A column by Steven Pearlstein today’s Washington Post business section complains about Reston Town Center. Yes, it’s well designed. Yes, it achieves density without sacrificing the human scale. Yes, it has attracted big-name tenants, and yes, it’s a great financial success. But it’s just “too neat, too homogenized.” It has no liquor stores, no bums or graffiti. It lacks “messy vitality.”

Tysons Corner, says Pearlstein, is more dynamic and real. Yes, it’s one big traffic jam after another. Yes, it’s ugly. But it has “variety, ordered chaos and an urban-like intensity that puts you on edge.” In Mr. Pearlstein’s opinion, it’s a lot like Chicago, Manhattan and San Francisco that way.

Um, I’ve never noticed any bums or graffiti in Tysons Corner either. The only thing dynamic about Tysons’ civic realm is the masses of automobiles gunning from stoplight to stoplight. I agree, it certainly does put you on edge.

Chicago, Manhattan and San Francisco would reject the comparison; those cities are intensely walkable. They have great urban environments without Tysons-style 10-lane arterials, massive surface parking lots, pedestrian-hostile intersections, or hulking structures with nothing but enormous blank walls to walk past, surrounded by berms and buffers galore.


Now, I’m not about to argue that Reston Town Center is perfect, or even close to the best of Chicago, Manhattan or San Francisco. Philip Langdon has written a good editorial that calls the development “a mix of outstanding accomplishments and missed opportunities.” That’s about right. But to call Tysons more “real” is missing the mark entirely.

It’s true that Reston Town Center is rather clean and new. It has no bums or graffiti, and that seems to disturb some commentators. To rectify this situation, I’d like to offer the services of a company I am starting, Town Degraders, Inc. (TM)


For those who prefer “distressed” antiquing to the brand-spanking-new esthetic, Town Degraders, Inc. is proud to announce its new service, Acid-Washed Neighborhoods (TM). Just one phone call will bring our fleet of modified fire trucks to your doorstep today! Our trucks trundle up and down the streets of your New Urban (NU) development, applying the antiquing treatment to every exposed surface. The patented, custom-formulated treatment (a slurry of used oil, fine grit and restaurant grease) is shot at high velocity from our fire pumpers to achieve total coverage, deep saturation and consistent abrasion.

The Acid-Washed Neighborhoods (TM) treatment faithfully re-creates the urban patina that otherwise takes years to achieve. The effects of engine exhaust, acid rain, vandalism and normal wear-and-tear are flawlessly duplicated for the “everyday urbanism” look so prized by leading urbanists. A select number of large stones are included in the slurry mix, giving a realistically random result of chipped pavement, cracked windows, splintered sashes and stripped trees.

And for you architects, here’s a special note: The Acid-Washed treatment is guaranteed 70% flammable. The simple application of any flaming object will transform the most prosaic structure into an artfully-crafted exploration of the building material/community values nexus (see Architecture Magazine, April 2001 for details).

The Acid-Washed Treatment: It’s not just for clothing anymore! (TM)

Update: Commentary on Pearlstein’s article from Ryan Avent at DCist, and from Roger Lewis at the Washington Post.