Inspired by the decision to run Metro’s new Silver Line through Tysons, the county essentially is undertaking a do-over, one that seeks to replace much of what stands today with an urban, vibrant, walkable, downtown built around residents and rail. It is a monumental task that has never been done on such a grand scale. And there is no turning back.
Even the name has been remade. It is now just Tysons — no “Corner” — a sleeker brand that the marketing people hope will sell “the new downtown.”
“No one in the history of mankind has ever tried to do this” in a place that is already so developed — and developed entirely around cars and commuters, said Christopher Leinberger, with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “There is nowhere to look for a model for this kind of transformation.”
What is wrong with Tysons Corner, at least in the eyes of county officials, is what’s missing. There are very few sidewalks, parks, neighborhood hangouts and places to live — none of the things that make a city a city. Instead, the 1,700-acre swath of Fairfax is home to nine times as many parking spaces as people.
But now that the county has embarked on the redevelopment effort, some remain skeptical that such an ambitious, expensive urban retrofitting will ever come to fruition. Will anyone want to live in place long known for shopping malls and some of the region’s most horrific traffic? Will a shaky market emerging from recession support such development?
“We’re trying to create utopia through regulation,” said Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), one of two county supervisors who voted against adopting the Tysons plan in 2010.
“But is anyone going to buy the product? Will it be too expensive? All of these costs we’re attaching to it — they will be passed down.”
No soul, just traffic
Seventy years ago, Tysons Corner was little more than a quaint intersection surrounded by farmland. What exists today is the product of six decades of growth that gave little thought to the bigger picture: a soulless, sidewalkless sea of superblocks, office buildings, highways and car dealerships.
Fewer than 20,000 people live in Tysons, while nearly five times as many commute there for work, bringing with them dreadful road congestion.
But the traffic is not all that defines Tysons. Home to two well-known malls, countless federal-contracting giants and at least six Fortune 500 companies, it is among the largest employment and retail centers in the nation, ideally located near the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road. It is a huge reason why Northern Virginia’s economy is so strong, and if Fairfax has a downtown, Tysons is it, soul or not.