Lots of people come to the glitzy, suburban Tysons East neighborhood to work, but most of them leave as soon as the workday is over. Tysons wants to change that.
As part of its “Transforming Tysons” series, local development group Tysons Partnership held a panel about the future of one neighborhood: Tysons East. Tysons East is an 18.5 million square-foot neighborhood by the Mclean Metro station on the Silver Line. The I-495 capital beltway passes right next to it. It's home of the Capital One M2 headquarters, the second tallest building in the Washington region (surpassed only by the Washington monument).
In order to understand what is happening now and what is about to happen there, let's take a quick look at Tysons' 2010 Comprehensive Plan. Currently, Tysons has 100,000 employees and 24,000 residents. The Comprehensive Plan’s vision is 200,000 and 100,000 respectively, once it is fully executed.
In the past few years, there has been a spike in investment in the area that hasn't gone unnoticed. David Schneider, associate at Holland & Knight and the panel’s moderator, said that Tysons is “a huge experiment in suburban redevelopment at this scale that the entire world is watching.”
According to Josh White, vice president of the DC Metro Development, LCOR, Tysons is the 13th-largest office hub in the US. He says that being a 20-minute drive from Dulles and National airports makes it a great place for investment.
Donna Shafer, managing director of Cityline, says that existing infrastructure (such as the metro line) is a key part of their investment strategy. Investors today want to be part of “the reincarnation of new cities,” she says.
Tysons wants to attract the “creative class”
Investers are planning development to attract the ‘creative class’ from the east and west coasts, according to Tysons invester Erin Mical, Senior Director of Development at Capital One. She says they want to design spaces that provide this group with options for how they want to live and work.
The creative class is “a professional team that is a group of people, with degrees, that are highly educated and skilled in solving complex problems, have a diversity of ideas, and care about culture,” according to panelist Rodney Lusk, Director of National Marketing at Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
To attract this group and convince them to stay requires Tysons to bring in the companies where they work—headquarters in particular—from other places in Virginia and the US, in addition to supporting “homegrown” companies.
Lusk summarizes what these companies and workers are looking for: amenities. This includes Metrorail; restaurants; after-hour recreation options for employees (an area where he says Tysons is showing improvement); and access to customers, suppliers, and most importantly, competitors. They're also looking for three-bedroom units near good schools.
Right now, Tysons is mostly for the wealthy
Interestingly, the only place the creative class is mentioned in Tysons Comp Plan is here: “Public and institutional facilities such as professional education, recreational, health and sports amenities should be located in this district. These amenities will be essential for attracting ‘creative class’ households whose jobs could be located in Tysons.”
Some city leaders (including in DC) have been criticized for prioritizing this group. Detractors say the focus on attracting wealthy, well-educated workers comes at the expense of lower-income people and exacerbates social and economic inequailities.
Lusk said that while Tysons is starting to think about equity, it lacks a clear vision for supporting low-income people. Households in Tysons Corner have a median income of $96,446, which is quite a bit higher than the US average of $57,617, according to data USA.
In order to afford buying in Tysons, a person needs to make at least $70,000 a year. People in the service industry, for example, largely cannot live there. Paneliest Josh White calls this unaffordability a “point of concern for long-term viability” and says it's crucial to incentivize affordable housing.
For now, Tysons isn't really building affordable housing beyond what's required. Every residential component of the project has to comply with the 20% affordable housing percentage that Fairfax County enforces: 80%, 100%, and 120% AMI. If Tysons wants to not only attract the creative class but also retain it, inclusivity and affordability is key.
Tysons does not want to be only about business
More than half of Tysons residents are married, 17% are families, and 35% of them work in the Mclean/Tysons area, according to White. To attract and keep them, the plan is to have more work-from-home spaces in common areas, dog- and kid-friendly spaces, and places where residents can read a book and enjoy themselves.
Scotts Run is the only place with a naturally-occurring water stream separating it from the rest of Tysons, and it's a great spot for recreation. The open space is part of 175 acres of public parkland, 104 acres of which exist already and 71 acres of which are planned, according to Schneider.
Tracy Strunk, director of the Zoning Evaluation Division at the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, mentions lessons learned DC's NoMa neighborhood. When the Comprehensive Plan was being developed, NoMa was booming. Since developers were incentivized to add housing, park spaces were deprioritized. Today NoMa is trying to fit more parks in, and Tysons learned from this.
Tysons is trying to capitalize on the park space it already has, but also plans to cultivate interim space while permanant recreation facilities are being developed. Such spaces include food trucks, a biergarten, and pop-up retail—basically anything that could be dismantled within 24 hours.
“We need amenities now as we transition [to] connected spaces,” Schneider said.
Moving beyond car culture
Recently, there have been 12 bikeshare stations added to the area. Despite the constant interruptions, track work, and terrible headways, ridership at the Mclean station is up 9% since 2017 even while general Metro ridership is down. Bus ridership within Tysons is up as well, with 49% percent increase in riders heading into Tysons and 33% increase in riders heading out since 2015.
In a place with large highways where car culture has long been prominent, placemaking seems to be on its way. Still, it's a process.
“We don’t have the infrastructure for parks, and one building on its own cannot deliver the street grid design that we are hoping for,” Strunk says. “How do we deal with edges defined by roads? We cannot build one half of a retail street and have it be functional.”
Tysons doesn’t have the foot traffic right now to center retail and other amenities where the influx will be, according to Strunk. This is why flexibility in design is important.
Strunk adds, “I would love to say 'who cares about cars; if you don't like sitting in traffic then get out of your car and walk or bike or use public transportation' but that is not realistic because people still need to drive places.”
Donna Shafer agrees: “We’re moving towards less auto reliance, but there are still cars on the streets.”
That still means that safe, comfortable, and uninterrupted connections for people walking and bicycling are essential. The ‘Scotts Run’ and the ‘Old Meadow Road’ bicycle and pedestrian connections, both approved and fully funded, are scheduled to begin construction in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Readers: What do you think about the Tysons East plans?
This article has been updated to reflect bus ridership within Tysons, as well as the increase in Metro ridership.