Shadow Over Reston

Mark and Jane Janeczko take a walk near Lake Anne in Reston in 2006.
Mark and Jane Janeczko take a walk near Lake Anne in Reston in 2006. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Is the Reston dream dying? My heart and head have been wrestling with this question for a long time. My yes-saying head, I regret, is winning.

The Reston dream began with New York developer Robert E. Simon Jr. 45 years ago. Exasperated by suburban sprawl -- both professionally and as a commuting resident of a leafy Long Island suburb -- Simon set out to marry the best of the country and the city. His Reston, built on a 6,750-acre tabula rasa of woods and farmland in western Fairfax County, prefigured by more than a decade the "smart growth" movement.

Housing for people of all races, incomes, ages and lifestyles was Simon's revolutionary goal. His townhouse clusters -- the first ever outside of cities -- preserved open space and put it within walking distance of every resident's front door. A business district was set aside along the Dulles Access Road so Reston could be a job center instead of another suburban "bedroom."

By the turn of the century, Reston was a thriving community of 60,000 people and 30,000 jobs. Its town center, inspired by the urban grids and mixed uses of great U.S. downtowns, redefined suburban centers.

But deep shadows are darkening the Reston dream:

¿ Lake Anne Center -- Simon's crown jewel -- has deteriorated because of weak and fractured local leadership and a county government that moves as fast as a three-legged tortoise.

¿ The nature center that Simon promised shortly before he was ousted has finally progressed to the drawing board, albeit stripped of its "green" construction features.

¿ The regional library that was built 25 years ago is insufficient to serve Reston's digital generation.

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