News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Flashback Monday: Washington Post Looks Back at Bob Simon's Past, Reston's Future

For once, Reston makes the front page of a major newspaper that isn't a tawdry tabloid. The Washington Post published a front-page article looking back at Reston's past 50 years, starting with this awesome, nearly biblical opening sentence:

In the beginning, there were 6,750 acres of trees, fields, and cows — and a self-described “Jewish guy from Manhattan” with a yellow legal pad, trying to figure out what to do with this large chunk of land that he was about to buy in the suburbs of Washington.
Simon artsyThat guy, of course, is Bob Simon, who turns 100 next week. The article touches on the national reaction his earth-toned community engendered:
The critics were thrilled. On the front page of the New York Times, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called Reston “one of the most striking communities in the country” and said, “Reston has had to shatter precedents to make its plan work.”

One of those precedents was segregation. At the time, Virginia had no fair housing laws and had only recently integrated its schools. Chuck Veatch, one of Simon’s original salesmen and still a Reston resident, said, “Bob came in and announced from the start, ‘We’re open to anyone with green money.’ It was a big deal when that was announced. And it was a very quiet revolution.”
But not all was well at first in Reston, leading to a shocking ouster that has since been immortalized in song:
Home sales started slowly, and in 1967 one of the project’s largest financial backers, the Gulf oil company, forced Simon out because of the town’s financial problems. That same year, another planned community, Columbia, Md., saw its first residents move in.
Of course, they were Satanists who chose to build their planned community around a Christmas-hating shopping mall instead of a lake, but otherwise, yeah, pretty much the same thing. Meanwhile, Reston plugged along without its Dear Leader:
While families continued to move into Reston, not everything worked out as planned. Of the seven village centers that Simon envisioned as creating a sense of community, only Lake Anne resembled that vision of shops, businesses and housing in one place. His hopes for multiple high-rises never materialized, so Lake Anne’s retail shops gradually fell into decline or closed. Elsewhere in the town, more conventional strip malls were built instead of the mixed-use plazas surrounded by neighborhoods that are a key to a walkable community.

Still, Reston steadily grew over the next three decades, reaching 30,000 residents by 1980 and more than 50,000 by 1990.

A more diverse population than had previously been seen in western Fairfax began to emerge, with federally subsidized housing attracting new minority residents. Today, census figures show that 37 percent of Reston’s residents are nonwhite.
Then there was the glorious return:
After Simon was fired from Reston’s development board in 1967, he moved away for a quarter-century, returning for “various ribbon-cuttings and ceremonies,” he said. But in 1993 he moved back, taking an apartment in a high-rise overlooking Lake Anne. He served two terms on the board of the Reston Association of homeowners, then continued to serve on committees and task forces, keeping his hand in the town’s planning process.

“My role is to be a burr in the saddles of decision-makers,” Simon said.
And to his credit, he's done an excellent job of that, particularly pushing for the revitalization of Lake Anne for many years before it finally came to (near) fruition.

The article looks ahead to Metro and all the bollardy changes it's expected to bring, but we've all but exhausted our blockquote ration. We'll end with one more quote from Simon which we find appropriate:
“If you go out in the countryside someplace and build a thousand residential units and have them cheap enough, you’ll probably fill the place up. But that’ s not going to make a community,” he said. “I think having facilities readily available for people of all kinds, from little kids to the elderly — that’s the most important thing of all.”
Here's a video of Simon, plus some sweet B-roll footage of people enjoying midscale chain dining in our beloved ersatz gritty downtown -- which Simon once considered "grandiose" but says he has come to find nearly perfect:

Our BFFs at Reston Now have a list of festivities surrounding Simon's 100th birthday and Reston's 50th anniversary.


  1. All good students of the history of urban planning will remember their professors going ga-ga over the establishment of the new towns Reston and Columbia even though neither they nor their students had ever actually seen these places. Surprise! They look pretty much like every other suburb, and the term Planned Community has since been used to describe almost anything that developers can build in the burbs. The Woodlands, Texas, north of Houston, is probably the best of the shiny new planned communities out there, once you get past the south Texas heat and humidity. (Of course, compared to the sprawling megalopolis mess that is Houston and its burbs, almost anything will look like it's been "planned".) While Reston and been surrounded--and is threatened to be completely absorbed--by other suburban development, Columbia is still relatively isolated up there in Howard County, MD with their big cool Christmas-hating mall and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

  2. Happy Birthday Bob!

  3. Great to See Bob living high over Lake Anne. I lived in Reston in 1969. Was 8 years old and have great memories exploring the area immedietely srrounding the city center. Still a lot of construction going on at that point. I lived in the apartments across from Lake Anne School on North Shore. My two best friends lived in houses off Fairway Drive. Bill Shuster and Kirk Bloomgarden. Great time and great place to be an eight year old, if only for a year. Thanks Bob.


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