The New Urban Planning Paradigm

The New Urban Planning Paradigm


“As one of the new stewards of Reston Town Center, I am constantly reminded that we have seen a little further (because) we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” says Robert Goudie, executive director of the Reston Town Center Association.

The Shoulders of Giants and Stewards

Goudie explains that Reston’s original “Giant,” Founder Robert E. Simon Jr. had the vision, passion, courage and audacity to see this shining “city on a hill” in the rural countryside of early, still-segregated, 1960s Virginia. This vision was conceived and formulated from frequent trips to Europe – especially the hill towns of Italy – where a sense of community, density and congregation is formed around central meeting places – piazzas – much like the village squares of early American villages.

“Simon understood that it is density that energizes diversity, interest, a sense of community and opportunity,” Goudie enlightens.

From 1925—when his father tragically passed on and Simon became the 23-year-old president of the family real estate jewel, New York City’s Carnegie Hall—until 1961, when he purchased the 6,400-acre farmland that was to become Reston, Simon commanded the cultural helm of Carnegie Hall.

For 35 years, he experienced the dynamic interaction of mixed-use development: residential, commercial and cultural chemistry: Carnegie Hall was a vibrant “village” or community. It was this “whole cloth” that was to ultimately shape his vision for Reston’s eventual crown jewel—today’s internationally-recognized and celebrated Town Center.

When Simon was fired in 1967 by the board of Gulf Oil, it was a member of that board, Bob Ryan, who in a critical moment convinced his fellow board members that there were profits to be made from Simon’s vision. The major portions of the original Master Plan were protected, and from 1970 forward, Reston’s struggling residential and commercial sales began to flower and, eventually flourish.

Goudie then describes the next “Giants” who set the stage for today’s Town Center—Northern Virginia’s new downtown. “In 1978, when Reston’s assets were purchased by Mobil Oil, many of the original Gulf Oil executives remained keeping the planning vision intact,” Goudie says.

Stewards of Reston’s innovative Master Plan, these men, in the mid-1980s, saw that the rapid growth of technology, the Internet, the tech industry and the region’s two powerful economic engines—Washington Reagan and Dulles International Airports—would soon make viable the creation of Town Center—the final jewel of Reston’s Master Plan to be developed.

To become the curators of Reston’s new downtown, Jim Cleveland, president of Mobil Land Corporation, tapped Kenneth Himmel, managing partner of Himmel/MKDG Co. of Boston and Chicago, and Alan Ward, FASLA, principle of Sasaki & Associates, Inc. Boston office. Twenty years after the first townhouses were built in the wooded countryside 18 miles west of Washington, the planned community of Reston was finally getting its downtown.

Several past attempts to get the project underway had collapsed, largely because there weren’t enough people living nearby to shop in the stores, eat in the restaurants and work in the offices, said Kenneth P. Wong, senior development manager for the town center project.

“The idea of a downtown in the suburbs was something that no one really had a grip on,” he said. “It’s a very complicated proposition” that needed “a long research and development gestation period.” Simon never liked the term “new urbanism,” however, this was the new planning paradigm that inspired the Mobil/Himmel/Sasaki team.

The opening ceremonies for the center’s first phase occurred in October 1990. By that time, the team had completed work on 550,000 square feet of office space, a 515-room Hyatt Regency hotel, 250,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and movie theaters, as well as 600 apartments. Six months later, a cultural center with space for galleries and museums was opened to the public.

Goudie explains it is precisely this dynamic balance of hotel, retail, residential, office and cultural that makes Reston Town Center the region’s most enviable destination location. “Town Center is still quite young—we just celebrated the 25th Anniversary in 2015—and yet its success has global recognition.” Goudie said that in recent years he has toured planning teams from Houston, Australia and Japan looking for the magic ingredients that make Town Center such a triumph.

TDM: A Quarter Century Old Mandate for Transportation Demand Management

The Silver Line to the Wiehle-Reston East station has only been open a year and already it is one of the busiest stations in the entire Metrorail system, according to Goudie. “Until Reston Town Center station is built and open in 2020, Wiehle-Reston East will remain the western-most station. This is precisely why Boston Properties on August 1 will launch its paid parking program, PARK RTC.

Folks from as far away as Pennsylvania and West Virginia who work in Fairfax or Washington are daily taking advantage of Town Center’s free parking. “Even in my neighborhood of West Market,” Goudie says, “I have watched cars, with cabs in tow, pull up in front of my house. Travelers park then throw their bags in the cab and head to the airport. It is not unusual for an undesirable car to sit in front of my house for up to two weeks.”

Goudie says that 26 years ago, when the Reston Town Center district was being approved, Fairfax County put in place a transportation proffer for paid parking. Anticipating the challenges of density and eventual congestion, the proffer required Town Center to pursue Transportation Demand Management (TDM): they recognized the eventual need for paid parking.

Metro Touch-Down Site: a Dynamic Bridge to the Urban Core

From 2010 to 2015, Goudie was involved in the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force that recommended changes to the County Comprehensive plan for Reston concerning development of the new Metro station areas.

He co-chaired the Town Center committee, which was tasked with making recommendations for the redevelopment of parcels comprising the Reston Town Center Metrorail station area and Town Center North.

From its 2010 report, the Committee’s executive summary reads, “The Committee without exception believes the essential emphasis should be the creation of dynamic, mixed-use urban spaces that will make the Reston Town Center Metrorail station a signature regional destination and origination station.  Going forward, this will require a stronger emphasis on creating a healthier residential, non-residential balance consistent with transit-oriented development (TOD).”

Richard Ellis, a vice president with Boston Properties, says his firm considers their Reston properties to be some of their most prized crown jewels, and he considers the final 22 acres just north of the future Reston Town Center Metrorail station (the Metro Touch-Down Site) to be one of the premier development sites in the entire Washington region.

Boston Properties has hired Alan Ward and his Sasaki team to oversee the planning of these prime acres which will have an urban street grid, green spaces and will encompass approximately 3.5 million square feet of the same mixed use of office, hotel, retail and residential.


Signature: a Prototype for the Metro Touch-Down Site

At the corner of Reston Parkway and New Dominion Parkway, Boston Properties is developing an exciting mixed use project named Signature at Reston Town Center. Now a big hole in the ground with a tall crane embedded in what used to be a Town Center surface parking lot, Signature features a well-designed, integrated mix: an east apartment tower of 19 stories, a west apartment tower of 21 stories, 1,200 parking spaces and 24,000-square-feet of ground level retail.

Designed by Shalom Baranes Associates, this sophisticated, highly urban, downtown complex features 508 luxury apartments with amenity spaces including a swimming pool, penthouse fitness center, clubroom with demonstration kitchen, library, and picnic areas with public art. Delivery is set for the first quarter of 2018.

Following Boston Properties’ highly-successful Avant residential tower in the urban core, Ellis explains that the uber urban Signature is a prototype of what’s to come in the design of the Metro Touch-Down Site. “It is a kind of gateway to Town Center,” Ellis says, “and includes all the exciting elements of an urban lifestyle. For the ground level retail, we are actively talking to a boutique grocery and a café-style restaurant.”

Town Center: Stewardship and the New Paradigm

A 2010 article on Town Center in URBAN LAND, the official publication of the Urban Land Institute, said this…”The most critical source of the Reston Town Center development’s success was the intangible but all-important commitment to stewardship. Throughout the planning, development, and operating history of Reston Town Center, all the participants aspired to fulfill the original vision, which was dynamic rather than static.”

“Because of his vision and determination to create dynamic gathering places, Bob Simon set the foundation for Reston’s unparalleled success today,” Goudie said. In a delightful bit of prophetic irony, Simon, in 1964 named his first business park Isaac Newton Square.

“In the superb Storycatcher film Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA, one hears Bob Simon say, ‘You couldn’t have a better plaza than Fountain Square. It is a wonderful gathering place,’” Goudie adds.

Reston’s downtown today is a highly-successful, unique destination and the coming of the Silver Line fulfills its destiny and promise. With the coming of the Reston Town Center Metrorail station in 2020, and the dynamic urban core touch-down site, the challenge of the next decade will be to continue the stewardship and replicate this new paradigm of urbanism and community.

Photo by: © 2010 Mark Finkenstaedt

SIR ISSAC NEWTON (Dec 25, 1642 – Mar 20, 1727)


In responding to a letter from a scientific rival Robert Hooke, SIR ISSAC NEWTON wrote:

“What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

The origin of this famous phrase conveys the importance of those who went before us; our leaders. Upon the shoulders of their wisdom, insight and strength is built our present and our future. If Newton accepts this, how much more should we appreciate and acknowledge those who inspired us and through whose leadership we have moved forward?


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