No plans this weekend? Then gather your loved ones and your "web log" reading device around a roaring fireplace and read aloud from this lengthy "think piece," which might as well have been called "Reston: What Does It Mean, And Am I A Bad Person For Enjoying A Passable Thai Dinner at RTC?"
The piece begins -- if you can call a thesis statement several hundred words deep into an infinitely scrolling article the "beginning" -- with this mind-bending question:
We choose to live where we live because of what we like, but also what we don’t like. So what is it I think I don’t like about Reston?PROVOCATIVE. Also, don't get the author wrong -- some of the his
I’m starting to sound like a Reston-hater. I’m not. My wife’s parents live in a lovely house on a woody lot (which hosted a family of foxes not so long ago); they’re a short walk from a public lake and recreation area, and a short drive from a cluster of restaurants, and even a used-book store. (And for the record: They’re engaged and well-read people, nothing like the characters depicted by the Banality of New Canaan school.)But the bottom line? Our vibrant urban core just isn't real enough:
In a quarter-century or so of life in classic urban neighborhoods I’ve witnessed more than a half-dozen arrests; a broad-daylight mugging; multiple fights, at least one quite serious; many obvious prostitutes, male and female; one dead body; countless homeless people sleeping on sidewalks; many instances of public urination; and a sex act (paid, I assume) in our driveway. I’ve been solicited by many drug dealers, some specifying that they had cocaine or hash on offer. I have been endlessly hit up for cigarettes or money, sometimes aggressively; heard proximate gunfire more than once; experienced five apartment or car break-ins; and on one memorable occasion been screamingly called a “fucking faggot” for smiling at some guy’s young son.HOT TAKE.
Could be worse. But let’s face it: None of this is desirable. And particularly in the years since I’ve been an urban property owner, I would prefer never to experience any of the above again.
Is this the price to be paid for the “authenticity” I find lacking in Town Center? Or is this the authenticity itself?
Fortunately, the author has a Modest Proposal:
It’s tempting to imagine some absurd, fanciful strategy for injecting city-style authenticity into a place like Town Center. Perhaps a subsidized program that would give a certain percentage of the real estate to the kind of idiosyncratic and hard-to-explain businesses that persist in long-lived communities: the multigenerational diner that isn’t very good but persists anyway, the fortune-teller with a hand-painted sign, the inexplicable combination car-wash/barbecue joint. Perhaps graffiti writers could be commissioned to despoil some pre-selected percentage of public surfaces. A few spaces could be designated for planned abandonment, creating a beautiful ruin or two. Possibly a formula could be arrived at for determining exactly how many and what sort of manifestations of the underclass might be deployed to add the proper frisson of thrilling risk? Or maybe just go full Disney and hire actors to portray such characters?But by the time we get to the end of the essay, the author has learned a Valuable Lesson:
This place I’d shrugged off has an authenticity of its own. And my own theory of where to live and why has a huge flaw. We cannot accommodate an expanding population by building more 200-year-old cities.Or massive infestations of rats. Either way.
Even here in Savannah, what I would think of as our “town center” (geographically, a northernmost point on the city map) was once upon a time a rigorously planned place: Modern tourists riding buses through the downtown historic district are giving appreciative witness to the highly specific vision of James Oglethorpe, who laid out our famously square-laced grid in the 18th century. They might also notice the occasional blighted property, panhandler, daylight crime, or other rough edge that comes with the passage of time.
I now admire the planning, the thought, the design, that has gone into Reston. I think E is right that — Apple stores and Thai restaurants aside — there’s a missing sense of what I’d think of as genuine historic character. But that’s because those things simply can’t be planned. Time has to pass. Plans have to go astray, or even awry. Designed visions have to be foiled by the way we really live.
The article actually isn't bad, especially if you like lots of words, the end.