Chris Zimmerman shows where Arlington plans to build a street car route on Columbia Pike.
Chris Zimmerman shows planned street car route on Arlington’s Columbia Pike. Image credit: WAMU 88.5.

Chris Zimmerman is leaving the Arlington County Board for Smart Growth America. His message: Smart Growth is good for economic development, and other localities can benefit by Arlington’s example.

by James A. Bacon

Christopher Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board since 1998, is going to preach what he practices. A leading architect of the county’s walkable, transit-oriented urbanism, he has 16 years of hands-on experience applying the ideas of Smart Growth in a real-world setting.  When his term expires early next year, he will join Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization promoting Smart Growth where, as vice president of economic development, he will take his knowledge national.

“It’s a great opportunity to work on issues I care a lot about,” Zimmerman told Bacon’s Rebellion Friday. Other communities can benefit from Arlington’s incredible economic success story. He concedes that the county does enjoy assets that are impossible to replicate, such as a location in the heart of the prosperous Washington metropolitan region and one of the highest per-capita incomes in the county. But every community has something special to build on, he says. Many of the principles honed in Arlington can be applied broadly.

Smart Growth enhances economic development in at least three ways, Zimmerman says. One is the fiscal benefit of building compact, walkable, transit-oriented communities instead of the car-centric sprawl that has prevailed in America’s suburbs since World War II. Compact development allows municipal governments to spend less on roads, water, sewer, school buses, garbage collection, fire fighting and other government services. Lower costs translate into lower county expenditures.

Secondly, Smart Growth creates more real estate wealth. The suburban development of the last couple of generations has a short life-cycle, Zimmerman explains. Buildings in malls, shopping centers and office parks depreciate rapidly in line with accelerated write-offs permitted by the tax code. The buildings, surrounded by acres of parking lots, are forgettable and disposable. As such real estate ages, it loses value, and then it gets trumped by a newer project down the road. By contrast, Smart Growth invests for lasting value. The emphasis on place making — designing walkable streets and complementary building uses where people are willing to pay a premium to live, work and play —  makes Smart Growth development more valuable over the years.

Thirdly, Zimmerman argues, Smart Growth communities attract young, tech-savvy knowledge workers — the creative class — that big corporations and fast-growth enterprises covet. “The companies driving the economy are focused on attracting a certain kind of workforce. They need to go where that workforce is. The striking tendency of the Millennial generation is that they pick where they want to live before they pick their job. … They are interested in place, and place making becomes a very important element of any economic development strategy.”

Many people seek what Zimmerman calls “authenticity” — places steeped in local history and culture that can’t be stamped out every 15 years in a new location. “The market is screaming at us that it wants walkable places that are authentic and unique destinations.”

Unlike many localities, Arlington doesn’t give incentives to businesses that invest in the county. Indeed, the conversation is usually the other way around — what can the business offer the county? The key, says Zimmerman, is creating such a desirable location that property owners and tenants don’t need special subsidies or tax breaks to locate there.

Instead of paying incentives, which benefit only the company receiving the special treatment, Arlington’s philosophy is to pay for public investment in infrastructure and place-making that benefits everyone. The county has non-cash goodies that it can dispense such as higher density or a relaxation of parking requirements but it usually expects something in return — public improvements or Transportation Demand Management programs that encourage employees to take walk, bike or ride transit to work. Public improvements asked of businesses, Zimmerman says, are usually geared to place-making. When all property owners contributes to creating higher quality places, they enjoy the benefit of higher value and higher rents.

The “Arlington way” has worked exceptionally well at creating real-estate value and generating revenue. While taxpayers grumble at the county’s extravagant expenditures — the county spends more per pupil than any other jurisdiction in the Washington region, and plans to build 20 bus stops at $1 million a piece caused a furor earlier this year — the county’s real estate property tax rate, 97.1 cents per $100, compares favorably to prosperous next-door-neighbor Fairfax County’s rate of $1.085. Arlingtonians also enjoy more transportation options than anywhere else in Virginia, allowing some to pursue a “car free” lifestyle that shaves thousands of dollars from household budgets. And, thanks to a high rate of mass transit utilization, Arlington has among the least congested roads and streets in the Washington region.

The Arlington Board has pursued an unwavering, decades-long vision of supporting mass transit and densifying development around the Metro stations while protecting single-family neighborhoods. But success owes much to a felicitous location. For many years, Arlington benefited from being close to the seat of political power in Washington, D.C., without actually being governed by D.C., and its dysfunctional political culture. The county became the region’s leading address for the trade associations and advocacy groups that do business in the nation’s capital. Also, as home to the Pentagon, it was the natural home for government contractors arising from the spending boom in defense, intelligence and, since 9/11, homeland security.

In the past decade or two, City Hall in Washington has gotten its act together, crime has fallen and the District has become much more competitive as a business location and as a place to live. But Arlington continues to prosper, luring not only business investment but some of the most affluent residents of the metropolitan region. In 2011, median household income exceeded $100,000, about twice the national average. Population, which bottomed out at 154,000 in 1980, has rebounded to 221,000.

While Arlington is best known for its clustering of higher-density development around its Metro stations, an asset that few other localities in American have or even can hope to have, Zimmerman insists that the Arlington model has much to offer. He points to the Shirlington “village,” off Interstate 395, as an example of Smart Growth in the absence of Metro. Shirlington consists of 25 acres nestled up to a cloverleaf interchange. The county has guided its re-development as a walkable, mixed-use area with offices, apartments, retail and entertainment, including an urban-footprint grocery store, a post office, a theater and a transit station that handles 400 to 500 buses per day. Says Zimmerman: “It’s generating a lot more tax revenue than when it was mostly parking lot.”

Rendering of a Columbia Pike streetcar.
Rendering of Columbia Pike streetcars.

Another non-Metro template for re-development is Columbia Pike. The thoroughfare was built originally around automobile accessibility back when Arlington was little more than a dormitory for D.C. government employees. But Arlington has shifted back to the “Main Street” model of walkable development by permitting higher-density development and implementing a form-based code, which regulates the physical form of buildings, not the land uses. “It’s obviously a work in progress,” says Zimmerman, “but people are walking on the street every day.”

The next step in Columbia Pike’s evolution is the addition of a streetcar line. In contrast to the Metro, where the county encourages dense development within a 1/4-mile radius of the stations, the street car will support development along a tight linear corridor. The justification for the project is that the distances between destinations are too far to walk. The street car will function as a “pedestrian accelerator;” people will be able to hop on and hop off. “It’s much more attractive to someone thinking of investing in a six-story building,” Zimmerman says. A big investment is a lot more interesting “if I know there’s a commitment to high-quality transit.”

That project has been controversial on many grounds, not the least of which is skepticism that it can be built for the $250 million estimated by the county. Even if it can, Arlington would pay for only $104 million of the sum by imposing a special real estate tax on properties aligning the corridor, but the project would depend upon support from other sources, including the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government. Critics also point out that revenues the street car service won’t even cover its operating costs. In September, the county hired a consulting firm to study the project’s Return on Investment.

Zimmerman justifies the investment in money-losing mass transit on the grounds that it stimulates high-density development that more than makes up the difference.

Yes, Arlington “subsidizes” its mass transit, Zimmerman says, in the sense that fare box revenues do not cover the capital or operating costs. But transit adds to real estate value, which more than offsets the cost of providing the transportation asset, and it replaces space devoted to parking with buildings that yield much higher tax revenue. He points to “a couple” of recently announced projects along Columbia Pike that will generate $8 million in yearly tax revenues. Says he: “There’s potential for many more of those along the line. We’re going to be collecting a whole lot of revenue we wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Smart Growth makes sense for communities everywhere, Zimmerman says. “Even if it’s a much smaller scale, even if people get there by car, you get value by getting the cars out of the way so you can walk. Whatever your economy is, a strategy that focuses on create place, building on existing assets and creating a walkable environment is going to have more value than simply following the old formulas.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


36 responses to “The Zimmerman Telegram”

  1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    Arlington get’s a lot of things right, but the biggest thing it does correctly is think about land use as a mitigating tool for transportation. Instead of first asking whether a new highway will reduce congestion (an answer than no matter what metrics in any model will always respond yes, though in varying degrees), they first ask what will a new thoroughfare or highway do to the land value and ability to retain business and intra-county dynamics.

    What people don’t understand about transportation is, often the point of congestion isn’t the concern of the people at that point, but rather those upstream of that point. In other words, traffic on Constitution Ave isn’t the concern of DC, its the concern of Virginia, traffic on Route 66 isn’t the concern of Arlington its the concern of Fairfax, and traffic on Route 7 isn’t the concern of Fairfax it is the concern of Loudoun.

    Those congestion points have negligible impact to the productivity and revenue stream for the jurisdiction it is in, instead they reduce the viability of development in neighboring jurisdictions. In other words, if 66 isn’t as wide at Fairfax, then the amount of growth that Prince William County would have been able to create in the 2000s would have been minimal, and instead land development (in addressing market demand) would have had to reduce margins and focus on areas where the market would be willing to deal with the plateau of commute (generally suburbs begin to lose value at the 60 minute mark from major CBDs).

    In that way, Arlingtons restriction on 66, 95, Rt 50 has been good business for the county. It has impeded the benefits of both corporate relocation outward as well as residential relocation (as is reflected by both their job growth numbers and real estate market values).

    That should be the biggest lesson from Arlington, not the use of transportation to spur land use, but the opposite, correcting the base model to review the impacts of transportation to the viability of the land use.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Your point about bottlenecks is well taken as a general matter.

      However the final decision to limit 66’s to 4 four lanes of limited access at peak hours was a federal one, and I recall no intent by Arlington County to strangle the outer suburbs. Quite the reverse, as a developer of a project that depended directly on the I-66/Glebe Road interchange, I was horrified by the four lane I-66 proposal.

      Ballston whose lifeblood depended on at interchange working well from all directions, was slatted to be the high density core of Arlington’s new downtown. Arlington did not need to choke off Fairfax. Arlington already had the location advantage. It needed free flow from all directions. Tenants had to get to Dulles airport. Tenants had to get to the beltway. Tenant had to get to where they lived and to the offices they did business with, etc. So, from a developers and businessman’s point of view, this decision to limit I-66 to four lanes limited access at peak hours was a monumental error, and obviously so from the very beginning in the early 1970s.

      The decision came about as a result of a sea change in the way Federal Road decisions were made. Here I grossly simplify.

      Originally, I-95 was slated to go directly through DC as well as around DC via the current beltway configuration. From a pure traffic functionality point of view, this was the best solution. It divided traffic coming south from Baltimore into three prongs when it met the beltway rather than its current two prongs. The final decision here scraping the third prong was historic. Too everyone surprise, local activist in Tacoma Park, Maryland raised fierce objection. Road planners and builders were shocked. This late 1960’s event had never happened before.

      This marked the dawn of the local environmental activist movement in DC. It came at the time of the growing DC self rule movement, and dawn of the national environmental movement. The confluence of these movements spread like wildfire to engulf the I-66 controversy through out the first half of the 1970s.

      Now, unlike before, the Federal Department of Transportation and newly formed Environmental Protection Agency operating under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) were fully engaged with a raft of new criteria and regulations. So were locals had had their passions lit afire, chaining themselves to oak trees up and down the 1-66 right of way. From its start to its finish the 1-66 right of way went from 8-lanes to 6 lanes to 4 lanes limited access.

      Some of the details can be found at:

      This document that marks the dawn of “it takes forever to build anything of consequence in the USA” makes fascinating reading.

      1. I think you’d be remiss in not acknowledging the impact that Robert Moses had on these issues:

        ” His philosophy represents the essence of modernist, industrial building and stands as the antithesis to most livable streets principles. For example, he initiated ambitious road-building projects while cutting mass transit funds. Many of his projects destroyed vibrant urban neighborhoods. Moses’s once-stellar reputation was badly damaged by two major publications: Jane Jacobs’s 1964 critique The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 biography The Power Broker.”

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          Moses was a heavy handed myopic top down central planning master of the universe, driven by hubris and obsessive need to control everything he touched. Nobody challenged Moses, and got away with it. The man was also supremely competent, and master of manipulation. His obsession to control led him to extremes that over time became highly destructive.

          The secretary of transportation’s decision on I-66 likely came from a different place. My guess is that he had little competence to know what he was doing or what the needs of the issues were. So he ended up making the easy political decision which was plainly the wrong one to those who, unlike him, knew what needed to he done.

          This sadly is a frequent flaw of top down long distance planning. Decisions then are too often never informed by the facts on the ground. Instead they are all about process rather than achieving the hard but right result that depends on making hard decisions based on facts on the ground and real world experience with the particulars of the important issues at hand.

          So these unfortunate particulars make decisions far more difficult. The top down long distance planner finds everything easy and exhilarating because he is unaware of (or unwilling to confront) the hard choices he must make.

          For an example of what I am talking about recall my parking example found in 9:04 pm comment at:

          This related to a single but difficult parking decision in Ballston. This decision made a difference to early subway traffic at the stop concerned. And to the leasing pace of the building atop the parking.

          1. I just found similarities between Moses ideas of bringing interstate scale highways directly into and through CBDs and similar plans for I-66 in Arlington (and Washington) – that were ultimately rejected for the same reasons that Moses ideas were rejected- that there was a view that in doing that -you could destroy the CBD.

            Moses approach was not uncommon for other areas. I-95 went right through the eastern part of Richmond and to this day you can see the neighborhoods on each side that used to intact.

            But I think you are mistaken about the role of FHWA. In most cases, planing for these things are done at the state level with on-site VDOT people involved both in the planning, engineering and public hearings.

            FHWA ends up being the arbiter of disputes but also is the enforcer of the standards – like distances between interchanges or attempts to build access points / ramps that do not meet interstate standards. I do not think I have ever seen FHWA come in ans directly sponsor a highway and force it on the local area – never.

            I think in your criticism(s) here that you tend to overlook, for instance, the fact that FHWA has presided over a huge national interstate highway systems with beltways around virtually every urban area and 99% of it has not been a “long distance planner” disaster operating as if things are “easy and exhilarating”.

            I’m just not sure where you get this stuff.

            I’m not defending FHWA or VDOT or “long distance planners”, etc, mistakes are made sometimes but it just seems that we end of with a blame game on these things when 99% of what has been done has been successful with minimal controversy.

            but one perceived (and in this case, arguable) mistake – and they are all categorized as corrupt and incompetent top-down, distance central planners.

            Virtually all of the infrastructure that we have was done by those dastardly “central planners” and now we seem to have added dastardly long-distance planners to the list of rogues …

            I don’t think condemning virtually everything and everyone involved in this manner is fair nor objective.

            it is what it is. they are not without problems but 99% seems to work well and it was done by those same dastardly central planners.

            Neither VDOT nor FHWA nor Arlington Planners are terrible people.

            they all have interests related to their missions and sometimes they conflict and there are disputes. That does not make them evil.

  2. I’m not quite smart enough to know precisely what TE is alluding to but I do know that Arlington vociferously opposed the extension of I-66 way back when and the planned HOT Lane access ramps more recently.

    and in both cases – conventional wisdom for a place like Tysons would be to welcome such access infrastructure.

    Clearly – businesses that depend on access infrastructure for their business would find a location that welcomes such infrastructure more “business friendly” than one that does not.

    So – how a locality chooses to configure itself with regard to transport infrastructure does seem to affect what kinds of businesses would be attracted.

    or perhaps not…

    how about some more discussion?

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    So many fallacies, so little time …

    1. Arlington is a city. It was part of the City of Washington, DC for years. When Arlington came back to Virginia it somehow became a county in Virginia’s inept locality management system. Arlington “County” is 26 sq mi. The City of Roanoke, on the other hand, is 43 sq mi. If you want to compare Arlington to something – compare it to the City of Richmond, not legitimate counties.

    2. Arlington was a city in decline. Unlike the Richmond-based bloggers who opine from afar, I lived in the “county” of Arlington during the early adolescence of its Renaissance. Of course real estate values went up. Real estate values always go up when a city in decline reverses its decline. Real estate values have gone up in DC too. Real estate values in Pheonix are up 26.2% this year. They are up 20.7% in Las Vegas. Were these increases due to “smart growth”?

    3. In 1967 the federal government spent 18% of GDP. By 1987 it was 22%. Today, it is 24%. Having an “economic miracle” in a one company town is a lot easier when the one company is a) by far and away the largest single economic entity on the planet and b) consumes 50% more of the economy than it consumed 36 years ago. Real estate prices have gone up in Bentonville, AK and Redmond, WA too.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – I think Arlington did a good job of managing its resurgence. However, the very controversial building of the original Metro was a big, big factor in optimizing the migration of people back into Arlington. Zimmerman said it very well – ” Zimmerman justifies the investment in money-losing mass transit on the grounds that it stimulates high-density development that more than makes up the difference.”.

    Somehow, this simple thinking seems to absolutely baffle Virginia’s conservatives. Building a mass transit system might pay for itself in ways beyond what is collected at the fare box. Wow!

    All the Silver Line whining. All the Rail to Dulles carping. All the MWAA bashing. And then …

    “Zimmerman justifies the investment in money-losing mass transit on the grounds that it stimulates high-density development that more than makes up the difference.”.

    Has Bacon had an epiphany?

    1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      The mass transit, is a mitigation to the disaster that would happen if the land use for high density would occur with the standard highway model. See Atlanta downtown/traffic. You can attract business, but crime/lack of amenities make living next to a freeway unattractive for residents. Which leads to all the gains you made via that high density, being lost in further infrastructure costs to get to it for the residents who want no part in it.

      Mass transit shouldn’t be the spur for that growth, it should be the way that the growth can occur without having to spend even greater amounts of money on road projects. Mitigation not stimulus.

      In this way one can be both for the silver line and against the silver line. After all; it is really 2 completely different projects with two completely different goals.

      1. TE – Glad to see your comments. Mass transit does not necessarily replace road construction, It can stimulate the need for much, much more road construction, as per Tysons. I fully realize and respect you think VDOT and Fairfax County are wrong in their analysis. But the growth in Tysons, spurred by the additional density permitted by the arrival of the Silver Line, will generate a huge increase in traffic volumes to and from Tysons. Growth of any kind requires additional infrastructure – from sidewalks, to bike paths, to roads, to toll roads, to buses, to rail. Tysons will create an even worse traffic hell.

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          Unproven by Arlington as a case study. Empirical before models; in this case I will continue to say that is rubbish until I see otherwise. Urban Freeways are in intent good, and in application disasters.

          By happenstance, I-66 was not widened through Arlington, and look at the benefits that brought (I couldn’t care less about the environmental side) but as far as urban unity, land value, and traffic mitigation by restraining the growth as it did, it has been successful despite the models VDOT predicted upon Arlington.

          Those models are accurate for suburban intercity travel, which has been exacerbated in this area by land use, not by lack of infrastructure. We are going down the Atlanta and LA model. Its a never ending chasm, you continue to build highway after highway and inducing more and more flood event demand from suburban tributaries.

          We’ll see

  4. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    Tysons welcoming that infrastructure is a mistake for Tysons but a boon to Fairfax as a whole. Unlike Arlington, the jurisdiction which encompasses Tysons is large enough that within the county itself access to Tysons was becoming a deterrent.

    That being said, the mega infrastructure that came to Tysons doesn’t help Tysons, it helps the areas surrounding Tysons making them as viable as Tysons for development. It is the idea that now, I could be outside of Tysons, still be 5 minutes away, and build/lease for cheaper and therefore have more marketability instead of being in Tysons, but have to build/lease for more.

    Those decisions, while touted as opening up Tysons as an urban center, really made it that much more difficult to get residential/mixed use to view Tysons as marketable as, for instance, Merrifield. Now, Tysons will likely over come that because of other reasons (namely restriction on the type of growth allowed in other parts of the County) but a continued trend of highway access to Tysons would undercut the marketability of it, and therefore eventually lead to growth occurring further and further west.

    Arlington recognized that in the 80s, restricted alot of the projects within it’s borders, and saw far smaller loss in business/residential than otherwise would have been the case. For example, see what has happened to what was a thriving CBD in Springfield after the Springfield Interchanged opened up. Growth has now expanded further south into Prince William instead of in Springfield.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Unlike Arlington, the jurisdiction which encompasses Tysons is large enough that within the county itself access to Tysons was becoming a deterrent.”

      Metro didn’t come to the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor to solve an access problem. It came to solve a blight problem. It was an economic engine. I lived one block off Wilson Blvd in Ballston from 1981 – 1984. Wilson Blvd was a conduit to get from where you lived to your job in DC.

      Tysons was failing because it was increasingly seen as bad place to put your business. I worked on Old Meadow Rd for three years. When we looked for room to expand we only had one thought, “No Tysons”. Several years later I ran a company in Reston. The rents were too high so we looked elsewhere to expand. We only had one thought, “No Tysons”.

      Tysons has an accessibility problem, Tysons has a walkability problem, Tysons has a density problem (dense enough to make accessibility a problem but not dense enough to make walkability work). This means Tysons has an image problem.

      “Those decisions, while touted as opening up Tysons as an urban center, really made it that much more difficult to get residential/mixed use to view Tysons as marketable as, for instance, Merrifield.”.

      So … why did “big infrastructure” (in the form of Metro) make the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor a mixed use marvel? Why has the Metro finally gotten Merrifield onto a mixed use trajectory? To keep annoying you, I also lived on Shreve Rd within walking distance of the Merrifield Metro for 8 years.

      You guys have theories about NoVa. I have more than a half century of experiences and observations of NoVa. Here’s one – Where Metro goes, things get better.

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        Tysons is more dense than Reston, with more build out, and yet Reston is walkable. It is an issue of bad land use in the form of not focusing that growth; not an issue of not enough density to make it walkable.

        Planning took a second seat to tax revenue and letting them do what they want. That has changed.

        PS your anecdotal evidence about Tysons is contradicted by the fact that Tysons continues to grow as a CBD magnet.

        PSS, when was I saying metro is a bad thing for Tysons? As I said the silver line is 2 projects, one that is mitigating infrastructure needs for an already developed CBD, and another that is trying to spur grow along a corridor.

        1 I am for, the other I am against

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Reston and Tysons have comparable densities – say 3,500 per mile vs 4,000 per mile as I recall. But … Tysons is more densely populated. Reston is also 3 – 4 times bigger. The CDP boundaries are pretty arbitrary. One could have easily included more of McLean and/or Vienna in the Tysons CDP, made it as big as Reston and seen its density plummet. Huntington (in Fairfax County just south of Alexandria) is where I grew up. It’s a CDP with a 0.8 sq mi area and a 14,000 person / sq mi density. That’s considerably more density than the City of Chicago.

          Density is an important statistic but you have to be very careful where you draw the lines around something as amorphous as an unincorporated town.

          Reston was certainly better planned. Maybe better planned than anywhere in the state. Certainly the best planned area in Northern Virginia. The walkability was designed in. I agree with that. I worked in the Reston Town Center for 12 years. It’s a great place to work.

          So – what now? Unplanned, unwalkable Tysons had pretty high office vacancy rates when I was looking at commercial real estate about 18 months ago. My understanding is that the vacancy rates have gone up but that is only anecdotal. Meanwhile, the rental cost per sq ft was considerably lower than in the Reston Town Center.

          I am not sure that Tysons is the healthy CBD that you think it is.

          Anyway – how to fix Tysons? Tear down the badly planned buildings?

          The best way to fix Tysons is to push for more density and serve it with mass transit. Open air parking lots get bulldozed for new buildings and whatever new parking lots are built have to be multi-story affairs. The Metro stops already create pedestrian overpasses which connect one side of Rt 7 with the other. The car dealerships and their acres of car lots are disappearing.

          Seems to be on the right track to me.

          If you don’t increase the growth (and density) in a badly planned area you will never fix the area.

        2. re: ” It is an issue of bad land use in the form of not focusing that growth; not an issue of not enough density to make it walkable.”

          I find that sentiment more realistic than the more simplistic one that density alone guarantees walkability….

          I’m reminded of a guy named Robert Moses.

    2. TE, again, I understand and respect your views on roads and Tysons. But the road plan for Tysons (Table 7) will be implemented all other things being equal. Moreover, Fairfax County has stated Table 7 will be supplemented by more roads. Source: a Tysons Partnership Board member who attended a board meeting where the members were so informed. The reason is the County approved approximately 30% more density than was modeled in the 2009 527 TIA.

      Tysons’ transit share today is 2%. By 2030 it must be 22%. The arrival of the Silver Line will certainly push the transit share higher. But many think it will be only 10-12% after a year or so. Tysons has great road access, which will improve. SOV is the main mode of travel to and from Tysons today, and will be for at least the next 40 years. Tysons equals autos today and autos tomorrow.

      While there is significant vacancies in Tysons today (c. 4 msf), Tysons is successful. It produces around 10% of the real estate tax revenue for Fairfax County. Intelsat made a major commitment to move to Tysons about a year ago. But, as pointed out my others, Tysons is in competition with other areas, many with cheaper rents. Tysons will not fail; nor will it replace Manhattan.

  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    This is a fine capsule summary of smart growth and why it works.

    One highlight concerns how smart growth works to enhance long the term value of its own community. And how it continuously enhances the benefits that accrue to those who live and own and work there. Like fine wine, a smart growth community gets the better as it ages. It’s a wealth creating engine. One that never wears out, and keeps getting more efficient and powerful instead.

    Thus local government does not have to pay money to lure out of town business employers to relocate to their smart growth town. The local smart growth government holds all the cards, instead.

    Why? Because the out of town business wants to plug into all of the advantages that are already built into the smartly built community.

    So the out of town business wants to be part of that smart growth community action. It wants to join in the game, to be a player in the successful and ever more profitable, exciting, and enjoyable place to be. These benefits are both immediate and long term.

    So, for example, when moving to a smart growth community, the incoming business does not have to lure good workers to its new location. The reverse happens. By moving into the already built smart growth community, the newcomer business enjoys of flood of workers who are already there or who are eager to move there.

    This is only the beginning of many advantages the newcomer business enjoys in a smart growth place. Long term synergy with other businesses and creative people close by is another.

    The long term costs we pay, and the long term losses we incur, for building sprawl places is enormous, and its costs and loses are mounting yearly in ever larger amounts. Such places quickly wear out. One reason is the dearth of real advantages to living there. The initial advantages of moving there can quickly erode into disadvantages and decline. For example, new businesses leap frog over these sprawl places to find cheaper vacant land to build on farther out in the countryside.

    This creates a cycle where our losses compound. Not only do we drain out older communities, leaving their residents to lose their investment and lifestyle in declining neighborhoods, we also incur huge new costs building roads and sewer and tolls and traffic ever farther out into areas that, once they too are built out, will work only to generate more of the same problem all over again.

    So our public cost grow ever higher. Only the “in and out land developer” who stays ahead of the sprawl to build ever more of it gets rich. And of course such developers never stay and live there. They don’t chose to live in wasting short term neighborhoods.

    Smart Growth areas help reverse all of this. It builds long term wealth, health, and enjoyment for its residents everywhere rather than wasting it. For it does the same for all kinds of lands around it, whether near or far. Smart Growth works in a whole variety of synergistic ways to brings urban, suburban and rural areas within its region into far more productive and stable long term balance.

  6. re: ” Where Metro goes, things get better.”

    I believe it.

    but here’s the problem ( according to some).

    1. It’ subsidized and doe not pay for itself

    2. It would not exist without govt but govt is said to be corrupt and incompetent

    3. – “Smart Growth” if done by Govt is “central planning” at it’s worst and needs to get out of the way so that “conservative” private-sector Smart Growth can proceed unfettered by government.

    This is very confusing.

    Was Arlington responsible for it’s success or not?

    Would Arlington have succeeded without Metro?

    and clueless
    about the free market or how to foster – “conservative, private-sector “smart Growth”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Conservative, private sector smart growth is a figment of Jim Bacon’s fertile imagination. Even Jim knows this. He desperately wants government to step in and assign all kinds of amorphous fees and taxes to eliminate invisible subsidies. He wants to have the government engage in an immense price setting effort in order to achieve his goals. I give up – how much rainwater runs off my wooded lot and ends up needing to be treated in wastewater treatment plants? You’d have to know my lot, its topology, the plants on the lot, what runs onto my lot from other lots, the amount of water that pools, the evaporation rate from the pooled water, etc. Then you’d have to possess a sophisticated hydrological evaluation software program to make the estimate accurate. Can you say The charges would be nothing more than government policy. They would not equate to the actual cost of my rainwater. In other words, Jim wants the government to tax me off my lot and then call it “free market”.

      Jim also doesn’t waste a lot of time with the revenue side of the equation. Let’s say somebody lives in a $2M house on a 5 acre lot. In Fairfax County that person pays $37,400 in property taxes. Now, let’s say somebody else lives in a $400,000 house on a quarter acre lot. In Fairfax County that person pays $7,480 per year in property taxes. That’s a difference of $29,920 per year.

      Is that enough to pay for the difference in the so-called “location variable costs” between the house on the big lot and the house on the small lot? Who knows? Nobody. Not me. Not Jim.

      But Jim will tell you that if you just eliminate subsidies for “location variable costs” then smart growth will happen through the free market.

      1. re: ” Then you’d have to possess a sophisticated hydrological evaluation software program to make the estimate accurate. Can you say”

        au contraire!

        tell me the governmental process for you putting a well and drain field in.

        it’s actually pretty easy – your HIRE someone with the EXPERTISE and they do the work – you pay the fees and get your permit.

        be advised of this important word – “permit”.

        what does that mean? Who exactly is “permitting” you?

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          A subsidy is a transfer of funds to a person creating a cost from a person not creating the cost.

          If you don’t want subsidies then you have to charge people directly.

          If you want to charge me directly for treating runoff then you have to know how much runoff I generate.

          A permit process would assume that all houses generate the same amount of runoff. That’s absurd. It would create another subsidy. If I had a small lot with little impermeable surface I’d be subsidizing someone with a large lot and lots of impermeable surface.

          To accurately charge me for my location variable costs you have to know what those costs are. In the case of runoff you have to know how much water actually runs off my property and ends up in the stormwater treatment facility.

          1. do you think there is an assumption, for instance, that all drain fields works the same way?

            Each drainfield is based on the permeability of the soil, the gradient of the surface, the water table below, the proximity of the field to other wells and water sources, etc.

            yet – the health department will “permit” you to put one in if you consult with an engineer to make sure you are not going to pollute land and water -you do not own.

            this is not as hard to do as you think it is.

            the are formulas for all of these things and in your situation, I’d bet that you could SELL credits to others if they allowed such a thing!

            but the basic point here is that – you do not have a natural right to transport things off of your property onto other properties you do not own – unless it’s natural runoff that you had no role in altering.

            we went through this with Hydra. You do not have an inherent right to pollute property you do not own.

            AND – you do not get to decide what is a pollutant and what is not!

            that’s why when you put in a drain field on your own property – you still need a PERMIT to do it.

            now don’t go Libertarian on me….

  7. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    “Would Arlington have succeeded without Metro?”

    This is a complicated question. Here is a nutshell bullet opinion as concerns the B/R Corridor.

    Yes, the corridor could have succeeded without its subway but in nothing like its current form. Instead of the powerfully successful 8 cylinder urban engine that the corridor now enjoys, it would be running on four overloaded cylinders, kicking and sputtering along, unless it was built to FAR less density than it currently enjoys.

    I say this primarily because, contrary to popular opinion, the R/B corridor, although shaped like a spindle laced with grid streets, has in fact relatively poor road access, absent the subway.

    Look carefully at a map. The corridors access points to I-66 are quite limited, in number and capacity. And once on I-66 the traveler too often encounters a parking lot in both directions, west to the beltway and east to DC, thanks to the horrible 1970’s mandate handed down by the US Secretary of Transportation. He cut the baby in half, throttling down the road’s potential benefit for future generations.

    The corridors west end at Ballston also has poor access up Wilson towards Falls church. In Rosslyn at the north end you confront too often congested bridges into DC. The Corridors south side access is similarly limited as to access points and capacity onto Rt. 50.

    Thank God for the old standbys. The old workhorse Lee Highway, it goes east west from DC to Falls Church on the north side of I-66. It does magic with that other old workhorse N. Glebe Road. It goes from Chain Bridge on the north to Alexandria to the south while it wraps around Arlington County’s back side, including Ballston after it has already crossed Lee Highway. These two old roads that work together synergistically while they also intersect with many lesser and primary county roads to open up back channels that give reasonable access to savvy locals slip sliding round bottlenecks.

    So what does this add up to?

    At base, it means that driving Arlington County is mostly an urban experience. But its old street grid was designed originally at best for dense suburban residential heavily seeded with ancillary retail punctuated by an original spindle strip downtown of limited scope.

    As a result there was no way that this grid back in the 1970s (or this grid even today) could support the modern B/R corridor or anything close to it, absent gridlock nightmare. Thus the subway working with still inadequate grid streets make the corridor work. Just like with New York City and its subway on a different scale.

    All of this was not so obvious at the time. A lot of people working most of two decade had to figure it out by trial and error, and after a lot of money was lost and lots of mistakes were made doing it all. So Arlington success was not due to chance or good fortune or luck.

    Everyone talks about how B/R corridor benefits from the subway. Sometime it seems to me that folks think the corridor by sheer luck now sucks its life by living off the public dole of the subway.

    Actually the reverse is true. The way Arlington built its downtown along its share of Metro has through off enormous benefit to almost everywhere else. As Tyson’s Engineer wisely point out, building a subway or road is the easy part. The hard creative part is building things that bring the subway or road to life, throwing off benefits to everyone in the entire region. Its holistic, what we are talking about, when we talk about building highly successful urban places where people can thrive in ways otherwise unimaginable.

    Thus downtown DC, the B/R corridor, and Pentagon Crystal City and a few others do most all of the heavy lifting, making the subway work for most everyone else. What a pity it is that so FEW other places did the same long ago. Even now some places refuse to do their far share now. We’ve got to change that.

  8. thanks… so ABSENT – METRO – you still think there is a fundamental difference between the B/R corridor and Tysons , correct?

    so Tysons fundamentally lacks the core infrastructure than B/R has – even with Metro?

  9. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III


    At the base of urban planning, the Metro is not the fundamental difference. The fundamental difference here is land use. Organizing it in a way that builds exponential wealth under all the given circumstances of a particular case. Here is the central creative challenge. It cannot be reduced to rote.

    This is the major lesson of B/R corridor, the one that so few seem to learn.

    Figure out your mix of land use market wise, and area and location wise. And only then do you build and mix your transportation network to make your land use as it is build work in spades, synergistic, spinning off wealth among all its parts working together so 2 + 2 = 8.

    So land use is the essence, the primary building block. Transport carefully calibrated to land use as creatively designed, is important but only one tool among many tools, and once selected its the easiest part to build right.

    Think of it this way. If you build the right engine, then selecting the right mix of the right fuel properly blended should follow naturally in its wake.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      So – for years and year the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor was a blighted disaster. Rosslyn had a well known reputation for pawn shops and houses of ill repute.

      One day, sometime in the early 1980s things started to change for the better.

      And the positive change continues to this day.

      Besides the Metro opening what other change happened in the Rosslyn – Ballson corridor in the late 1970s – early 1980s?

      I guess you could count the extension of I-66.

      However, if land use regulations changed – what were those changes?

      1. don’t blame people or groups of people Reed – specify the processes and how they are not doing what they should be doing.

        I just find personalizing these things at the same time we don’t make clear what is wrong or what should be done instead … not productive.

        blaming people for engaging in unspecified wrongs and saying that we need the “right kind” of people to do things “right” without ever really getting to what was really wrong, done wrong or right… comes across as accusing people of bad faith – not individuals – but entire groups of people – like planners or “central planning”… etc…

        It implies that people are acting in bad faith and not capable of learning from mistakes and going back and doing it better …

        it’s like they are essentially evil and have motivations not to do good things but instead bad things.

        I do not see people in this way at all. I think there are evil people ,yes but I do not see all govt planners as “evil” or central planning as “evil” (Good GOD – Walmart CENTRAL plans guys) and when we say stuff like that – where does that really leave us – like we’re not going to have govt planners because you can’t trust any of them to do “good”?

        come on Reed.. let’s focus on the specifics that are wrong not people.

      2. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        DJ, excellent observations regarding Rosslyn’s plight and evolution. I give you my view when my Thanksgiving migrations settle down.

        You and Tysons Engineer got the bead on Tyson’s Corner for sure. Enlightening discussion.

        Not so sure about TMT’s vision. Fear he’s wearing rosy glasses. Likely now the fact is that intrenched interests do not have the money to fix the place right or they won’t spend it unless they can con it from somebody else, typically now only the taxpayer. But even that’s getting ever harder, since the bloom now is clearly off the rose and its thorns plain to see.

        I suspect that a sea change into prosperity external to Tysons Corner is its only hope. Absent miracle bail out, TMT’s rosy view will likely darken greatly before there’s any hope for a dawn at Tysons. The place with all its systemic and self-inflicted flaws is stuck long term, floundering and sputtering, for the foreseeable future. Hope I am wrong.

  10. okay – I’m being stupid again as usual.

    compare and contrast Tysons with B/R on these criteria that you are citing.

    why is missing in Tysons that is present in B/R…

    no flowery concepts .. things I can put my hands on…

    what is bad about Tysons land use ? what is good about R/B land -use?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      You’ll have to make do with the “flowery concepts”.

  11. As DJ as articulated – if you go back, there was a time when the B/R corridor apparently had “no plan” and was in some respects worse off than Tysons in that it did not seem to have a vision laid out to follow.

    and then… “something” ” happened”.

    and so I think THAT’s worth discussing and exploring – WITHOUT getting into a blame game that personalizes people or groups of people as to their bad faith and motivations but rather – HOW did B/R change and yes by all means if certain individuals contributed to the success.. let’s hear what they did – for sure.

    Obviously – whatever plan Tysons is following is – not based on what B/R or Arlington did … I don’t think… but it might be worth comparing and contrasting the things that have played out in both…

    I’m specifically interested in how Arlington and B/R differ from Tysons in transportation – mobility … are there explicit differences between the two in their transport visions?

    I’d certainly be interested in hearing viewpoints on those perceived differences…

    I’m not interesting in a list of bad actors who are the root of all evil, etc…when it comes to how these things play out.

    and I do fundamentally believe that central planning is not an evil – every major corporation in the world – “central plans” , as does our military, as does the Red Cross or even the Catholic Church…

    you cannot have grid streets, water/sewer, transit, parks, schools, libraries without “central planning”.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Larry, I suggest you stop your worry about Tysons versus Arlington and try better to under the psychological manifestations of projection.

  12. Reed – I suggest to you that we focus on issues not demonizing people and groups of people – that’s “projection” also you know.

    get off your holier than thou kick and focus on issues guy… I’m tried of hearing the personal condemnations… it does nothing useful.

    let’s deal with the issues – as Jim Bacon says – focus your fury on the issues – not people…

    try harder Reed.

  13. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Larry says:

    ” When I saw a PEW poll that said that evangelicals support the use of torture more than others do – it got me to wondering on things like how do we help those who cannot get access to medical care – rather than just how vicious and hateful – and racist we can be to a black POTUS who has attempted to deal with this issue …It’s hate and vitriol coming from those who claim to be religious and now … yes… now.. they are attacking the POPE for his “socialist” beliefs…. you cannot make this stuff up… the right and the evangelicals have combined into a political ethos that basically tells the poor -get off your fat lard-butts and work.”

    Larry also says:

    “and so I think THAT’s worth discussing and exploring – WITHOUT getting into a blame game that personalizes people or groups of people as to their bad faith and motivations…I’m not interesting in a list of bad actors who are the root of all evil …”

    Is this projection, Larry. Think about it.

  14. It’s projection to refer to actual polls show actual responses to these questions?

    I’m not ascribing blame based on my personal views.

    I’m giving actual data that comes from the people themselves.

    they have convicted themselves by their own words.

    Catholics and evangelicals – as a group – have gotten themselves directly involved in politics in the last few years as opposed to just defending their right to their religion.

    I have no problem blaming specific people for specific actions but I have a big problem with blaming people and groups for unspecified actions or actions that you believe they are guilty of but no specifics.

    what I call the “blame game” is blaming entire groups of people for some alleged but not proven sin…

    in the case of evangelicals and Catholics and torture – there is clear evidence of there views… via the PEW poll.

    but calling all central planning or all planners as evil is just beyond the pale.

    Central Planning is fundamentally to most cities, states, and corporations and the military.. it’s not evil

  15. I do not have a problem – at all – with someone saying that this group of people do this specific thing wrong – and they should have done it differently and you show the better way.

    I have a BIG problem with entire groups of people and institutions being attacked non-specifically for bad motivations … just condemned as a group with no specifics… show what they did wrong.

    Please be specific about what was done wrong – and please compare and contrast that to what was done right by others for a different project.

    that’s how we all learn – by understanding the specifics.

    If a particular group did a specific thing wrong – and it can be demonstrated, then fine… do it.. but this tactic of grouping all planners as evil and nefarious is wrong.

Leave a Reply