Tyson's Corner from cruising altitude
Tyson's Corner by glass window

I find reading and thinking about the future of suburbs endlessly fascinating, particularly when it involves suburbs turning into medium or high-density urban environments. This interview with Christopher Leinberger brings up two of my three favorite talking points on the subject: how suburbs can transform themselves and what is happening in Tyson’s Corner (the third is Downtown Bellevue, which I think most people get way wrong).
A couple of quotes below the fold, though I recommend reading the whole thing.

Here’s a quote about TOD:

Look at Tyson’s Corner outside DC. It has that giant suburban mall – 40 million square feet of retail and the largest suburban downtown in the country. It’s a traffic nightmare. They’ve been trying to get a Metro link that the Bush administration finally allowed to go through after years of trying to kill it. (The Bush people despised public transit.) The head of the neighborhood group that was involved in with this torturous three year planning process told me, “I’ve seen Arlington.” Arlington is one of the great models in the entire country of a redeveloped suburban commercial strip. Arlington has tripled its square footage and traffic has gone down ten percent. The people in Tyson see that and they want it too. They want that kind of urban excitement.

Another about walkability:

You mentioned 40 miles outside town. Last year people were talking about high energy prices as the one of the prime causes of suburban collapse. But gas is back under $2 a gallon.
Energy prices have nothing to do with it. I said that at the time. They can accelerate the process, but what drives it is the shift in consumer preferences. Gen Xers and Millennials want a lifestyle closer to Friends and Seinfeld (that is, walkable and urban) than to Tony Soprano (low density and suburban). It’s not that nobody wants Tony Soprano. About 50 percent of Americans actually do want that configuration. But if we’ve built 80 percent of our housing that way, that’s the definition of oversupply. The other 50 percent of Americans want walkable urban arrangements and yet that’s just 20 percent of the housing stock. That’s called pent-up demand. So the market is just responding.

There’s more on the real estate market and walkability, demand for urban lifestyles, and where the ex-burbs go next. Good stuff.

10 Replies to “What will happen to suburbs?”

    1. I should add not everyone is happy with the Tyson’s corner change:

      The destruction of Tysons Corner?
      It’s not quite Hurricane Katrina on the way, but I can’t wrap my mind around how Tysons Corner will keep going. The plan is to take one of America’s most successful “edge cities” and centrally plan it into a walkable neighborhood, yet that is to happen while five major roads — three of them multi-lane highways — will continue to carve up the whole area.

      Have I mentioned they will build elevated rail service to Dulles Airport? This sounds quaint and European but there is already a dedicated, virtually traffic-free road to that airport, in addition to three or four totally usable back routes. The new rail line will sit atop Route 7 (the major artery), necessitating its widening and the destruction of the side and access roads which make transversing the area a workable proposition.

      1. This quote above is written by someone who is insane or has not been there in 20 years. Tyson’s Corner does not move at all at rush hour on any street. While I would have preferred an underground routing of Metro through Tyson’s, the plans they have should dramatically enhance the area.

  1. I don’t know about the percentages (50/50 80/20)but at least around here the trend is toward the “city” lifestyle but the job growth has been primarily suburban. Certainly home building has way exceeded demand on the eastside but that’s primarily because of the get rich quick scheme that was created by the housing bubble. There are thousands of high end condos coming on line in downtown Bellevue that are walking distance (or elevator distance) to the jobs but as reality sets in I think even those are going to be a hard sell. It’s ironic that the “green” demographic is now largely choosing to live in the city and commute out to “da burbs”. I’m just an old fart that by pure dumb luck lives on property 3 miles from Microsoft and rides my bike to work.

    I’m not sure what the measure of “successful edge cities” would be. Bellevue having a skyline is difficult to adjust to. I remember when Redmond had one traffic light. Certainly it’s evolved into an economic powerhouse. By that measure it’s a success that must surely rank it top ten. In fact I’d be tempted to argue the point that Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland aren’t an edge at all any more but the center of economic growth.

    Transit absolutely needs to give more priority to bikes. Seattle has been a leader on this front from the get go and continues to be the leading innovator. The “missing link” is road development that is bike savvy. Seattle sort of gets it but by and large all of the cities on the eastside think wider sideways is the answer to bike friendly. Or more “bike trails”; yeah, I’m not sure what’s worse, battling traffic or baby strollers. Thank goodness the eastlake Sam trail isn’t paved. To give credit where credit’s due the 520 bike path is great. But it’s way underutilized largely because it lacks connectivity at the western end.

    1. Actually, there’s new more office space in Seattle than in the Eastside, and the difference is actually growing. The U-Dist by itself has far more office space than DT bellevue. One building, the Warren G Magneson Health Science building has 5.7mn sq ft, which is by itself 70% of the office space in DT bellevue (8.1 mn sq ft).

      Seattle has built out more than 19 million sq ft of office space in Downtown + South Lake Union from 2002~2008, with another 7 million coming online in the next few years, and that’s more than double what exists in DT bellevue. Redmond added 3 million sq ft from 2000-2008, but more than 90% of that went to one company (you can guess).

      The Seattle->Eastside commute has increased, but the Suburbs->Seattle has increased more.

    2. I’m echoing Andrew here, but yeah, even by percentage, Seattle’s been beating Bellevue.

  2. It will certainly be interesting to see if Tyson’s Corner does undergo an Arlington type transformation. The critical difference is that Arlington’s Metro lines are subways, while the Silver Line will be elevated. Those who favored the tunnel option for the line argued that TOD would be better if the ROW was buried. I guess we’ll find out!

  3. The Fairfax County Virginia planning commission voted in favor the proposed “Elevated Rail” stations for Tysons Corner despite our best efforts thus far to correct this wrong. This is a very sad day for the future of Tysons Corner, Fairfax County and edge cities everywhere. You folks in Seattle have recognized our apparent stupidity, while Arlington, VA is an example of brilliance. My organization will continue to advocate for an underground solution in Tysons Corner, VA but right now, it’s not looking too good.

    Best to you all out West,

    Scott Monett

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