News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Behold Reston's Future: A Nightmarish Hellscape of Parking Garages and Upscale Apartments

g9_1306605420.jpegAs we await the bollardy goodness soon to sprout along the Toll Road, a couple of fancy "trend pieces" from the local media offer a hint of what we can expect as Reston, like the region around us, continues to grow.

The first sign of the apocalypse more dense growth? The possibility of having to navigate an underground parking garage whilst visiting Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. It happened in Bethesda, it's happened in an otherwise unremarkable strip mall in Herndon, and it could happen here.

When a new Whole Foods store opened in North Bethesda recently, shoppers found their familiar organic laundry detergent and curried wheatberry salad, but something new caught many by surprise: underground parking.

Those accustomed to pulling into a vast parking lot and walking directly into the former Whole Foods six miles up Rockville Pike suddenly had to navigate a cavernous two-level garage before boarding elevators or escalators to reach the store entrance.

It’s been a rough ride for some. One surefire way to get under suburbanites’ skin is to mess with their parking, and there are few places more sacred, some say, than their wide-open grocery store lots.

“For me, parking in a garage for grocery shopping is really weird,” said Bolormaa Baljinnyam, 40, of Rockville as she waited May 24 for an elevator with a baguette in her cart. “It’s kind of not natural.”
Quite right! There's nothing more natural than acres of above-ground parking, as God strip mall developers intended.
Such complaints highlight a cultural shift taking place as planners transform parts of the sprawling suburbs into urban hubs where the car will no longer be king. The vast parking lots born out of the 20th century suburban boom, particularly those near Metrorail stations, are giving way to more clusters of high-rise office buildings, condominiums and stores where people can walk more easily or park once for multiple activities.

Urban planners say the change is the only way the crowded Washington region can absorb unrelenting population growth without making the area’s stifling traffic even worse. Eliminating traditional parking lots, they say, also will alleviate environmental damage that occurs when rainwater runs off warm, dirty asphalt and eventually into streams.
Wait. Didn't we already take care of the streams?
“Cars are still going to be there, but they’re not going to get the priority they did in previous decades,” said N’kosi Yearwood, a Montgomery planner for the White Flint area. “Walking will become much more important.”

Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, said he’s counted 14 grocery stores in the Washington area with parking garages.

“You’ll see a lot more of that going forward,” McMahon said. “Will Americans adapt? Absolutely.”
We'll spare you the sad detail that when the Bethesda parking garage opened, Whole Foods staffers had to guide people through the garage to find a parking space, and presumably to reassure people that they weren't about to fall into a Sleestak-infested trap.

Also, those high-rise apartments and condos on the drawring board aren't just a way to make a quick buck foster density around Metro stations. They're also the residence of choice for the next generation of young adults, what with their shattered expectations of maintaining a middle-class standard of living fancy iPods and cube-shaped roadsters and whatnot.
Urban planners say apartments are the wave of the future for the D.C. suburbs, as interest in homeownership drops among young adults.

But the tide is likely changing as demand for more affordable apartments extends to D.C.'s suburbs over the last decade. And with today's younger work force predicted to change their careers up to seven times, experts say being tied down early can be a drag.

"Young people will hold many jobs over their career and they'll move from region to region," said Anirban Basu, chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group. "In that kind of labor market structure, it may make more sense to be a renter [for] longer."
Total hyperbole. Most will be moving back into our semi-finished basements.


  1. If your a planner hoping to way change the way people behave for the better, you can try to make the transition as smooth as possible by contemplating quality of life issues, or you can simply discard quality of life concerns, claim moral superiority, and chastise concerned citizens as lessor beings.

    Several examples:
    - If you want more people to take the metro, you can provide enough parking to actually get to the metro station. You can build up the road infrastructure near the metro station. Or, you can build a tiny garage, raise the toll road fees to outrageous levels, and add high rises without supporting road infrastructure.

    - If you want more people to accept parking garages, you can build a well designed garage that can be easily traversed. Or, you can build a crappy garage with one entrance, tiny turning radiuses (radii?), small parking spaces, and endless turning.

    Should be interesting to see what these urban planners do for Reston. I am sure they'll have our best interests in mind.

  2. another fad promoted by the snake oil types.

    "Crowded Washington region?" Get serious. Fairfax population density 2,500 per square mile.

    Compared to Wyoming, yeah may be.

    Compared to Manhattan (250,000 per square mile daytime) not so much.

    single and dinks (double income no kids) love the freedom from grass cutting given by high rise tenements but as soon as little tykes appear the nesting instinct and desire for "their own back yard" will have Mom and Dad doing the Sunday ride with the Realtor (c).

    As long as surveys have asked the question, 80% of Americans want a single family detached home on its own patch of land. That answer goes back at least 70% years. Some historians track it back 170 years in the US and others track it back to the Romans.

    Do we need more multi-family? Yes. We didn't have enough in FFX to meet the 20% of families who want that product before the recent crash. And builders are building them because no bank is lending for singles until all of the foreclosures are worked through. That will happen over the next 4-5 years.

    There's just not enough land in Fairfax planned and zoned for single family housing to meet the needs of the workers that will be attracted to the offices that will eventually come to the TODs.

    No, it doesn't need to be a 5,000 square foot particle board mcmasion on 3 acres. Nor a 900 square foot Levittown box on an eighth of an acre postage stamp.

    But over time, 80% of all new housing will continue to be single family. The only question is how far will our exclusionary land use policies force people to travel from those jobs to get that house?

  3. The Harris Teeter in Herndon has underground parking, and it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, on a sunny day it's pretty nice to have your car in the shade!

  4. Anon 6:57: the parking at the Herndon Harris Teeter is a zoo. I have stopped shoping there. Can't afford the bodywork from every time I get scraped by a SUV.


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