Crystal/Pentagon City- Arlington’s best New Urbanist Center

Arlington’s Pentagon City and Crystal City is a great example of how to built a relatively urban environment in the auto age. This is a rare American example where cars, pedestrians, public transit and bike modes are relatively. I can’t say I love the design and set back of the original buildings built in Crystal/Pentagon City in the 70s & 80s but their multi-model design was certainly ahead of its time. More recent in-fill developers have been much better from an architecture and urban design standpoint. The neighborhood is also a great example of how park and recreation space can be better integrated into the urban fabric when urban planners are given a clean slate.

Already Crystal/Pentagon City is a quality jobs hub with around 35-50K jobs. Amazon will bring over 25K jobs to Crystal in the next decade. The main areas to improve from an urban perspective is making Crystal/Pentagon City more family friendly. To achieve this more walkable schools are needed along with affordable 3-bedroom condos & townhouses. I fully anticipate future in-fill will continue to be built with quality urban design helping solidify Crystal/Pentagon City as a quality mixed-use district in Arlington. 
Click to view my Pentagon City and Crystal City albums on Flickr


* Many quality examples of modern in-fill. The design of in-fill buildings are better since 2000 but even the older stuff from the 70s & 80s has decent urban design.
* Consistent quality sidewalk and ADA infrastructure network. Sometimes sidewalks are uncomfortable due to high traffic boulevards.
* While there are probably around 50K jobs in Crystal/Pentagon City, it also has very convenient access to Downtown DC and other Arlington Nodes.
* Great public transit access and bike infrastructure including many dedicated bike lanes and good bike share access.
* Good racial diversity.
* Lots of rental options but generally pretty expensive. Studios and 1-bedrooms rent in the $1,000s, 2-bedrooms in the 2Ks & 3Ks, and 3-bedrooms in the $2,000s-$4,000s. Fortunately there is some affordable housing options here.
* Great array of parks and amenities well dispersed throughout Crystal/Arlington City.
* Cultural amenities include a great array of restaurants, bars & cafes, two performing arts theaters, a couple local museums, many art galleries, and an upscale movie theater.
* With at least 4 shopping malls, several department stores, countless brand name stores, several grocery stores, neighborhood retail, and a good about of boutiques and creative stores, its hard to get better retail amenities than here.
* Very safe neighborhood with really no blight (partially due to age of development). 


* No historic architecture in Crystal/Pentagon City.
* Connecting is decent but rather confusing with the city’s curvilinear street grid.
* Generally very high incomes but some economic diversity more so in Crystal City.
* Age wise the neighborhood skews towards the young professional but about 35-40% family households here.
* For sale condos are kind of limited and expensive. 1-bedrooms general sell in the 300Ks and 400Ks, 2-bedrooms 500Ks & 600Ks, and 3-bedrooms 700Ks-1 Million.
* No schools within the Crystal/Pentagon neighborhood boundaries, some elementary and middle schools about 1 mile away. 

Rockville, MD another Washington D.C. suburb hosting a quality Urban Town Center

Downtown Rockville is really just a TOD plopped into the center of a mid century suburb. I included the entire new urbanist Rockville Town Square along with several other adjacent urban blocks. Jefferson St forms the southern border, Van Buren Street to the west, Dawson to the north, and the Metro line to the east.

Rockville, along with neighboring Gaithersburg and Bethesda, is at the core of the I-270 Technology Corridor, home to numerous software & biotechnology companies. Rockville remained a very small town until after WWII after it was connected via I 270. It had only 2,000 residents in 1940 and by 1970 was over 40,000. That being said Rockville’s historic urban core has always been pretty small. Yet this modest historic downtown was mostly wiped clean with ambitious urban renewal efforts  in the 1960s. The Rockville mall replaced it but for only three decades before it too was demolished. A new urbanist town center “Rockville Town Center” replaced this in 2009. This mixed use center works well with the nearby metro station built in 1984.

Because of Downtown Rockville’s demolition happy past, the lay out and urban form outside of the Rockville Town Center is haphazard and uncomfortable for pedestrians. The worse example of this is the auto centric Rockville Pike running along the eastern side of dwtn. Thankfully city leaders got it right with Rockville Town Center and created a high quality urban base for downtown to work from. It is well laid out, holds a great civic center, mixes retail, entertainment, and residential options (that are actually reasonably priced). Hopefully the City continues to construct quality in-fill projects in-line with the same spirit of the Rockville Town Center.
Click here to view the entire Rockville album on my Flickr page


* With the Metro and quality bus service dwtn Rockville has great public transit service. As good as most inner city neighborhoods.
* That helps provide good access to Dwtn where a metro ride is only 30 minutes. Driving on the other hand is 45-1 hr.
* Fair amount of dedicated bike lanes and several bike stations but doesn’t really connect to a larger system.
* Incomes are high but decent income diversity in Dwtn Rockville including a 15% poverty rate. Solid racial diversity as well.
* For sale options are mostly condos but reasonable prices. One can purchase a 1-bedroom condos in the 100Ks, 2-bedrooms in the 200Ks. Limited 3-bedroom product.
* Excellent example of how to build urban infill from scratch, especially at Rockville Town Center. Some crummy 1950s-1980 mid sized towers as well along Rockville Pike.
* ADA infrastructure and sidewalks is high quality but some streets have high traffic making it uncomfortable to walk.
* Cultural amenities include a great array of restaurants, bars, and cafes, a cineplex,  several live music venues, a community arts center, and a handful of art galleries and local historic museums.
* Excellent retail amenities as well include a supermarket, a couple pharmacies, a dwtn library, bookstores, and a bunch of clothing and neighborhood stores.
* Several walkable well rated schools are located on the border of Dwtn Rockville (i.e. Catholic grade school, public elementary & high school).


* Rockville Pike which flanks dwtn Rockville to the east is a basically a local highway. It has sidewalks but not a pleasant pedestrian experience.
* Good amount of rentals but on the high end. Rents start for a 1-bedroom at 1.5K, 2-bedrooms around $2,000. Limited 3-bedroom product.
* Park space is pretty limited within Downtown besides the excellent new urbanist plaza in the middle of Rockville Town Center. Welsh Park is also only 1/2 away and hosts a ton of park amenities.

Woodley Park, a high-end DC neighborhood next to the National Zoo

Straddling Connecticut Avenue south of the National Zoo is Woodley Park a high end district developed mostly in the early 20th century. The eastern half of the neighborhood is mostly rowhouses fabric, at least in the residential streets. Connecticut Ave has been mostly replaced with large apartment buildings between the 1910s and 1950s. The western half of Woodley Park is mostly high priced single family homes. There are two urban commercial nodes along Connecticut, the smaller one at the western gate of the National Zoo and the larger one at Calvert Street.

Overall this a pleasant but not spectacular urban district. It lacks the commercial district and mixed-use development to an elite DC urban neighborhood. Neighborhood strengths include its metro access, quality parks and walkable schools, and decent bike infrastructure. Along with being a wealthy enclave, many embassies have claimed the neighborhood’s large historic mansions. Like most of DC, Woodley Park needs more affordable housing options. It also has limited family households and retail and cultural amenities are a bit lacking (at least compared to adjacent DC neighborhoods).
Click here to view the Woodley Park album on my Flickr page


* Very convenient access to DC with a metro ride of no more than 20 minutes, easy bike ride, or short car trip.
* Bike infrastructure is good, but not as good as other central DC districts.
* Good density likely due to the high concentration of large apartment buildings here.
* Great racial diversity here helped by the high concentration of embassies in the district. 
* Very safe neighborhood with really no blight.
* Good Park amenities with Rock Creek Park wrapping around the southern edge of the district and the Tergaron Conservatory to the north and some athletic fields associated with neighborhood schools. No really neighborhood parks though.
* Great tree canopy including lots of street trees.
* Nice mix of historic SF homes, rowhouses, and large apartment buildings from the 1910s-1940s. Urban in-fill is of a good quality as well.
* Good but not great cultural amenities including a nice cluster of Diverse restaurants, bars, and cafes along Connecticut Avenue. The biggest attraction is the Smithsonian Nat Zoo on the district’s eastern edge.
* Retail amenities is similar including a pharmacy, a hardware store, bookstore, and some creative retail and boutiques. No grocery store, library, post office, or larger retailer. All of these amenities are in the adjacent Cleveland Park district walkable to half of Woodley Park residents.
* Nice mix of walkable private, public schools within Woodley Park. 


* Medium income is over 100K but some economic diversity in Woodley Park.
* Only about 1/4 of households have children.
* Great concentration of rentals but expensive. Studios start in the low $1,000s and 1-bedrooms rent btwn 1.5K-2.5K, 2-bedrooms generally in the $2,000s and 3-bedrooms over $3,000s.
* For-sale options also expensive. The lower end are studio condos starting in the 200Ks. Most 1-bedroom condos sell for 300-400K, 2-bedroom condos range from 400K into the low millions depending if its luxury. Any 3 or 4 bedroom option selling over 1 Million. 5 bedroom generally over 2 Million. 

Downtown Bethesda, MD- a lesson on how to transform a mid-century American suburb into a thriving urban district

My evaluation for Downtown Bethesda included the dense Bethesda core along with the more urban pre WWII neighborhoods surrounding it. My main criteria was good connectivity to the dwtn and sidewalks. I also used block groups as a general guide to create the boundaries. The boundaries generally include Maple Street and the Columbia Country Club to the east, Chestnut St. to the north, Cluster & Fairfax Rd to the west, and Little Falls Pkwy and Norwood Park to the South. This includes several Chevy Chase neighborhoods (i.e. West Chevy Chase Heights and Chevy Chase Terrace).

Bethesda remained a small crossroads village through the 19th century. A streetcar line was established in 1890 and suburbanization increased in the early 1900s. Bethesda’s population really didn’t explode until the 1920s with the advent of the automobile. Following WWII Bethesda saw several major employers move to the City with the establishment of  National Naval Medical Center and NIH Clinical Center. Rigorous Dwtn growth filled the expansion of the Metrorail into Bethesda in 1984. DC’s height limits also encouraged mid and high-rises to come to Bethesda. Downtown Bethesda’s most recent urban project is the Bethesda Row mall, a well planned new urbanist mixed-use shopping center that integrates well into the Downtown Fabric. There are also several residential subdistricts surrounding Downtown, a mix of large single family homes and apartment/condo buildings.

Downtown Bethesda really excels at creating an retail & cultural amenity rich but walkable environments. It also has good schools, quality parks, great bike infrastructure and convenient transit access. The major area for improve here is more affordable housing. That also drives a lack a racial and economic diversity in the City. 
Click here to view my Bethesda album on Flickr


* Convenient access to Dwtn DC with only a 25 minute metro ride. Car access is also pretty good if traffic is reasonable. The Capital Crescent Trail is a dedicated bike trail that can connects to dwtn in only about an hour.
* Several other bike paths in Bethesda and good bike station coverage in Dwtn.
* Over 50% of households are family households, a very high number for DC. Median age is a bit high. 
* Some affordable housing exists here thanks to progressive Montgomery Co policies, but still not enough.
* Excellent tree canopy including lots of street trees in the core of Dwtn.
* Great mix of parks and recreational amenities including well dispersed urban parks, dwtn plazas, trails, a public pool, recreational centers, and sport fields.
* Great cultural amenities including diverse restaurants, tons of bars, cafes, and live music venues, several theaters including some historic ones, a cineplex, many art galleries and a modest Children’s museum.
* Dwtn Bethesda is also well served retail amenities including several supermarkets & pharmacies, a dwtn target & staples, Bethesda Row (a well integrated urban mall with tons of shops and clothing stores), a post office & Library, and good array of locally owned boutiques, bookstores, and antiques. Several Hospitals are also located a mile north.
* Very safe community with limited blight.
* Solid walkable access to several highly rates public elementary schools and the Chevy Chase High Schools.
* High quality sidewalks and ADA access. A couple spots that are more stingy with sidewalks due to historic suburban layout.
* Very urban and well design in-fill. Less attractive 60-80s buildings remain but have decent urban form. 


* Street grid is connected but can be confusing at times as many curvilinear roads meet with standard gridded streets.
* Diversity is surprisingly limited in Bethesda (about 82% white). This is also a very wealthy area (Medium income is 150K). Only 2.5% of population lives in poverty.
* Good diversity of For-Sale housing product with a mix of condos and SF homes. But very expensive. 1-bedroom condos sale 250K-500 and 2-bedrooms 350K-600K although new product can be more. 3-bedroom start at 650K and go up into the low Millions. 4-bedrooms above 1-million.
* Rentals start in the 1,000s for Studios, 1-bedrooms start in the high $1,000s, and 3 bedrooms start in the high $2,000s. Lots of product.