same goes for Metro. it takes two metro trips to replace one auto trip, which means that Metro has to be more that twice as efficient as auto trips to be economically worth while.

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Larry is right. I have yet to see someone with a bag from home depot on the Metro, let alone a handful of 2×4’s.

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “…virtually everyone of these folks get in a guy [car?] and drive to NoVa each morning…

    I’m trying to figure out what more the developer could have done to conform to more enlightened development principles.”


    You need to move the jobs.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Five percent is exactly the percentage of area with over four story buildings in Arlington County according the the Planning Director.”

    Ed, that is an idiotic statement.

    The area with more than four story buildings affects an area more than four times that size. That is exactly why we have congestion problems, which is maybe the least of the problems such areas have, or even cause.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “We still have a local hardware store a subregional lumber yard plus Tractor Supply “

    OK. I shop at Rankin’s too. But it is a matter of convenience rather than price. As for my local hardware, I avoid it like the plague. I was never so happy to see the new local Tracto Supply open.

    However, TS has serious problems, in all their stores. It drives me crazy to go by mower teeth guards for my hay mower, and then discover they don’t have the special bolts to hold them on.

    Tractor supply seems to have a lot of crappy (sometimes Chinese) stuff. I have had to return a number of items that didn’t work, new, out of the box. On one occasion they refused to replace the item and I had to get the replacement from the manufacturer, by mail.

    Sears lost out on a great plan when they (effectively) gave up on the idea of servicing (and having parts for) what they sell.

    If the local store is willing to order what a I need I’m not real impressed because it means two trips for one item. I am particularly not impressed if I have to pay in advance.

    I recently had to buy a clutch plate for my truck. One store didn’t have it, but they would order it. I had to come in to place the order, they wouldn’t take a credit card on the phone. The other store had the part in stock, but it was 20 miles further.

    Guess which store got my business?

    Didn’t one of the loal lumberyards burn down after Home Depot opened? I haven’t been for a while so I’m not sure. Anyway, why do I care if it is subregional or not?

    I understand the price poblems locals face, but I’m willing to pay the price if I get the service I need.

    My customers call me not because my hay is better or cheaper, but because they know I will show up, no matter what the weather is. If i promise them 500 bales of hay over the winter, I won’t wimp out in March because I got a better offer sooner.


    Today my farm worker was telling me one of his relatives had moved to North Carolina. This is not an educated guy, but he isn’t stupid.

    He said they sold their two bedroom here and got a three bedroom there for less money. “And they got a real big WalMart.”

    He recognized the differences in costs, and in pay. When they got their first paycheck they were shocked. “How’m I going to get along on $300?” they said. But then they discovered that waht would cost them $150 in groceries here cost $100, there. Their new neighbors assured them that “You can get by.”

    When he was telling me this story I recalled my experience when I was living there. I was shocked at the low pay offered, relative to New England and I complained about it. The response was “Yes, but our cost of living is lower.”

    It didn’t take me long to figure out that the standard of living is also lower.

    The lifestyle is different, too.


    So, I’m no big fan of WalMart, but when I need jeans or work shoes that I know are going to be destroyed anyway, that is where I go.

    Even if it is a longer trip.

    Apparently, that puts me in good comapny because 99% of US residents have shopped at WalMart at least once.

  22. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Densification proceeds despite objections by residents who worry about localized traffic congestion “

    Who is running the show here? Why is it that local objection to a bed and breakast stops the show in Catlet and local objection in Calerendon and Metro West carries no weight?

    It seems to me that congestion in Clarendon is far more serious than congestion in Catlet, and a lot harder to fix.

  23. Anonymous Avatar

    I just happened to see this comment:

    “Same goes for Metro. it takes two metro trips to replace one auto trip, which means that Metro has to be more that twice as efficient as auto trips to be economically worth while.”

    Auto trips and Metro trips are counted the same way. Trips are one way trips.

    If you do not attract more informed commenters, there is little reason to try to hold a rational discussion.

    A Lurker

  24. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Concerning your questions about the mixed use project in the Countryside (the “hinterlands”):

    This project might be called a “Semi-Mixed Use Beta Neighborhood. It is a “development” as you noted but not a “community” as it was later referred to in a comment.

    Regardless of the intent and what it is called, it is unfair to expect a project in that location with that mix to achieve a ratio of jobs / housing / services / recreation / amenity that approach Balance. Balance needs to be achieved when the elements of Community are in far closer proximity.

    There are Neighborhood Scale urban agglomeration with relative balance in “Balanced But Disaggregated Communities” but they are not “from-scratch” places that are marketed to those seeking “more house for the money.” If it costs $60 in mobility fees to get to a place to work, or receive services, (which in 1950 dollars is what it cost to get from Greater Warrenton to jobs in Greater South Arlington – the Pentagon) then, over time, it might evolve into a place with significant balance.

    The key here is that the citizens who bought the dwellings have no idea that they are investing in an urban agglomeration where, regardless how much is spent on roads, they will never be able to efficiently access the elements of a quality life.


  25. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Anonymous Lurker.

    I’m aware that trips are counted differently.

    Auto “trips are counted as each leg. If you stop for coffe on the way to work and stop for drycleaning on the way home, then that counts as four trips.

    The mention I made about equivalent Metro trips was based on a study from another train system, so it may ot in fact apply to METRO, per se. However it is likely that the results from the study hold to some degree.

    The study tracked in detail the number of trips that were made in a given areas before and after transit became available, and made adjustments for the changes in development in the meantime.

    The result was that introduction of transit did reduce auto trips, but not on a one for one basis. It wasn’t my study, but I figure it was based on equivalent trips.

    Similar studies have been conducted concerning walkable neighborhoods, in whic the finding was that walking trips are partly in addition to auto trips and not instead of autop trips.

    My point is not that we cannot do better, but that there may be some over optimistic expectations in play. For the kind of money we are going to spend on transit and rebuilding our neighborhoods we need to have a clear and unbefuddled view of exactly what it is we are buying.

    I would make the same claim with respect to roadway expansions, bike paths, pedestrian overpasses or any other project.

    Some things ought to be easy to measure. We have spent a fortune building sound walls to protect some neighborhoods from street noise. I have not studied the matter, but their effectiveness seems dubious to me.

    Other things are much harder to measure. But if we are going to claim that a certain activitiy creates the the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then we should be able to quantify that.

    So you tell me which is better: a million people with a dollar, a thousand people with a thousand dollars, ten people with a hundred thousand dollars?

  26. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Balance needs to be achieved when the elements of Community are in far closer proximity.”

    I can think of some communities that are thinly populated and hardly close at all that have been in place and successful for generations. What makes you think that balance and proximity are related or that balance doesn;t change over time?

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Why is it that putting more housing in Arlington and Alexandria helps to rectify the marked jobs-housing imbalance in the urban core of the Washington New Urban Region, but putting more jobs on the fringes is off the table?

    Putting more housing in Arlington and Alexandria may help restore the jobs and housing balance, but what about everything else that is out of whack in the area? Don’t they already have too much of almost everything except open space big enough to throw a wiffle ball?

  28. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Another opportunity to repeat my 4 miles for services, 5 miles for jobs observation. This is short hand for much more complicated calculations that include roads, rivers and other features.

    The limit to jobs on the fringes is the five miles. A location for jobs needs to have 10 times the number of candidate workers within 5 miles to achieve balance. A location for housing balance needs to have jobs available within 5 miles. Part of balance is commuting out and commuting into the 5 mile circle. Remember, the number of jobs and the number of households must balance. Each employer needs to have a selection of workers and each worker needs a number of employment opportunities. This is a lot easier when four or more times the population lives within the 5 mile circle.

  29. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    As is frequently the case, his string has a number of good observations.

    There are also some are silly and unfounded by self appointed experts.

    In the spirit of Jim Bacon’s “cleaning up the mess” we would like to make one clarification / further exploration:

    In a response to the illusion of “NYC” being all “high density” – actually the urbanized land area of the Los Angeles New Urban Region is higher in density than the urbanized land area of the New York New Urban Region – we stated the following:

    “Five percent is exactly the percentage of area with over four story buildings in Arlington County according the Planning Director. That is in spite of Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Rosslyn Ballston Corridor.”

    It is hard to estimate the negative impact of the illusion that urban areas are, or will become overwhelmingly “high density.” Suggesting an evolution to “higher density / more intensive urban settlement patterns” is assumed to mean “high rise.”

    There is rabid overestimation of the extent of “high density / high rise” land uses in urban enclaves has a chilling impact on settlement pattern discussions. Overestimation clouds rational discussion of settlement patterns and was the reason for the off the top of our head quote.

    In a later post, Groveton suggested that Alexandria was wall to wall “condos.”

    Granted, some condos are 3 and 4 stories but this is not our impression. We decided to check out Alexandria.

    It turns out that as much as 20 percent of the area of the City of Alexandria has developed area that has an average height of buildings over 4 stories.

    That still leaves 80 percent in lower density areas – not wall to wall condos. If one adds the area that has an Alexandria address (Zip Code 223XX) the over 4 stories area comes down to closer to that cited for Arlington County.

    Given our findings with respect to Alexandria, we decided a re-look at Arlington County since we had not done the original calculation and relied on memory.

    First, there is the issue of just what is in which municipality. It turns out that a lot of what some may think of as Arlington County is really in the City of Alexandria (Condo Canyon and Mark Centre) or Fairfax County (Baileys Crossroads). That is why we always use Core centered Beta Communities, not municipal borders when discussing density and Balance.

    The backup for the statement we made earlier:

    “Five percent is exactly the percentage of area with over four story buildings in Arlington County according the Planning Director. That is in spite of Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Rosslyn Ballston Corridor.”

    is filed away with the material on a briefing that the Planning Director and I did on the R-B Corridor for a planning conference years ago.

    In the interest of following the Bacon Rebellion policy of full disclosure, it turns out that “exactly 5%” may be overstating the case. The Planning Director may have been talking about only Greater North Arlington (the R-B Corridor and surrounding lower density areas), he may have been talking about the footprint area of buildings as percentage of total acreage of the County and not the street area or I may have mis- remembered.

    Just to be sure, we recalculated.

    There are about 13,990 acres in Arlington County. At an FAR of 4 (eight story buildings with 50% open space and streets) 5 percent of the County is 121,000,000 sq. ft. of built space. WaPo for 5 March 2007 lists the office space in the R-B Corridors at 20,900,000 plus 1,177,000 under construction. It lists “Alexandria – 1-395″ at 36,000,000 plus 771,000 under construction.

    Yes, there are some non-Class A buildings (most are low-rise) and yes that does not count residential but all the office buildings from Ballston to Mark Centre is under half of what would fit on 5 percent of Arlington County.

    A quick check of an ADC map suggests that even if one is talking about Arlington County and not Greater North Arlington, the 5 percent number for blocks that average over four stories could be low but it passes the sniff test. (Greater South Arlington is higher in density but still has a lot of green single family detached Dooryards, Clusters and Neighborhoods.)

    You can do your own calculation. Buy a ADC map. Each of the blue grid squares has about 100 acres. Color them in, count the percent of each square and add them up.

    The point is not that five percent is a magic number. The point is that those without experience in land development universally vastly overestimate the amount of “high density” development in any given jurisdiction or Beta Community.

    What is imagined to be dense, high rise, urban places from NYC to Arlington County are no all that intensively developed.

    Just to make the point more clear, and to avoid gratuitous scoffing, we will revise one of the 95% / 5% Guidelines in the Handbook section of TRILO-G to 90% / 10%. That should make everyone happy and be very “conservative.”

    We will leave to others the debunking of other unfounded statements.


  30. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, you asked why move housing from the fringe into the urban core, why not move jobs out of the urban core to the fringe?

    We’ve been over this before, but I’ll give it another try. Certain types of jobs (“secondary” jobs such as retail and services) can and do move out with the housing to the fringe. Other jobs of jobs (“primary” jobs, the kind of jobs that trade beyond the metropolitan area) tend to be center-weighted. It’s the agglomerating-tendencies-of-the-knowledge-economy thing that I’ve talked about. Some businesses just place a high premium on being close to others like themselves — clients, partners, suppliers, etc. Those jobs are going to be really hard to lure into the fringe.

  31. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Jim Bacon:

    One other thought, you can move jobs around within the Core of a New Urban Region to create Balanced New Urban Regions within the Core. That is not outside the Core and anything like “the fringe” is outside the Clear Edge and thus outside the Core.

    We are working on refining the definition of “Core” so this will be clear.

    Stay tuned.


  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “place a high premium on being close to others like themselves — clients, partners, suppliers, etc. Those jobs are going to be really hard to lure into the fringe.”

    agree .. and other jobs are specialized jobs to serve the need of goods/services needed by the densely located jobs.

    For instance, copier companies that could justify an office serving regional needs – and such an office would not have enough customers in the fringe areas to survive.

    or … companies that fix the coolers in supermarkets.

    I mention this specifically because every time a supermarket in Fredericksburg needs refridgeration services.. the service truck invariably has NoVa addresses.. and not infrequently (for some odd reason) Maryland plates……

    Ditto with medical services, etc, etc.

    The urban areas reach a certain critical mass where it become cost-effective to provide higher level sophisticated services that just would not “work” on the fringes.

  33. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Thousands of Nortern Viginians would like to live whre they don’t have to drive 50 miles to work. Period. The rest of that stuff is gravy if you can get it, but relatively unimportant and unnecessary. Anything that is unnecessary is a candidate for conservation, in my book.

    The fact is that the vast, vast majority of Northern Virginians do live within fifty miles of work, even 20 miles of work.

    It is NOT those relative few long distance drivers causing the congestion problem (pollution maybe). They are not causing the road cost crisis either.

    The congestion problem is caused by the vast, vast majority who drive relatively short distances, but into places that are vastly overpopulated with jobs.

    How hard is that to figure out or observe?

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You have a million folks living in Fairfax and 250K in Fredericksburg.

    Almost half of Fredericksburg works in NoVa.

    Ditto Culpeper, and follow the 50 mile “ring” around NoVa and add up the numbers.

    A very significant portion of the RUSH HOUR congestion IS .. long-distance commuters.

    I invite you out to I-95 south at 4pm any weekday .. to observe for yourself.

  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “but into places that are vastly overpopulated with jobs.”

    this is an interesting statement.

    It implies that jobs “happen” and that local governments don’t have any role in assuring that there is a balance of jobs and housing and the necessary mobility infrastructure to connect the two.

    You’re opposed to forcing people to live or not live somewhere – right?

    Are you similarily opposed to that same idea with respect to “jobs”?

    I’m looking for a self-consistent statement with regard to how you feel about settlement patterns.

    In other words.. are you in favor of an unrestricted environment with respect to housing AND jobs?

    Or do you see those two things as not the same and therefore different policies can be applied that are not consistent with regard to each other?

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