Someday, Tysons Corner is supposed to be full of plazas, ball fields and walking trails. But for now, a nearly 10,000-square-foot space carved out of a parking lot at Greensboro and Solutions drives has to suffice as an oasis in the sea of concrete and cars.
With its picnic tables and bright yellow and orange lounge chairs — all arranged on a soft surface painted in bold, bright colors — this pop-up “parklet,” dubbed Greensboro Green, might seem out of place.
But supporters say its arrival is a small but important step in the slow evolution of Tysons Corner from a teeth-gnashing, traffic-clogged concrete jungle to the sleek, walkable community it aspires to become in the 21st century.
“There’s a lot of office density and a lot of people who work in Tysons, but there’s nothing that really pulls it together,” said David Gelfond, senior vice president at the Meridian Group, which paid to have the pop-up parklet built. “This park is a great first step. It’s a way to signal to the neighborhood that something is coming.”
The Meridian Group, one of more than a half-dozen developers with projects planned in Tysons, probably won’t break ground on the 3.2 million-square-foot mixed-use project it has planned for the area until 2016. So, for now, it’s settling for something modest to promote the development.
Some remain skeptical that an area where parking spaces outnumber residents will ever become the model urban community that its boosters envision, but Gelfond and others like him are gambling that it can be done.
Tysons offers many amenities — including four Metro stations and the region’s largest shopping mall — but it is woefully lacking in some ways, with a dearth of public parks, playing fields and plazas. Parkland accounts for less than 5 percent of Tysons 2,100 acres, according to a report by the Fairfax County Park Authority. There is no public park in the area’s core, a triangular area bordered by Leesburg Pike, the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road.
Nearly 300,000 people are expected to live and work in Tysons by 2050, and the Park Authority hopes that the Tysons of the future will have 154 acres of urban parks.
“Any great city has a great parks system,” said Sandy Stallman, manager of park planning for the Park Authority, who played a key role in drafting the parks plan for Tysons.
But because much of the land is in private hands, the greening of Tysons rests largely with developers. And while Meridian and other firms plan to incorporate parks and plazas in their developments, such amenities, like the high-rise buildings that will surround them, are still years off.
In the meantime, Gelfond and others hope that pop-ups will add life to the streets in Tysons, which are largely deserted once the commuters have gone home. Even during the workday, it is rare to see people lingering outside, largely because other than the malls, there is nowhere to go.
“The idea is to create a space where the folks who live and work in that neighborhood can begin to gather,” said Michael Caplin, executive director of Tysons Partnership, a group of residents and businesses focused on promoting Tysons. “When people tumble out of the office buildings, they’ll linger, they’ll sit down and visit and start to feel like it’s their park, their neighborhood.”
The parklet gives off a modern vibe, and its bold splash of color enlivens the otherwise drab, blacktopped parking lot.
On a recent day, the weather was cloudy and cold. A DC Sliders food truck, parked along Solutions Drive, was doing a slow but steady business. The few hardy souls who ventured out of their offices to grab some of its signature sliders and garlic fries were puzzled but pleased by the newly sprouted parklet.
“A nice surprise,” said Nicole Stoneman, a consultant who had swung by to pick up a macaroni-and-cheese-topped slider with a side of fragrant fries. “But I imagine this would be especially nice in the spring.”
The experience certainly was a far cry from how Jenny Abercrombie and her co-workers had dined outdoors in the past: seated on curbs or crouched on grassy nubs that border the parking lot with their food balanced precariously on their laps.
“It’s really nice to see that someone is making an effort,” Abercrombie said as she kicked back on one of the parklet’s bright yellow lounge chairs and chatted with co-worker Courtney Smith. “It’s a little bit of funky in the middle of Tysons.”
The Tysons Partnership is planning in warmer months to sponsor evening concerts and other events at the parklet. But Caplin conceded that it’s a tall order for such a modest space. Meridian spent $200,000 to build Greensboro Green, working with the firm LandDesign on the project.
Caplin said the Tysons parklet and other temporary ventures — including a pop-up development to be made from shipping containers that is planned near the Greensboro Metro station — will bridge the gap between the Tysons of now and the Tysons of the future.
That approach has worked in other areas. Pop-ups have brought life to long-neglected corners of London and Munich. A temporary patch of artificial turf in Silver Spring proved so popular that some residents fought to keep it. In the District, a pop-up bar and retail area housed in shipping containers was instrumental in attracting crowds to the neighborhood around Nationals Park after development in the area stalled during the recession.
Meridian picked the Tysons site in part because it was a popular spot for food trucks, although whether the trucks are parking there legally remains unclear. Fairfax officials recently approved rules to make it easier for mobile food vendors to do business in the county, but food truck operators say permitting issues still make it difficult for them to do business in spots such as the one near the parklet.
Gelfond said Meridian will work with vendors and the county to smooth out the problems so that the trucks can operate there.