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Will Town Centers Save the Suburbs?

July 7, 2008 by  

Since the baby boom of the 1950’s America has had a love affair with the suburbs. The dream of owning a 4 bedroom home with the white picket fence is so entrenched in the American lexicon that we refer to it as “The American Dream.”

Rising fuel cost, a housing boom that broke, and people demanding services has caused many young buyers to rethink The American Dream and consider moving into the city to satisfy their housing needs. Many urban planners in the ‘burbs’ recognize this and are prepared to do battle with urban living using the only tool they have… The Town Center.

Town centers offer the walking culture that many young buyers want; shopping, restaurants, entertainment and safety can all be found in the town center of many burbs surrounding DC. It is interesting to see where town centers work and where they don’t.

The Rockville Town Square is an interesting example of where the town center is not moving along as planned. When the center opened condos sprung up and restaurants moved in but people failed to show up. Slowly people are starting to show, but not at the volume that Rockville planned.

When town centers work they offer all the amenities of living in the city, while still living in the burbs. The problem is that town centers rarely offer employment options beyond retail. Many of the young professionals still have to work in the city even if they live in the burbs. Here in is the problem for many of the town centers. Work and play are still separate meaning that commuting cost remains. Hence young buyers apprehension to move out of the city.

There are plenty of examples where town centers work as a tool to anchor home buyers into an area. Do you know of any? What are some of the local town centers that you enjoy and would you consider moving somewhere because of the strong town center?


3 Responses to “Will Town Centers Save the Suburbs?”

  1. Anonymous on July 9th, 2008 11:53 am

    Reston Town Center is a good one. The town center itself doesn’t have the professional jobs. But the Reston area and nearby Tysons Corner are core job centers for the region.

    Basically I don’t think you could just create a town center in Springfield or Kensington and make a major impact. But for the areas (even off metro) that have jobs a Town center is a great idea.

  2. Anthony Lafauce on July 9th, 2008 12:40 pm

    I agree the Reston Town Center is a nice blend and a good ‘fake downtown’. Having worked in Reston I can attest to its draw and fun. Reston is a perfect place for professionals to walk around and enjoy a downtown far away from the city.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Anonymous on April 12th, 2009 7:18 am

    Actually Fairfax County has done a very good job of moving away from the big-box/mall mentality and into a more urbanized work/shop/eat/play/live model. RTC has a LOT of jobs in the area including Microsoft, Oracle and the College Board will be moving into the new SoMA building in a couple of years. Tysons Corner has grand visions of recreating, retrofitting and expanding itself around the 4 new metro stops coming in within the next few years. Even bad ol’ Springfield Mall is getting a kick in the pants with BRAC contractor office development spinoff around the Metro and a $1 Billion (yes, with a “B”) redevelopment by Vornado. It will be interesting to see how the Fair Oaks/Fair Lakes/Fairfax Center development continues to evolve over time as well as the new developments along the western part of Dulles Toll Road and Route 28 Corridor around the airport.

    The thing to remember is that suburbs STILL offer the best deal for most people (outside of us urbanists) in metropolitan areas with their lower housing costs, higher rated government services (especially schools), less crime, more land and now the job base in this area has firmly planted itself outside the city. At this point three full generations of middle and upper-middle class Americans have been weaned on suburbs and they’re not going anywhere. At least town-centers offer a more coherent and more density and transit-friendly version of it.

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