Arlington, Annapolis Cited for 'Great Streets'

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Clarendon Boulevard is no Rodeo Drive.

But the Arlington County thoroughfare, along with Wilson Boulevard, has gained fame in its own right. The Clarendon-Wilson corridor was named yesterday to the top 10 list of "Great Streets in America" by the American Planning Association.

Some of the winners, such as Annapolis's quaint Main Street, might be seen as more predictable picks. But why Clarendon and Wilson?

The corridor bounded by the roads, which generally run parallel, is full of street-level shops, restaurants, offices and condos. The "urban village," the association says, "demonstrates how active local government and committed business owners and residents used planning and smart growth practices to take advantage of, and effect, change."

"It doesn't have the mall-sprawl sense," said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D), who looked out from the corner of Clarendon Boulevard yesterday, beaming at the recognition of planning decades ago that bumped the Metro from its planned path along Interstate 66 and sent it through the county's commercial center.

The move to redirect Metro, and a succession of plans forged in what officials said sometimes seemed like a never-ending series of meetings, helped transform the Clarendon area into a national darling in development circles. By putting up condos and businesses along transit lines while keeping the area's funky style alive -- the festive Mardi Gras parade is still going strong -- planners say Arlington officials, merchants, land owners and residents have pulled off something worth recognizing and replicating.

The planning association is following in the list-making footsteps of its preservation and media brethren. But while the National Trust for Historic Preservation has its annual catalog of the nation's "Most Endangered Places," and Money magazine does a yearly tally of the "Best Places to Live," the planners have focused on streets. They've also listed the 10 "Great Neighborhoods" and this year added "Great Public Spaces in America." The District's Union Station made that list.

Standing yesterday outside the vast 100-year-old train station, which underwent a restoration in the 1980s, Robert B. Hunter, a Florida planner and president of the American Planning Association, said the list-making is intended to spur public involvement in a realm often dismissed as zoning minutiae.

"Planning doesn't work if it's only done by people making a profit," Hunter said. "We need the public to tell us what's important to them."

Whether it's preparing for Metro's future or restoring Union Station, good things often don't happen on their own, Hunter said.

Also on the list of great places is Central Park.

"Central Park doesn't have anything on this," said Marvin Guthrie, a retired airline security worker from Texas who was peering yesterday at the shield-wielding warrior statues dotting Union Station's Great Hall. "It's like a mall in itself, and an art gallery, too."

Main Street in downtown Annapolis was cited for years of preservation work.

"It's not a historical street. There are modern buildings on the street," said John Guild, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. But, he said, officials, merchants and landowners have been able to capture something rare. "They've really been able to create this street, with this environment and with the views. It's a very friendly public access way," he said.

In Clarendon neighborhoods yesterday, residents wondered about their new status.

Sipping coffee across from high-end retailers and offices that replaced a Sears and a parking lot, resident Tim Wise stood by the red, white and blue congratulatory balloons and tried to rank the neighborhood.

"Is it better than Magnificent Mile in Chicago? No. Is it better than Euclid Avenue in Cleveland? It's far superior," he said.

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