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.