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One-block wonder: The Village at Shirlington

Shoehorned into the suburban rat maze that is Arlington County, Virginia, is a one-block stretch of urban heaven. As appreciation for urban living has come into vogue, this block is becoming the centerpiece of a more contemporary “lifestyle” center, with new apartments, condos, and public amenities sprouting around it.

The village at Shirlington had a significant head-start on the lifestyle-retail / urban village concept. (insert history here)

Now, the Village has a significant head start, with mature street trees, nearby office tenants, and an established base of restaurants and patrons.

The small scale of the original project is noteworthy – buildings as small as one story create a unified main street. The tree canopy – mature oaks and locusts planted in the boulevard median – help to create the “outdoor room” critical to a sense of urbanity.

The location and user mix is also exceptional. _______ park is adjacent to the development, and offers a glimpse of green space. (Though Country Club Plaza in Kansas City captures a similar glimpse more successfully.) Office buildings surround the retail street, including WETA-TV, a prominent PBS station. At the terminus of the new, second block of development is a dramatic modern public library, and a performing arts center.

While New Urbanists are often fond of large-scale interventions in placemaking, the Village at Shirlington is proof that a small block, done well, can serve as the catalyst for creating a wonderful place. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be in the center of an economically vibrant metropolis.)

P.S. - This is also a lesson in patience.  Developers who are selling an "urban environment" should make sure to hold on to a few parcels as an annuity.  When the trees are full-grown, the place will only be worth more.

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