Town Centers are Hard to Do Right

Town Centers are Hard to Do Right

Yesterday the Washington Post devoted a huge amount of space to a story on local Town Centers:

The main messages of the story seemed to be:

a) it’s really hard to do a Town Center the right way; and

b) it’s even harder to do them in a recession.

One message that I think has gone AWOL in the White Flint Sector Plan discussion is raised by a quote in this story: “Chris Farley, owner of Pacers Running Stores, thinks that Old Town Plaza has failed to create a true village feel. He said his other stores, including those in the mixed-use Pentagon Row and downtown Silver Spring developments, are doing well despite the recession.” 

You can’t look at a Town Center in isolation. You have to do a complete community to support the Center. Even in a recession, those do well.

In other words, there’s got to be a critical mass, both in size and in content, to make it all work. When I began this odyssey with White Flint four years ago, I clumsily prepared a video on this topic in which I focussed on my recurrent themes of “fun, families and fitness,” but also mentioned the necessity of providing a large enough community. Town Centers can’t just be small enclaves in an otherwise isolated and isolating suburban sprawl. They have to be part of an overall design.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall


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