Welcome to the "urban village."
You can't live in it yet, or even visit it, but if a new master plan prepared by a task force of citizens, landowners and developers is successful, an urban village will rise on 2,200 undeveloped acres straddling the critical crossroads or Rte. 50 and I-66 west of Fairfax City.
"Urban village" is the new buzzword in planning.
As its name suggests, it tries to create the best of two worlds -- the city and the small town. It means high-rise office buildings next to lakes and parks. It means overpasses for cars and walkways for pedestrians. It means people working and living in the same area.
An "urban village" does not necessarily mean development on a small scale. If developers reach for all the bonuses that wil be dangled in front of them in exchange for various public goodies, the 50/66 area could contain 15 million to 16 million square feet of office space.
(The task force still has to put finishing touches on its master plan, and then, perhaps most important of all, submit the proposal to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for final approval.)
Assessing the possible densities, Henry E. Strickland, a citizen member of the task force, said: "That's 60 Massey buildings." Strickland was perhaps the most frequent critic of efforts to push densities higher during the lengthy negotiations that began in July 1980.
Bonuses also could result in up to 10,000 housing units, which would create a medium-sized city.
It's possible then, that the "urban village" at 50/66 could eventually be bigger and more central than Tysons Corner, which often is called Fairfax County's downtown. In addition to all the office space and housing, it will also include, assuming county voters approve a yet-to-be-set bond referendum, a combination governmental and civic center. Already it is the home of the Fair Oaks regional shopping mall.
Altogether, that makes for a pretty big urban village.
But according to planning theory, pleasant, even intimate, relationships between people and places -- the benchmarks of an urban village -- can exist on a large scale. It's not how small the parts are, but how well they're put together.
The 50/66 task force is hoping that its strategy of linking construction densities to public amenities (car/van pool programs, skywalks, parks), will result in people and places fitting together on a human scale.
A constant goad for the task force has been the mess that has happened at Tysons Corner. Though some people proudly refer to it as Fairfax County's downtown, Tysons is the antithesis of what the 50/66 task force wanted to create west of Fairfax City.
As successful as Tysons is economically (for business and the county both), it is a planning nightmare. Local and through traffic are mixed together as if by as mad scientist. There is no place for the pedestrian. Buildings bear little relationship to one another.
Oddly enough, it was developer interests that first spoke out against the Tysons example when the 50/66 task force began meeting. Their argument was that good planning could be an attractive to business, especially the blue-chip companies being courted by a number of localities.
Just as oddly, the citizens, who, by and large, were leery about permitting high densities in the beginning of the planning effort, came to support a scale of development that might ultimately exceed even Tysons Corner.
Out of 10 months of meetings, with all their disappointments and hurt feelings, came a consensus to create an urban village.
It happened because early on, as task force chairman Michael S. Horwatt reminded the group, and kept reminding it: "In many situations, a majority vote is enough, but not here. If you don't ultimately reach a censensus, this exercise will be in vain."