Metro construction at Tysons East. Photo by fairfaxcounty on Flickr.

Several developers have submitted proposals to make parts of Tysons Corner more urban. Among the proposals for the Tysons East (or “Tysons-McLean” station, two stand out on either end of the walkable spectrum: an excellent project by LCOR and a terrible one by Mitre.

While not the most ambitious in scale, the proposal by developer LCOR for “The Commons of McLean” is certainly the most urban in scope. LCOR envisions an entirely residential development, and residents (plus ground-level retail) are what Tysons needs most.

The scale of LCOR’s project is also appropriate. The LCOR site is not immediately adjacent to the new Metro station, though it is still within a walkable distance. With buildings in the 10-20 story range and approximately 2,200 total apartments proposed, LCOR’s plan would lead to the creation of a vibrant neighborhood without overwhelming local amenities.

Rendering of LCOR plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Besides the ambitiousness of LCOR’s plan, the proposal is also very urban in nature and deserves an A+ for integrating the future street grid of Tysons. Each building interacts with the future grid of streets through ample street-front retail, which will encourage a vibrant streetscape with pedestrian activity.

Additionally, the streets are scaled appropriately for vehicle and pedestrian traffic (contrary to Route 123, among others). LCOR’s plan also centralizes parks, instead of spreading out green space with no regards to what’s actually usable.

LCOR certainly feels that the tower-in-the-park school of urbanity is dead. Their proposal neatly encompasses traditional city planning elements that have more recently become the hallmarks of smart growth. Street-front retail, centralized parks, and walkable block sizes are all excellent attributes of the plan for McLean’s Commons, and serve as an example for how other projects should be planned for Tysons Corner.

Street diagram of LCOR plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

A proposal by defense contractor Mitre to expand their campus is decidedly less urban in nature. Instead of utilizing their land for a plan that acts in accordance with the urban vision for Tysons, Mitre ignores every tenet of building a walkable, urban community. Mitre’s proposal envisions an additional two office buildings with 1.4 million square feet of space, as well as the construction of another elevated parking garage.

Mitre plan. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Construction of more office space is clearly in the cards for Tysons, but Mitre’s plan has several glaring problems. It ignores any potential future street grid in favor of keeping winding roads typical of suburban office campuses. Those winding roads are accompanied by an additional massive parking structure, and though Mitre’s proposal is within walking distance of the new station, they ignore any accommodations that could be made to make their new campus pedestrian-friendly. This would make the use of the Tysons East station by any future employees laughable.

Unlike LCOR’s plan, there is no mix of uses, nor do the proposed buildings even front the streets. And Mitre sticks to the failed model of spreading open space randomly throughout their plan, effectively creating dead areas.

Mitre rendering photo of the current campus. Image from Fairfax County. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Contrasting LCOR’s plan with Mitre’s shows that not all parties involved in the redevelopment of Tysons Corner believe that a more urbanist plan is the best option. If plans like Mitre’s continue to be submitted and receive approval, Tysons will not be able to achieve its goal of becoming a walkable city that’s not as reliant on auto trips in and out, nor avoid perpetual gridlock for adjacent McLean and Vienna.

Nicolai Fedak graduated from Fordham University in New York City with a degree in political science in 2011. He originally hails from McLean, Virginia and graduated from McLean High School. He currently lives on the Upper West Side and still travels regularly between New York and Washington.