News and notes from Reston (tm).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy 98th Birthday, Mr. Simon, and Thank You For Not Building Your New Town in Staten Island

Not too shabby for a 98-year-old, right?

To celebrate his birthday, we learn a few Fun Facts about Mr. Simon and his plastic fantastic New Town, courtesy of The Washington Post "news paper." Chief among them:
Reston could have unfolded on Staten Island, N.Y., instead of some hills way outside Washington, D.C. Simon said he bought an abandoned airport and surrounding land in the heart of Staten Island and began drawing up plans for ”Downtown Staten Island” there, but eventually dropped those and focused on his Virginia project.
Good call.

Simon also had a few choice words about the sale of Carnegie Hall, which as we all know in Reston's ur-creation mythology, helped finance the purchase of land outside a drunken village in the Virginia countryside:
Simon’s family owned Carnegie Hall for 35 years, and Simon himself ran it for 25 years until it fell on hard times in the late 1950s. When no one stepped up to buy it, the threat of the wrecking ball emerged until violinist Isaac Stern led an effort that resulted in New York City’s buying the famed venue in 1960.

I had read somewhere that perhaps he had gotten some bad press around that time, and asked Simon if the papers had misrepresented him. ”No,” he said unhesitatingly, “but Stern did. That son of a bitch.”
Oh, snap! Simon's equally open about the mistakes Reston has made:
He said Reston made “two major mistakes” in the evolution of its Reston Association, which manages the parks and facilities for the unincorporated town. Though his New York consultants had studied homeowners associations, they assessed flat fees per home, rather than based on the value of each home, and they did not require non-residential buildings to pay fees. In addition, he said the Reston Town Center was allowed to divorce itself from the Reston Association when it was being developed, so its residents do not pay the fees. “Good-bye millions of dollars,” Simon said.
He's also pessimistic about the arrival of Metro, and along with more high density housing around the original village centers, he thinks Reston still needs a university, an arts auditorium, and indoor tennis.

Mr. Simon also spoke with the folks at the Post about his unwavering vision for "smart growth":
My idea was that we should have plazas because they build communities. And my successors decided that they would rather have strip centers. And they thought that it was necessary, for it to be successful from a retail perspective, for cars to park in front of stores.
On the impact of Metro:
If there’s not a major bus improvement to get people to the stations, I wonder how much it will do. I don’t think it’s going to revolutionize Reston at all … I hope that what it will lead to is that they will tear down the [strip] village centers and replace them with real village centers with high-rise residential.
On the future of Reston:
We had originally planned for 75,000 residential people. We don’t have quite 60 [thousand] yet. The other thing is when we were planning back in the ’60s, there was no “Silicon Valley East.” We’re now in the center of “Silicon Valley East.” So what I see for the future is a lot more employment and a lot more residential and I see the population going over 100,000. And it should go in the town center and in the village centers.
Happy birthday, Mr. Simon -- and thanks again for giving Staten Island a pass.

Update: Here's a link to Reston Patch's own conversation with Simon.


  1. A burning questions for Simon is who came up with the idea for "McTacoHut" located on the corner of of Wiehle Avenue and Sunset Hills Road. It's a fabulous invention and should become a historical landmark in my opinion!

  2. Finally, the reason for the RA's fixation with tennis courts is revealed! The WaPo article also mentions that our Dear Leader is "an avid tennis player." Who knew?

  3. 98 years old and still with it. A very lucky man.


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