News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bob Simon on Redevelopment, Communism, and Longevity: 'One Martini Every Evening'

Bob S.jpgReston founder and popular Lake Anne sculpture Bob Simon was recently interviewed by Washingtonian magazine, the same august publication that profiled some filthy hobo "web logger" earlier this year. Seriously, read the whole thing. Along with learning the 95-year-old Simon's secret to longevity (the aforementioned daily martini) and mocking satanic Reston doppelganger Columbia for the same reason we do (its town center is a "huge air-conditioned mall"), the interview confirmed our long-held suspicion that Lake Anne's Heron House was inspired by cutting-edge architecture from Cold War-era Finland, or as it was called at the time, a "chillier East Germany."

Okay, so we made that last quote up. But Simon also shared his vision of the future of Reston. Commenters, break out your repetitive stress injury wristbands and get ready:

At the Wiehle Avenue stop planned for Reston, I’m interested in having them develop over the Dulles Toll Road. If they don’t put the foundations in now for air rights, they’re going to be very difficult to get later. We have some wonderful renderings of what could happen with air rights—office buildings, apartments, gardens.

They say the Washington area could get 2 million more people in the next few years. We’re going to get our share in Reston.

The “village centers” at South Lakes, Hunters Woods, and Tall Oaks could be torn down and proper village centers built with dense residential. That could absorb a lot of the population.

I’ve been working on revitalization for Lake Anne Plaza for more than five years. The market is such that no developer’s going to come along right now. But the plan would bring in a number of residential units—townhouses and apartments—behind the plaza. That’ll make a big difference. It could be all high-rises. It could be a combination of low-rise and high-rise. It could include townhouses. I know two developers who we’ll be hearing from when the market gets a little better.
So does Simon want to turn Reston into, as a popular phrase has been coined, another Manhattan?
I don’t miss New York. We have everything here—music, art, theater, and of course community. If I were really loaded, I still don’t think I’d want to get a palace in New York and chauffeur-driven cars. I like this kind of place.
Simon also talked about Reston's early days, where the promise of people of all races and income levels living together were too much for the 1960s "establishment." Come on, didn't he watch Mad Men or anything?
We sought an investment from General Electric, which had announced that it was going to build 20 “new towns.” We negotiated a deal, and their planners brought their wives here and put holds on houses. Then the decision went to the powers that be at GE, where one of the guys said, “You can’t do that. They’ve got blacks living there.” And the deal was canceled.

I’ve been told for years that the real-estate brokers at the time said we were communists. I recently got confirmation of that. I was at a party with a couple who have lived here for a long time. Before they moved here, they were told, “You don’t want to go to Reston—it’s pinko.”
Simon also spoke about what's been lost from Reston's original vision:
The idea of village centers went out. We have things in Reston called village centers, but aside from Lake Anne Plaza, they’re just shopping centers.

We also lost the idea that people of different incomes could live happily next door to each other. Reston still has a remarkable diversity of incomes, but rich and poor are not living next door to each other.

It’s difficult to overcome the culture that we live in. It’s a culture where a state-of-the-art bathroom and kitchen are what one needs, plus enough square footage to show everyone that one could afford it. We’ve gone a couple centuries without understanding community. It’s too bad that it’s so hard to communicate what pleasure one gets from living with one’s fellow human being.
We seriously love this guy.


  1. Bob Simon spoke at my BILs high school graduation about 10 years ago. The entire speech was a rambling tirade against the srupidity of the drinking age, since we know high school kids all get drunk anyway. It was, by far, the oddest graduation speech I have ever heard.

    I think Simon still has some interesting things to say in his more lucid moments, but he has been showing signs of dimentia for years, unfortunately. I guess time catches up with all of us eventually.

  2. After reading the first excerpt about Simon's vision of Reston's future, I could only think: "Has Bob been posting here all along as...BiCO?"


    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  3. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)November 25, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    (Sneaking away from the doldrums of writing a report because I saw my name mentioned). I DO admire Mr. Simon quite a great deal. I subscribe to the Washingtonian, so when I saw his interview I was elated to see that he and I had a mutual vision for Reston's future. Now when people call me the demon spawn of Hudgins or the jerk that wants to Arlingtonize/Bethesdafy Reston I can say "our own FOUNDER doesn't think it's such an awful idea!" :-)

  4. I don't think it has anything to do with dimentia. He seemed pretty damn sharp at the Newcomers Night. Rather I think by that age you don't care what people think of you as much, so you just speak your mind. It's a testament to his mind that what he speaks is usually pretty much exactly on target. But then as a fellow former New Yorker, I'm probably a little biased :)

  5. Hickory Cluster knuckle dusterNovember 25, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    Right on DVD. We should also all be so lucky to be as ambulatory and clear of mind as the Dear founder when we are 95 years old.

    When I see him on his daily walks around beautiful Lake Anne on the pathways it brings a smile.

    (But then again, he never sees my smile as I lay prostrate on the ground in supplication to his monumental founder-ness)

  6. Hunters Woods already has pretty dense residential (by Reston standards) and it hasn't done much for the prosperity of the place. Even with the church there and the RCC, the businesses just barely survive. Same for Tall Oaks.

    Just because Reston is named for him, and was his vision, doesn't mean Bob Simon is always right, always lucid, or even has more voting rights than anyone else. We all need to show up Dec 1 so at least the commenters on this filty weblog will be informed. So when we're acting ignorant it will just be a head-fake.

  7. The problem with prosperity of Hunters Woods is the fact that few business are present that would attract the type of clientel normally seen in North Reston. If the owners of HWSC would cater to a more urban clientele (a standalone Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, a cupcake place, Panera etc.), the young and hip of SR who live in the immediate vicinity (like myself) would patronize the shops and eventually things may turn around for the better (Abe Pollin's Chinatown/Verizon Center is a perfect example).

    Until then, we will continue to drive down the road to patronize shops and restaurants in Town Center. Rehabilitate Winterthur and the Springs with high density and a new rec center and we will return. Until then HWSC will continue its sad decline.

  8. Hickory Cluster knuckle dusterNovember 25, 2009 at 4:24 PM

    Anon: 4:14
    Keep driving down Reston Parkway and make a right on Baron Cameron. Then make your next right on village road. Then turn left onto North shore and make the next right into Lake Anne.

    Go grab a drink at Monmartre, bring 5 friends.
    It is a great place to have a few drinks with a group of buddies. Your chances of landing a cougar are drastically reduced than the sausage-fest that is Jacksons, but you'll have the place to yourselves.

    You'll help out a local family owned business and keep your dollars actually in Reston.

    Hope to see you there someday...

  9. If you want to see a document your county supervisor signed go to:

    From the Council of Governments and Smart Growth Coalition (page 10):

    We seek the ENHANCEMENT OF ESTABLISHED NEIGHBORHOODS of differing densities with compact, walkable infill development and
    preservation of open space, farmland
    and environmental resource land in
    rural areas.

    "Infill development" will replace open space in Reston to order to preserve farmland in Loudon County.

    You have until November 30 to make public comments.

    And BiCO, have you read the county's comprehensive plan for Reston? I recommend it.

    Reading all the documents on the Special Study page would be your homework before the Dec 1 meeting.

  10. Who will take the crown when the king leaves us? Is there a duke or a prince?

  11. They used to have armed guards in HWSC to give the urban dystopian ambience. They got rid of them and replaced them with ceiling cams that you could find in any WalMart or Target.

  12. Bob Simon will leave us his seven guiding principles upon which he designed this community. And also the governing document to protect our sylvan island: The Deed of Dedication of Reston.

    Happy Thanksgiving to Mr. Simon and all of Reston.

  13. I think the concept of infill development is expanded to include redeveloping low-density parcels they deem to be underutilized, not just those that are unoccupied. In that sense, infill development could serve to preserve open space.

  14. Les of la Mancha
    "infill development could serve to preserve open space"

    Certainly properties in the Dulles corridor are underutilized. Acres and acres of woodland were cleared and now support empty parking lots. When they are redeveloped the amount of open space needs to be increased and should include the creation of natural space--areas of native plants and woods (naturescaping). Parking can go underground. The heaviest density should be put on top of the Toll Road using air rights and even that should include 25% open space/natural space so that Reston can be experienced as a continuum of green. Much of the RCIG (Dulles corridor) could be reforested into two wide belts of open space. That would provide the necessary parkland and woodlands for new residents.

    What should not happen is that they insert mixed-use into our neighborhoods, which by the way, is part of the plan.

  15. this is not rocket science, ppl! Some get it; most don't --- LOW INCOME residents can't afford to shop at the places mentioned here (Starbucks, Panera; Jasmine, et, al). some of them have no cars (and guess what will happen when the metro gets here --- LOTS of car less people will move in and suck up the less-expensive places all over Reston).

    There are FEW low income residences (if any?) in North Point (the one that claims to be there there, right behind the shopping center can't seem to sell the units -- they have been for sale for many years). What's up with that? I digress...

    So, if you want low-income residents around your village (read: shopping) centers and for everyone to shop there, we need an Aldi, Goodwill, Salvation Army, hospital thrift shops, dollar stores, and, GOD HELP US, a Wal-Mart. The town center (not part of Reston!!) can have its Apple store and all the rest of the shops that the better-off among us are supporting, apparently, very, very well.

    And, while you are at it, turn the RCC into a day-care canter, KIPP academy, food bank, homeless shelter annex, etc. --- providing services that will serve the nearby residents at all income levels.

    Why, for example, does Reston not have a true magnet school here -- one like a KIPP academy?

  16. Brooklyn Bridge SalesmanNovember 28, 2009 at 9:48 PM

    But if this place is filled with Communists, how is it then that pinko is not a shade officially sanctioned by the DRB? And how could the DRB outlaw red mulch?


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