You Say McLean. I Say Vienna. Let's All Say Tysons.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What's in a name? For Tysons Corner, everything.

The big controversy over Tysons Corner these days is whether the proposed Metrorail line through Fairfax County's largest commercial district should be totally underground or mostly aboveground.

I think there is an equally important issue facing Fairfax County -- how to instill a sense of place at Tysons as it morphs from a suburban "edge city" into something closer to a bona fide downtown.

As one who recently wrote a final paper titled "The 2050 Plan for Tysons: Promenades, tree-lined streets, civic plazas and other ways to build a vibrant urban center" for a master's degree in urban and regional planning at Virginia Tech, I have a modest proposal:

Give Tysons Corner its own mailing address.

Tysons is the 17th-largest central business district in the United States when measured by office space. It stands to become even more imposing when city-scale development sprouts around four proposed Metro stations. Of those large business districts, Tysons is the only one that doesn't have its own mailing address. Instead, it is split between McLean and Vienna mailing addresses, as it has been since it was a country crossroads.

So, while the 17-story Tycon Tower Building (also known as "the Shopping Bag Building" because of its large arches at the top) has a Vienna address, Tysons Corner Center right next door has a McLean address.

That makes no sense.

The Shopping Bag Building really isn't part of Vienna, whose identity is centered a few miles southwest on Maple Avenue, near Church Street, the town hall and the future town green.

Likewise, Tysons Corner Center really isn't part of McLean, whose identity is centered a few miles northeast along Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Drive.

In a sensible world, the Shopping Bag Building and Tysons Corner Center would both be in Tysons Corner, which the Census Bureau already designates as a place. It's a 4.9-square-mile area where 18,540 people live and about 110,000 people work. It's the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies -- Capital One Financial Corp. and Gannett Co. -- and home to two super-regional malls that attract thousands of shoppers daily.

The McLean/Vienna address dichotomy is confusing enough, but a more important issue is involved.

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