Greater Greater Washington

Watch 28 years of Virginia sprawl

Google's global 1984-2012 satellite timelapse shows remarkable growth in Northern Virginia. Take a look.


Image from Google.

The most striking change is vast land development in Loudoun County, but that's not the only visible growth. You can also see expansion of Tysons Corner (lower right), construction of the Dulles Greenway toll road, the airport's new western runway, and at the very end, construction of the Beltway HOT lanes.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

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Looks like a virus spreading

by Thayer-D on Jun 4, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

That's pretty cool. It's amazing how succesful NoVa has been over the last few decades. I always enjoy the stories from real estate industry old-timers about how Tysons was a one-stoplight town back in the day.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

successful for a land developer and maybe a realtor, but it's terrible from the perspective of sprawl and environmental quality.

by Gull on Jun 4, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

And where would you put all the people living in those homes? Maybe make them drive in from West Virginia? Thats really good for the environment. And no, don't suggest a high rise since if these people had wanted high rises that's what developers would have built. But these people wanted single family homes and since they're the ones paying for thei living and transportation options, they get to choose. Not you.

by A neighbor on Jun 4, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Still looks pretty green to me.

by Jasper on Jun 4, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

"since they're the ones paying for thei living and transportation options"
Oh Jesus Christ.

by engrish_major on Jun 4, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

We could have had significantly more concentrated density without necessarily many hirises. That we did not was only partially due to consumer choice, but also due to public policy, including how the NoVa jurisdictions laid out roads, their zoning policies, etc. Today almost all are trying to change those policies to make it possible to build more "walkable urban places" but in many cases are constrained by the existing built environment.

Since I am a citizen of Fairfax, I DO get input on a range of FFX county policies that impact FUTURE development. While FFX has adopted fewer policies in the direction I want than Arlington or Alexandria have, they have certainly made huge leaps, which I support.

Its true that having more move to West Virginia would not be good. But given transportation constraints, Im not sure how many really would have - but I do agree, it would be wise for the Commonwealth to reach out to WVa to discourage sprawl. Given how big a financial loss that would be to WVa, Va will have to give something tangible in return. Im not sure Richmond is up for that.

Maybe we need national land use planning?? ;)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

And no, don't suggest a high rise since if these people had wanted high rises that's what developers would have built.

It doesn't have to be high rises, its very easy to keep the area as SFH's. But the traffic planning, design requirements, and other zoning elements basically prohibit anything but the architecture we typically associate with sprawl. In any case, developers are responding but its foolish to recognize that there aren't constraints.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

What's that seemingly large, vacant circle of green toward the lower right corner?

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Chris S,

That looks to be the area of upper oakton around Hunter's Mill and Lawyer's Road. A lot of big houses down there but it can look pretty country while driving through it.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

@A neighbor

The fact that 2BR condos in Adams Morgan are going for more than full houses in Chantilly indicates that the demand is there for high-rises.

No one is saying everyone wants to live in a high-rise, nor should everyone "have" too. All this website typically advocates is giving people options. There are plenty of people who are priced out of DC and Arlington that would much prefer to live there, but they can't, hence they wind up in a townhome in Chantilly.

Suffice it to say, had we built appropriately over the last 30 years, there would be many more people living in "high-rises" in Arlington or DC or Bethesda or near metro stations in Vienna and such, and the people currently in Gainsville could live in Chantilly, and the people in Chantilly could be in Fairfax etc.

by Kyle-w on Jun 4, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Hrmm. Interesting. I actually thought it would look worse than it does.

It's amazing to me sometimes to realize juse how much of what I take for granted around here is younger than I am. I'm 29; the other day as I was driving to work I saw that the nursing home I pass to get to the Metro is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. For that matter, I'm only a year younger than Huntington Station. Talking of sprawl...I remember when there was hardly anything around there.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jun 4, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

@ drumz - Thanks. I didn't realize there was a large green oasis like that in the middle of NoVa. Reminds me of that M Night Shyamalan movie "The Village"

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

I've lived here about 7 years but my wife grew up in Northern Va. and I'm constantly shocked when she points out that something only went up just before I got here.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

Suffice it to say, had we built appropriately over the last 30 years, there would be many more people living in "high-rises" in Arlington or DC or Bethesda or near metro stations in Vienna and such, and the people currently in Gainsville could live in Chantilly, and the people in Chantilly could be in Fairfax etc.

This assumes that all those jurisdictions could/would have somehow co-operated to come up with a development master plan to cover everything from Adams Morgan to Middleburg. That's never going to happen, nor should it. People in different parts of the DC Metro region want different things for their localities. I think, overall, the last several decades of development have given people a wide range of choices in how and where to live.

Though suburban Fairfax and Loudoun living doesn't really appeal to me, I have no problems with people who want a SFH car-centric lifestyle.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

And no, don't suggest a high rise since if these people had wanted high rises that's what developers would have built.

Yeah. I mean, it's not like developers are constrained by zoning laws or anything. They just build what the people want!

by Alex B. on Jun 4, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

Yeah. I mean, it's not like developers are constrained by zoning laws or anything. They just build what the people want!

Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what people in a given area want.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

@ drumz:I've lived here about 7 years but my wife grew up in Northern Va. and I'm constantly shocked when she points out that something only went up just before I got here.

That block that's on top of the Courthouse metro exit? Wasn't there in 2001. The escalator came up in a field of weeds.

by Jasper on Jun 4, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

"This assumes that all those jurisdictions could/would have somehow co-operated to come up with a development master plan to cover everything from Adams Morgan to Middleburg. That's never going to happen, nor should it. People in different parts of the DC Metro region want different things for their localities."

1. this isnt necessarily about interjurisdictional cooperation - I think Fairfax County today is not pleased with the results of "planning" that occured 30 years ago.

2. that said, interjurisdictional cooperation that does not necessarily cross state lines could be useful. Like if Fairfax talked more to Loudoun, Arlington more to Fairfax, etc.

3. And yes, there are benefits from wider cooperation too.

" I think, overall, the last several decades of development have given people a wide range of choices in how and where to live."

a range of choices, as in there is at least a little of everything. But there is ample data that there is too little housing in WUPs. And saying, oh, there is that in DC, isnt really a good answer to someone who wants that but works in western FFX or Loudoun (leaving aside the high cost of it in the inner jurisdictions). In the last few years there have been attempts to retrofit WUPs in, esp in FFX but even in Loudoun (look at OneLoudoun, for example). But its certainly more difficult, and the results are less desirable, than had we been planning with that in mind for the last 30 years or more.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

Local zoning laws are a good reflection of what the vocal minority want, and what politicians, who generally know very little about urban land use issues, want.

The average person does not have any idea how zoning even works, or how to go about having it changed. Most people only become involved in zoning when there is something proposed that they feel directly will negatively affect some aspect of their lifestyle.

I agree a lot of people want single family housing right now, and i suppose that is their right, however to allow those people their right to housing choice, others have to accept an impaired environment, increased air pollution from vehicles and what may or may not be an unsustainable development pattern in the future. Just as I don't like one areas sprawl, they probably don't like my high density metro accessible neighborhood. Call it negative externalities or an interpretation of the tragedy of the commons.

by Gull on Jun 4, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

Though suburban Fairfax and Loudoun living doesn't really appeal to me, I have no problems with people who want a SFH car-centric lifestyle.

Well, there are the environmental concerns. Cars are very environmentally destructive.

Then there are the public health concerns, having to drive every where can make one very sedentary unless you actively exercise.

Then there is the fact that not every one can drive and may feel increased isolation living in a car centric area.

Then there is a lot of lost productivity and increase in public expense in order to do whatever it takes to relieve traffic.

Obviously no one is in favor of eliminating SFH's but we can recognize that we've been planning badly for them (and other housing types as well) over the past half century or so.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

"Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what people in a given area want."

1. zoning laws reflect the entire range of political forces. Sometimes the result is democratic, sometimes not so much.

2. In a mobile region, zoning laws that DO reflect what current residents want, may not reflect what people moving in want

3. More importantly, zoning laws often result in side effects that the people who supported them did not envision. Few people in NoVa really wanted the level of traffic congestion it now has. Few people in Prince George want the problems of crime and QOL they now have. NoVa has so far escaped that "suburban downward spiral" - in the case of the weakest jurisdictions in NoVa (south on I95) thats largely due to BRAC.

By your reasoning, the people of FFX county must believe in urbanism, since that is what the County zoning changes to Tysons amount to.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what people developers in a given area want.

FIFY

by Harry Weese on Jun 4, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

2. that said, interjurisdictional cooperation that does not necessarily cross state lines could be useful. Like if Fairfax talked more to Loudoun, Arlington more to Fairfax, etc.

I think any such cooperation is going to break down the minute it goes against what the relevant politician's constituents want. There's very little to be gained for a politican from Fairfax to cooperate with Arlington if doing so goes against his constiuents' desires.

That's the nature of local government, I guess.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

Wow, I knew this was a pro-density crowd, but I didn't think anyone would actually paint SFHs as somehow undesirable or unsustainable. So much for dreams of white picket fences.

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

"Though suburban Fairfax and Loudoun living doesn't really appeal to me, I have no problems with people who want a SFH car-centric lifestyle."

I have problems with people who don't live in Fairfax, who don't deal every day with the problems that carcentrism causes, lecturing people who DO live in Fairfax on the desirability of car centrism to make an ideological point.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

By your reasoning, the people of FFX county must believe in urbanism, since that is what the County zoning changes to Tysons amount to.

If their relevant public officials keep passing pro-urbanism laws and if people in FFX keep re-electing such politicians, then I'd have to logically conclude that the people agree with such changes (or, at the very least, don't disagree with them enough to vote said politicians out of office).

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

"I think any such cooperation is going to break down the minute it goes against what the relevant politician's constituents want. There's very little to be gained for a politican from Fairfax to cooperate with Arlington if doing so goes against his constiuents' desires.

That's the nature of local government, I guess."

yes, and theres also similar beggar thy neighbor attitudes even within counties. The only way to counter that is for the more 'enlightened' citizens to fight it, or to go to Richmond to try to get regional institutions established.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

"Wow, I knew this was a pro-density crowd, but I didn't think anyone would actually paint SFHs as somehow undesirable or unsustainable. So much for dreams of white picket fences. "

No one said there should be no detached SFHs. There are probably too many of them, relative to the real market demand though. But yes, there are not environmental benefits to higher density (but of course density isnt the only factor in green house gas emissions - if your big SFH is solar powered, and you drive a prius, thats pretty good)

You also can have a white picket fence in front of town house, or around a SFH on a small lot. Most of the big houses on big lots I see in FFX dont have white picket fences, and dont look particularly "white picket fencey"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

yes, and theres also similar beggar thy neighbor attitudes even within counties. The only way to counter that is for the more 'enlightened' citizens to fight it, or to go to Richmond to try to get regional institutions established.

If people in Fairfax and Arlington voted to merge their county governments, so be it. But you seem to be suggesting the abolishment of local governments whose decisions you don't like.

People in Loudoun have the right to govern their affairs as they see fit (to the extent permitted by Virginia and US law). As a Fairfax resident, you might not like their policies, but since you don't live there, it's not really any of your business.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

'net environmental benefits'

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

but I didn't think anyone would actually paint SFHs as somehow undesirable or unsustainable.

Well, I said the exact opposite a few posts earlier. But again, not all design is equal. There are plenty of high rises in fairfax and they are really well designed as well.

It's not the housing type, its the planning of the neighborhood.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

And for in-side the beltway here is that time-lapse:

http://earthengine.google.org/#timelapse/v=38.89511,-77.03637,10,latLng&t=2.12

by RJ on Jun 4, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

Fairfax County? Talk to other jurisdictions? Naaaah...

(Believe me, I wish they would. I've lived in Fairfax County for all of the quarter-century I've lived in this area, and I've come to the conclusion that they could do a lot of things better.)

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jun 4, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what people in a given area want.

You think? I think most people could care less/don't even think about zoning...right up until someone comes for "their" publicly provided personal automobile storage space.

by thump on Jun 4, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

"If people in Fairfax and Arlington voted to merge their county governments, so be it. But you seem to be suggesting the abolishment of local governments whose decisions you don't like."

I dont see how you get that from my comments. I would like to see cooperation on planning issues. There is far more to local govt than that - indeed there is more to zoning than that.

"People in Loudoun have the right to govern their affairs as they see fit (to the extent permitted by Virginia and US law). As a Fairfax resident, you might not like their policies, but since you don't live there, it's not really any of your business."

what they do effects me very directly. so it is my business. And the operative word is virginia law. The commonwealth has just instituted a regional tax for regional transport projects. So we will need to all agree on the projects. Since demand for transport is driven by planning, we are inevitably going to get tangled up in each others planning.

If you dont live in NoVa, im not sure why you are so concerned about the fact that a resident of Fairfax is concerned about planning issues in Loudoun. I mean given that you dont think what happens in the suburbs effects you. In that case, its none of YOUR business.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what people in a given area want.

Define 'people.' If you mean incumbent homeowners and voters, then yes.

But that's not what the original statement said. It said: "if these people had wanted high rises that's what developers would have built."

Developers build to meet demand for new residents - i.e. ones in the future; ones that do not yet exist, and therefore do not yet vote. That is an entirely different set of 'people' than the people you reference.

Suffice it to say that those controlling the zoning are not always looking out for the interests or desires of those future residents.

by Alex B. on Jun 4, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity "No one said there should be no detached SFHs. There are probably too many of them, relative to the real market demand though."

Really? Where? I'd love to know where there are cheap houses in Fairfax. They sure are hard to find in lower Montgomery.

"You also can have a white picket fence in front of town house, or around a SFH on a small lot."

Not so easy with a high-rise though.

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

If you dont live in NoVa, im not sure why you are so concerned about the fact that a resident of Fairfax is concerned about planning issues in Loudoun. I mean given that you dont think what happens in the suburbs effects you. In that case, its none of YOUR business.

Those of us living in DC are familiar with people in other jurisdictions preventing us from exercising certain local powers. We'll never get a commuter tax passed. And some sort of congestion tolls downtown are probably a pipe dream.

That's why I support the idea of people governing their local affairs as they see fit. I'm happy to say that people in the suburbs should do whatever they want in terms of planning, urbanism and so on. I just with they'd extend us the same courtesy.

by Potowmack on Jun 4, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

People in Loudoun have the right to govern their affairs as they see fit (to the extent permitted by Virginia and US law). As a Fairfax resident, you might not like their policies, but since you don't live there, it's not really any of your business.

Well it's really the failures (in my view) of fairfax that has spurred the development in Loudoun. As Fairfax grew it became harder to absorb the percentage of regional pop. growth in fairfax so all of a sudden development starts heading west in search of places to build. Loudoun responds in kind.

The reason we don't see that (as much) in Clarke county (west of Loudoun) is because Loudoun is still very much able to absorb it's growth the easy way.

So there is a need to address these issues regionally. I can't say what that should look like at the moment but the need is there.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

"Really? Where? I'd love to know where there are cheap houses in Fairfax. They sure are hard to find in lower Montgomery."

annandale. much of springfield, burke. But no place in FFX quite as cheap as the route 1 corridor in SE fairfax.

They are still pricey compared to much of the USA (or to other parts of NoVa, like PWC or Stafford). But they are a bargain compared to Arlington, Alexandria, the parts of Fairfax walking distancet to metro (and walkable), or to the safer parts of DC.

"Not so easy with a high-rise though."

but as was said above, hi rises vs the past sprawling development patterns is a false choice.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

If you limit yourself to fairfax as well. Plenty of homes to be bought in Loudoun, PWC, Stafford as well if you demand a SFH.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

"Those of us living in DC are familiar with people in other jurisdictions preventing us from exercising certain local powers."

But in the case of say regional govt in NoVa, no one effected would be denied the right to vote for it. If FFX residents got some say over what happened in loudoun, by the same token Loudoun would over FFX.

Thats already the case on many issues, that are decided in richmond. Maybe you think each Va county should be a seperate state.

Right now one of the factors leading NoVa to be more auto centric is that VDOT does not respect the wishes of the local jurisdictions - thats been dramatically visible in Arlington, but Fairfax has also had issues with it. So if you are truely concerned with local autonomy, you will not cheer the autocentrism of the region, but sympathize with Arlington and Fairfax in their struggles with Richmond.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

"We'll never get a commuter tax passed."

effectively the traffic cameras give you something like that. A commuter tax that happens to exempt metro riders, cyclists across the key bridge, and of course motorists who follow the law. I trust you agree that complaints about them from suburbanites should be dismissed.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

"I'm happy to say that people in the suburbs should do whatever they want in terms of planning, urbanism and so on. I just with they'd extend us the same courtesy."

the folks in the suburbs (not me) who are preventing DC from passing such things, are NOT doing so via a regional planning mechanism, OR for reasons of regional coordination. They are simply voting their interests, and using DCs peculiar status to get away with it.

Do you want to see MWCOG abolished? Do you think that the commonwealth was wrong to establish a REGIONAL transportation tax in NoVa?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:33 pm • linkreport

" I'm happy to say that people in the suburbs should do whatever they want in terms of planning, urbanism and so on. I just with they'd extend us the same courtesy."

DC and NoVa could have no say in each others affairs (though in my opinion that will complicate planning for metro expansion, for coordinating street car lines, height limits, etc) without that meaning that NoVa can have no regional institutions.

Is it NoVa's business who much autonomy DC wards have?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Jeez, enough with the bickering and lets retroretrocede Arlington and Alexandria back to the District already.

by MetroDerp on Jun 4, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

C'mon everyone, stop it.

The population of the DC Metro doubled during that 30 year period of time. People needed some place to go

And lets not forget there was no local "urban" option. I know all the recent arrivals can't possible conceive of a DC without corner to corner bars with 7 dollar Peroni happy hours and cupcake shops, but people didn't want to live in the District until a decade ago when, for the first time in 50 years, the population started to increase.

Starting in 1980 and going to 2000, the population in the District fell nearly 70,000, for tons of reasons so it isn't like people were snubbing their nose at urban nirvana without reason.

Lets get off our high horses shall well. Choosing to live in a 500 sq foot apt in DC doesn't make you any more morally superior citizens of planet earth than the guy who wants to live in Chantilly.

by Pops on Jun 4, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

If you want to see amazing, check out Shenzhen. It's on the mainland near hongkong

by Richard Bourne on Jun 4, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

pops

a. we SHOULD have done something about the problems of DC and other inner cities in those years

b. we could have designed NORTHERN VIRGINIA better. This isnt only about DC

c. moral superiority is complex - someone who is net zero emissions might still beat their spouse, and someone in a 500 sq foot apt might waste electricity.

But ceteris paribis, smaller housing, in more walkable places, DOES mean less GHGs, and that matters to everyone on the planet. And of course you dont have to live in a 500 sq ft apt in DC - a smaller house in NoVa, a house in NoVa in a more walkable place, those will help as well.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 5:12 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity "annandale. much of springfield, burke. But no place in FFX quite as cheap as the route 1 corridor in SE fairfax."

Thanks - I guess Annandale could be a possibility. On my rare visits to Springfield and points south I get the impression that area is still a work in progress. But it's been a few years. Maybe there's been a lot of development lately.

@ drumz - "Plenty of homes to be bought in Loudoun, PWC, Stafford as well if you demand a SFH."

Thanks for the suggestions, but I was thinking something more suburban. Those places are pretty far out there.

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 5:19 pm • linkreport

" On my rare visits to Springfield and points south I get the impression that area is still a work in progress. But it's been a few years. Maybe there's been a lot of development lately."

huh? I dont know what you mean. Its a built out older suburb. As is virtually ALL of Fairfax, btw.

As for loudoun, Stafford, and pwc they are VERY suburban.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 4, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity - I mean the last time I was in Springfield, it still seemed a little rundown next to its neighbors in Alexandria, Arlington, etc.

As for those other counties, maybe you could classify them as "outer suburbs", but to me the advantageous characteristics of living in the suburbs include being relatively close to DC and hopefully having transit access. Being more than an hour outside the city limits seems more like the country (which has its own advantages).

by Chris S. on Jun 4, 2013 6:03 pm • linkreport

Scarey how much the Reston one accelerates lately and how the one of DC turns to mostly concrete with little green lately.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 4, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

Chris S, that's my point: these places are very far out and for a reason.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 8:31 pm • linkreport

Pops,

The fact that the population grew doesn't excuse poor (or lack of) planning. There are still plenty of SFH neighborhoods in DC proper and many aren't going to be replaced soon either.

This isn't about if there is superiority of different housing types of "forcing" people into apartments, it's about planning our communities to maximize space while limiting impact on the environment and traffic.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 8:38 pm • linkreport

"it's about planning our communities to maximize space"

"Shaking head"...

Drumz,

You still arent getting it. Who says the goal in Loudoun was to maximize space and who says the ultimate goal of all planning everywhere is to cram as many people as possible into small parcels? God forbid I had the audacity to build a SFH on a third of an acre in Arlington when I should have purchased a windowless 400sq ft condo in a 30 story building downtown.

The holier than thou attitude exhibited here is pretty shocking sometimes. "Your way" is not necessarily "the" way.

by Pops on Jun 4, 2013 10:00 pm • linkreport

No, it nots that I don't get it. It's that you're making up an argument that hasn't been made. I at least have explicitly stated the opposite. Wherever you heard that "planning = forcing people into towers" please know that person is the one who doesn't get it.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 10:23 pm • linkreport

I kind of like the sprawl. What's wrong with it?

by Punky Brewster on Jun 4, 2013 10:48 pm • linkreport

Sprawl isn't ideal because

*its bad for the environment by encouraging driving for all trips and lengthening distances you need to get to places

*since its so car dependent the only real solution to traffic is adding more lanes, this leads to more traffic while making things actively worse for people who are traveling by foot or bike.

*since you spend so much time in the car it can have an isolating effect and literally cut you off from the world around you

*separation of uses also means you have to spend time going between all sorts of places just to accomplish basic tasks

*the public realm is almost entirely invisible in places built by sprawl. Private spaces are great but when people really think of iconic places in a city they are thinking of public spaces (example: the national mall, or any other community gathering place).

*a philosophy of low density at all costs means that per capita costs for infrastructure are higher since you must be constantly expanding the network. public transit is less efficient since its is moving less people over a certain distance.

by drumz on Jun 4, 2013 11:10 pm • linkreport

Interesting. You can clearly see the boundaries of the Triassic Basin, the region in which most of the development is occuring.

Catoctin/Bull Run Mountain on the west, the hillier region of the Piedmont to the east.

by Frank IBC on Jun 4, 2013 11:35 pm • linkreport

Fairfax county is the poster child for sprawling, unsustainable, sterile, boring American suburbia. It really is disgusting. Even the so-called "urban areas" are a joke with no access to transit until the Silver line opens.

I fail to see why any person under 50 would choose Fairfax over Arlington, especially the genuinely urban and vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Not to mention DC itself or inside-the-Beltway Maryland for those who don't want to put up with the backwards,right wing, Southern state politics in VA.

by K Street on Jun 5, 2013 1:39 am • linkreport

@Potowmack: as a Fairfax resident, I certainly do get a voice in what Loudon does, because they expect me to build freeways through my county so their residents can get to their county. If I successfully block that effort in order to preserve my quality of life, it damages their "plans" for sprawl.

by Mike on Jun 5, 2013 7:09 am • linkreport

This hysterical rhetoric about forcing people into high rises is tiresome. The issue is simply whether development is going to be done in a sensible, sustainable fashion, or whether it's going to be done in a way that leads to long term problems. E.g., building little tiny developments with a single entrance and a bunch of culs-de-sac essentially guarantees that all of the residents will be driving cars onto another road outside the development, and will little or no option in doing so. That will lead to traffic problems, and the only way to resolve those problems will be to take someone else's land to make a bigger road (and that approach will only get you so far). An alternative would be to design an interconnected system with multiple routes, and to mix housing with destinations. I live in an older neighborhood with multiple entrances on a grid plan. It was built with a shopping center, a couple of elementary schools, parks, etc. Residents have the option of walking to many common destinations, and low-speed streets facilitate that. Our biggest problem is people in surrounding developments cutting through in a vain attempt to avoid traffic on overloaded arteries, and clogging the streets near the schools every morning with single occupancy vehicles full of kids they're scared to let walk through their neighborhoods. I fail to see why anyone would choose to live somewhere they'll spend the next couple of decades complaining about the traffic, with no possible way of fixing that problem and with no alternatives. More importantly, I don't see why local government policy should encourage that kind of development at the expense of other residents. That's the key point--sure, it's a choice to live in a lousy location, but that choice has huge impacts on others, and they get a say also.

by Mike on Jun 5, 2013 7:29 am • linkreport

@ K St:Fairfax county is the poster child for sprawling, unsustainable, sterile, boring American suburbia. It really is disgusting. ... I fail to see why any person under 50 would choose Fairfax over Arlington, especially the genuinely urban and vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

How about you come down to Fairfax and study the area a bit before you let your presumptions loose.

Yes, Fairfax has a lot of suburban sprawl. A lot of people who live there think that's just fine.

Fairfax also has one of the best local park systems in the nation. Fairfax has a continuous 40 mile trail through the county. Fairfax has the homes of two founding fathers. Fairfax has a hugely popular (because overcrowded) National Park. One with actual nature, not just some statue. Fairfax is mostly responsible for the newest metro line. Fairfax is home to the HQ of some of the nations largest companies. Fairfax is home to the nesting area of the American Bald Eagles. Fairfax has a number of huge government employment centers (CIA, Ft Belvoir, etc). Fairfax has one of the best school systems in the nation. Fairfax has a very decent board of supervisors that decently do their job. Fairfax has (part of) the region's largest airport. Fairfax has one in eight Virginians. Fairfax has one of the highest median incomes in the nation.

Take a hike from Hemlock to Sandy Run or in Huntley Meadows and tell me Fairfax is sterile.

And to counter your point about sprawl: Fairfax is rebuilding itself to become more urban. And while Tysons is being rebuild, the focus is shifting towards the US-1 corridor, one of the poorer and more neglected parts of the county.

Finally, I am sorry that your impression of Fairfax County is solely formed by what you see using our traffic sewers when you get out of your perfect place. Perhaps you should actually explore the place beyond that windshield perspective before you condemn it.

by Jasper on Jun 5, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

@ K St "Fairfax county is the poster child for sprawling, unsustainable, sterile, boring American suburbia"

LOL, I guess you haven't seen many cities out west. I can show you the suburban hellscapes of Phoenix, Vegas and SoCal Inland Empire that will make Fairfax look like a quaint European village.

by RJ on Jun 5, 2013 9:06 am • linkreport

@Jasper

So having nesting grounds for bald eagles, being home to 1 in 8 Virginians and the birthplace of 2 founding fathers makes Fairfax great? Everything else you said could also be said about Arlington or Montgomery (trails, schools, National airport, federal headquarters/employees). Not to mention that apart from schools, pretty much everything is better in those 2 counties.

I used to work in Fairfax so I'm pretty familiar with it. Tysons corner is an amalgation of traffic-choked arterials (even in the middle of the day), car dealerships, strip malls, zero pedestrian/bike friendliness, disconnected suburban-style office parks, zero transit access (currently), and shopping malls: ugly American suburbia in a nutshell. Reston is another transit-less pretend urban area with a generic and artificial feel. It doesnt cone close to clatendon, dtwn Bethesda, Silver Spring, Courthouse, or even parts of Alexandria. The decision to put the new Metro station will be in the middle of a highway tells you a lot about the county's priorities.

by K Street on Jun 5, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

I fail to see why any person under 50 would choose Fairfax over Arlington, especially the genuinely urban and vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Lower housing costs means more space (including a yard) for a lower price. Quieter neighhborhoods. Fairfax has some of the best schools in the region. There are many people who work in Fairfax or even further out in the Dulles corridor, so living in Fairfax leads to a shorter commute. Many people like having a car and not having to worry about parking. And so on.

I know it might be a shock to some people whose life revolves around the DC and/or Arlington bar scene, but there are plenty of people who couldn't care less about living close to the hottest new bar or nightclub. They're looking for things like a house with a nice backyard for their kids to play in and public schools they can send their kids to. I have a number of friends and family members who have moved out to Fairfax for just these reasons.

There is, unfortunately, quite a bit of myopia on both sides of the urbanism discussion. 20-something single people want different things from where they live compared to people in their 30's and 40's with a family.

by Potowmack on Jun 5, 2013 9:30 am • linkreport

The headline here reflects the periodic and gratuitous need of GGW contributors based in DC or MD to bash Fairfax or Loudoun. It stems from a nagging resentment NoVa now has more residents, more wealth, more jobs, better restaurants and retail, and far more diversity than either NW DC or Upper Caucasia suburbs like Arlington and, even worse, pulled this off by attracting businesses that don't need to be based in landmark buildings and residents that generally prefer single-family homes and top schools to multi-family housing and poor schools. For many residents of the region, DC is basically a field trip or a ball game, with all their other needs met in NoVa.

by Dan on Jun 5, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

"There are many people who work in Fairfax or even further out in the Dulles corridor, so living in Fairfax leads to a shorter commute"

and many of those people (both young singles, and the families that do not want the full suburban autocentric lifestyle) want an urban type lifestyle, which is finally being retrofitted in in places like Tysons, Mosaic, Reston Town Center, etc. But with greater difficulty, and greater constraints (less bike/ped/transit connectivity to each other for example) than would have been the case had FFX been better planned from the start.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

"It stems from a nagging resentment NoVa now has more residents, more wealth, more jobs, better restaurants and retail"

the poster, Dan malouf works, and i think lives, in Arlington.

" and far more diversity than either NW DC or Upper Caucasia suburbs like Arlington"

arlington is still quite diverse. Im not sure why its even necessary to dig at "caucasia". Are all whites the same? That kind of racism is tiresome.

"and, even worse, pulled this off by attracting businesses that don't need to be based in landmark buildings and residents that generally prefer single-family homes and top schools to multi-family housing and poor schools."

Fairfax has had multifamily housing for years. Since the 1960s. And its had townhomes for the same period of time. The issue is good urban layout, providing the lifestyle options and transport options that residents of FFX want today.

as for schools, arlington has just fine schools.

" For many residents of the region, DC is basically a field trip or a ball game, with all their other needs met in NoVa. "

In fact their jobs are there either because - A. they are contractors to a govt agency B. The proximity to Dulles airport, which exists because of DC C. The concentration of educated workers, which exist because of A and B. Even Loudouns economy is unimaginable apart from DC.

And Loudoun is the county that is least tied to DC - Fairfax, PWC, are much more so.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

"@Potowmack: as a Fairfax resident, I certainly do get a voice in what Loudon does, because they expect me to build freeways through my county so their residents can get to their county. If I successfully block that effort in order to preserve my quality of life, it damages their "plans" for sprawl. "

Since Potowmack is so concerned about local autonomy, I invite him to lobby VDOT to allow transit ROW on existing Fairfax arterials, as FFX county wants, but which VDOT forbids, presumably to maintain road LOS for folks from further out.

So much for local autonomy from Fairfax. Why is it that so many people who "care about FFX" only want to defend it from the snarky words of DC snobs, and not from the actual powers that constrain its autonomy?

Could it be that they are less interested in actual fairfax or its residents, but just prefer to use FFX for ideological reasons, to bash urbanism and urbanists?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

The headline here reflects the periodic and gratuitous need of GGW contributors based in DC or MD to bash Fairfax or Loudoun.

I still think its about the planning. This is related to the meme of "they want to ban yards" that its out of jealousy or something when that's equally untrue. It's about the planning. You could have accomplished the same amount of growth (while keeping the size of the houses and yards that people are so fond of) on a much smaller footprint with better planning.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

"@AWalkerInTheCity - I mean the last time I was in Springfield, it still seemed a little rundown next to its neighbors in Alexandria, Arlington, etc. "

well yes, chris, its older. the aging SFHs in ffx are affordable. they are inhabited (sometimes illegal rooming houses) by people who might more logically have been accommodated in higher density housing, had FFX been better planned. They can't afford better multifamily, because thats inhabited by the affluent, due to the shortage of WUPs we have discussed above. The affluent who want SFHs either prefer new and go further out, or they get SFHS closer in - either rehabbing them or tearing them down and building very large new SFHs. But those are pricey. Which is inevitable given that they are land intensive and there is limited land close to the regional employment center. A fortiori there is limited land close to rail transit.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

Fairfax has had multifamily housing for years. Since the 1960s. And its had townhomes for the same period of time. The issue is good urban layout, providing the lifestyle options and transport options that residents of FFX want today.

quoted for emphasis. Parking at some of my friends apartments in fairfax is just as bad as the popular neighborhoods in DC. It's still the planning. My favorite example is the HUGE apartment belt between 66 and 29 near the Government center. It's all apartment through there and its a huge swath of land to boot.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2013 10:02 am • linkreport

The problem is that despite the sprawl, northern Virginia is just too dense now to support car-centricity. Whether they're in single-family homes or townhouses or apartment complexes - it doesn't matter. There are too many people to not start trying to impose a grid and walkability and mixed use and transit and anything else possible to get people off the roads.

A victim of its own success, indeed.

by MetroDerp on Jun 5, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

@drumz "I still think its about the planning. This is related to the meme of "they want to ban yards" that its out of jealousy or something when that's equally untrue. It's about the planning."

I'm sure that, with the benefit of hindsight, one might have designed DC differently as well. Much of it is now a total clusterfuck, with cars, bicyclists and pedestrians jockeying to occupy the same space, glaring at each other, and frequently cursing each other out. Fairfax, for its design flaws, is a far more civilized place. Nor do we want Arlington planners giving us design advice. I would hate for Fairfax to become anything like Arlington, where the north half has become White Bread Central and the south half looks almost like a third-world country.

by Dan on Jun 5, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

"I'm sure that, with the benefit of hindsight, one might have designed DC differently as well. Much of it is now a total clusterfuck, with cars, bicyclists and pedestrians jockeying to occupy the same space, glaring at each other, and frequently cursing each other out."

actually I find it MUCH more pleasant to walk and bike in DC than in Fairfax. and if cyclists and peds are less of a problem for drivers in Fairfax (cause there are fewer of them) drivers are the big problem for FFX drivers. FFX may have better schools and cheaper SFHs with lawns, but better transport it does NOT have.

"Fairfax, for its design flaws, is a far more civilized place."

Thats really a matter of taste.

" Nor do we want Arlington planners giving us design advice. I would hate for Fairfax to become anything like Arlington, where the north half has become White Bread Central and the south half looks almost like a third-world country."

North arlington has guaranteed affordable housing, and it also has yuppies of various different races (for some reasons asians in particular become invisible in these kinds of discussions if they are young, educated, and live like other yuppies - they only count when they are living in SFHs in the tech corridor) South arlington is in fact quite diverse, including yuppies, older whites, and people of different races.

And there are parts of FFX that are just as 3rd world looking as certain parts of S Arlington, and that will likely increase.

Its true that the wealthiest parts of FFX have a nice sprinkingly of wealthy asians and middle easterners.

Im not sure why thats an argument against, say, transit oriented development.

In fact the county IS looking to Arlco as a model, as is clear from reading the documents about the Tysons redevelopment.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

Dan,

Ok then.

/You tout fairfax's diversity as a strength relative to arlington's supposed homongeny but then deride anything south of 50 as "a third world country". Good job on messing with people.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

And no, don't suggest a high rise since if these people had wanted high rises that's what developers would have built. But these people wanted single family homes and since they're the ones paying for thei living and transportation options, they get to choose.

And, now, many of them are coming to understand the downside of their choices. Moving to a sprawling suburb is great when all the infrastructure is new and the areas further out than yours haven't been developed. But, as sprawl continues ever outward, that creates additional demands on the closer in infrastructure, making traffic terrible.

It looks like many folks in Fairfax have realized the fallacy of their old thinking and that's why there's so much resistance to allowing sprawl every further outward. Witness the huge backlash against the Outer Beltway as folks closer in realize that extending sprawl harms everyone else. Also, you can see that folks are re-thinking the wisdom of their old ways with the push to urbanize parts of Fairfax and invest in more multi-modal transpo.

Developers sold folks a lifestyle with a hidden expiration date. Only now are folks realizing the unsustainability of past ways.

by Falls Church on Jun 5, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

@ Dan

"nagging resentment NoVa now has more residents, more wealth, more jobs, better restaurants and retail, and far more diversity than either NW DC or Upper Caucasia suburbs like Arlington and, even worse, pulled this off by attracting businesses that don't need to be based in landmark buildings and residents that generally prefer single-family homes and top schools to multi-family housing and poor schools."

Wow, so many inaccuracies in one long run on sentence. First of all, Northern Virginia deserves its poor reputation. Outside of Arlington the transportation infrastructure is easily the crappiest in the region, and it's not just the glaring lack of decent transit, but the nation's most congested/poorly maintained roads, and overall unfriendliness to peds and cyclists.

As for "better restaurants and retail," yeah if you count chains like Applebees and ugly, outdated shopping malls (like the former sketchy monstrosity at Springfield, Tysons Corner, Tysons Galleria, etc.) surrounded by vast parking lots as "better." (Have you even been to NW DC/Arlington/Bethesda???)

Comparing the wealth and diversity of Fairfax County to Arlington or Montgomery is pointless since it's like comparing platinum to white gold. Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery, Howard, and Loudoun are all in the top 10 (out of 3,143) wealthiest counties in the nation, and Montgomery is arguably more diverse than any of them. "Poor schools?" Lol.

by K Street on Jun 5, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

@ K St:Everything else you said could also be said about Arlington or Montgomery

I did not dispute that. I am just tired of biased negative view of Fairfax and 'just sprawl'. It has a lot more to offer. A lot of good things.

by Jasper on Jun 5, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

I lived in fairfax. It has many nice qualities that Jasper mentioned, particularly its stream valley park program is quite impressive. It's not however a great model for urban planning (over time), HOWEVER the county has seemed to recognize this and implemented some changes in how to leverage what it has to make its urban areas better planned and executed.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

@ drumz "that's my point: these places are very far out and for a reason."

I don't quite follow. Do you mean to say affordable SFH communities should not exist anywhere near the District?

by Chris S. on Jun 5, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

"HOWEVER the county has seemed to recognize this and implemented some changes in how to leverage what it has to make its urban areas better planned and executed"

And now we're running into the same problems with VDOT's car-centric policies that Arlington's been dealing with for years.

by Mike on Jun 5, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

Not at all, I'm backing up the claim that AWITC made that we have a surplus of SFH's region-wide but its the effects of sprawl that means to get to the cheap ones you have to go very far from DC, which is fine if you work in those areas but you're going to pay for it in commuting costs if you're still trying to get downtown.

The "reason" I was referring to is Sprawl (defined as the specific design and zoning considerations made by most suburban and many urban communities made post-WWII and excellerated locally in the 80's and 90's).

by drumz on Jun 5, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Local zoning laws are a pretty good reflection of what current homeowners in a given area want.

Potential homeowners get screwed. Zoning is basically a cartel.

by Frank IBC on Jun 5, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

"I don't quite follow. Do you mean to say affordable SFH communities should not exist anywhere near the District?"

Given the limited numbers you can create (at 1/4 acre zoning, thats theoretically 2500 per square mile, but really less cause of roads, retail, etc) and the demand due to the high employment concentration in the district, its not possible to have SFHs affordable to middle class people close in to downtown DC, aside from areas that are particularly undesirable to high income people due to crime, etc. out of the total of over 700000 jobs in the district (subtract those in peripheral parts of DC, but add those in close in parts of Arlco) a significant portion are upper middle to high income families(including dual income families), and a significant portion of those prefer SFHs,and they will bid up SFHs anyplace close in.

Thats not about urbanism or sprawl, its about geometry. It will be true whatever planning philosophy the jurisdictions follow. The only way to change it is to move half the federal govt to Kansas city, or something like that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

Let me explain how this works.

Counties want tax dollars, so they zone accordingly.

Developers want profits, so they build accordingly.

People like new sh*t, so they buy accordingly.

by LordFairfax on Jun 5, 2013 9:27 pm • linkreport

@ K Street "As for "better restaurants and retail," yeah if you count chains like Applebees and ugly, outdated shopping malls (like the former sketchy monstrosity at Springfield, Tysons Corner, Tysons Galleria, etc.) surrounded by vast parking lots as "better." (Have you even been to NW DC/Arlington/Bethesda???)"

Being very familiar with all of those places, I am surprised by the allegation that Tyson's Corner is somehow ugly or outdated (internally speaking that is - the exterior certainly isn't a head-turner). It remains the nicest and most comprehensive one-stop shopping destination in the metro area. As much as I like places like Montgomery Mall, Friendship Heights, and Clarendon, they are not quite in the same league.(as of today anyway)

The admittedly outdated thing about Tyson's Corner is the surrounding road structure, which becomes outrageously congested with traffic during peak shopping periods. Hopefully adding Metro access will alleviate this problem somewhat.

by Chris S. on Jun 6, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

I fail to see why any person under 50 would choose Fairfax over Arlington, especially the genuinely urban and vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Wow. This has to be one of the most myopic comments I've seen on GGW. Let's start where most people do when they're looking for housing: price. My wife and I did the house hunt in northern VA earlier this year. I really wanted to live in Arlington, near Metro (our cutoff was 3/4 mile) but every place we looked at (townhomes & townhome-type condos) which had the amenities that we needed had a huge premium on price. The value just wasn't there. I'd love to live within a 10 minute walk of Ballston or Courthouse Metro, but not at the price for the type of unit we needed and wanted.

Plus have you ever considered that some people prefer the privacy, space and relative quiet of detached-SFH neighborhoods? It's not a preference of mine or yours, but I know many people, especially families with kids, who really like that type of lifestyle.

by Fitz on Jun 6, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

"@ K Street "As for "better restaurants and retail," yeah if you count chains like Applebees"
---

Along with Chains like Ruth's Chris, Morton's, etc.

Show me the Nordstom and Bloomingdale's in DC. Heck, DC doesn't even have a real Macy's.

by ceefer66 on Jun 9, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

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