Hubris, defined as "extreme pride or arrogance, leading to an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities," was given a full display last month by Fairfax County Economic Development Authority president Gerry Gordon. Brandishing glossy architectural renderings, Gordon told a group of local business leaders that "Tysons' time has come ... Fairfax County is now the downtown. D.C. just became our suburb."
Gordon believes that by adding four new Metrorail stations, and millions of square feet of office space, residential space and hotel rooms, Tysons Corner will replace Washington as the center of the metropolitan region.
Dream on. D.C. will never become a suburb of Fairfax, no matter how big the newly rebranded "Tysons" (sans "Corner") gets. That's because real downtowns are considerably more than the sum of their parts. It took centuries for New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and Washington to become the cities they are today, each with their own identifiable culture and history in addition to their uniquely iconic skylines.
The idea that changes to the street grid and new high-rises with chain stores on the ground floor will suddenly transform Tysons Corner into the region's new urban center is preposterous. If it were that easy, Crystal City would be booming with its similar makeup. But according to Arlington County figures, the available inventory of residential and office space in Crystal City will exceed demand until at least 2050 and possibly well beyond.
In its day, Crystal City's extensive underground pedestrian walkways were considered the height of urban village chic. They proved to be a passing fad, like were the ubiquitous enclosed malls that preceded them, and perhaps also like the new "town centers" springing up everywhere.
Tysons Corner was designed with utility in mind, as an automobile-centric suburban office park, designed primarily to serve companies that depend on federal contracts. It has never been a place to linger, which is why the 100,000 people who currently work in the 12th largest commercial center in the U.S. get out as fast as possible at the end of the day. It takes a considerable amount of hubris to believe that the same central planners who can't even get Tysons' traffic right will somehow magically transform it into something it's not.