Local Commentary

Editorial: City Center: Do the Math

When it comes to the proposed Falls Church City Center project, it really comes down to mathematical calculations. That is, if you are operating with the assumption that maintaining the autonomy of an independent City of Falls Church is worth fighting for.

Those who don’t think that autonomy is worth the effort need to realize they still won’t get the idyllic Falls Church village they dream of. Anyone who looks at what’s going on now around Falls Church in Fairfax County, can see what would be in store for Falls Church if it loses its independence through fiscal insolvency: unbridled growth.

Independence means that a relatively very small collection of citizens (11,500 compared to Fairfax’s one million) will have a direct say in how their jurisdiction will be developed. The choice will not be whether or not it is developed, but the “how” question is very critical. The world is full of examples of the stark difference between beautiful and ugly development. Falls Church’s can be the former if the discussion shifts from the question of development itself, to how it will look and feel and to its aesthetic potentials.

Density, which is the goal of development, and beauty are not mutually exclusive facets. The rise of the post-World War I art deco movement was postulated on the notion of wedding and art and industry, and produced some of the world’s most stunning architecture. It was only after World War II, when density ran roughshod over design, that the recent decades’ preponderance of ugly, box-like architectural obscenities began to prevail. The challenge for Falls Church’s citizenry is to demand of, and to inspire, its developers to return to an earlier standard, along the lines we’ve seen in the inspirational art nouveau design of the recently-completed Read Building in the 400 block of West Broad Street. That was done entirely voluntarily by the developer. The citizens need to ensure there’s more.

Anyone who thinks the current eight acre area circumscribed for the City Center project is anything but a virtual blight needs to take another look. It is composed of an aging bowling alley and asphalt surface parking lots. But it is unsightly mostly because of its wanton inefficiency, its failure to be productive for meeting Falls Church’s educational and public service needs. The City Center plan reclaims this area as a fertile ground for ensuring the City’s financial future.

   There are those who want the project down-sized, but if that’s done, the math simply won’t work, and the developers walk away. Nothing will ever work there that does not add up, with the help of a cold cruel calculator, to the kind of density that the current project requires.

History is strewn with the regrets of those who squandered opportunities, those who, as the saying goes, “Made the perfect the enemy of the very good.” Falls Church faces a special opportunity now.

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