Sunday, May 06, 2007

Rosslyn: probably a lost cause

The Washington Post reports today that the Arlington County Board approved construction of two high-rises in the Rosslyn neighborhood that, if built, will be the tallest in the Washington Metro area. According to the Post:
Arlington officials say they hope the project will transform Rosslyn, a commuter-clogged suburb crammed with outdated boxy buildings, into a modern development that would attract more tourism.

I would hardly call Rosslyn "commuter-clogged"--the area never seems that busy too me, but it is definitely an area that is home to few. "Outdated boxy buildings" is about as apt a description as any of the unremarkable cement edifices that make the view across the Potomac from Georgetown such an eyesore.

Still, it will be pretty difficult for two towers to change the character of this character-less part of the D.C.-area. The problem with Rosslyn, as with so many other parts of Northern Virginia, is that it lacks distinctive features and that street life mostly shuts down after 7. The designs of the highrises pictured in the Post article appear to deviate little from the dull steel and glass prototype that characterize today's urban towers. Just as the cement buildings of the 1950s-70s appear outdated now, the glass edifices will evoke anachronism a decade or two down the road.

The testimonial from a Rosslyn resident also seems incredibly misguided:

Roa Lynn of Rosslyn said she recently had lunch outside in Shirlington, "alfresco," she noted, and her neighborhood looked bleak in contrast.

"I was struck by how harsh and unpleasant the Rosslyn streetscape is," Lynn said. "I beg you please to approve this project today. Make my neighborhood as nice as the other neighborhoods in Arlington."

First, erecting highrises are hardly the formula for mitigating the harshness of a streetscape. Second, though Shirlington's small, pedestrian-friendly downtown area--all two blocks of it--is certainly more ideal than Rosslyn's, can't we set our sights a little higher than "other neigborhoods in Arlington?" Especially in regards to the businesses in some of these areas, particularly Ballston and Shirlington, which represent more of the same big box blandness that now infests so much of this nation.

Worst of all, this new highrise campaign will only encourage the use of the wholly unbefitting "Manhattan on the Potomac" slogan by Rosslyn business owners who clearly have never visited Manhattan. Ultimately, I remain pessimstic about a renaissance of Rosslyn, which seems condemened to the fate of providing residence to nine-to-five office workers, chain restaurants, Marriotts, and the closest Metro to Georgetown. Nevertheless, I wish this weird neighborhood to my East luck.

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