Reston, VA

The Richmond Fed has a nice review of Reston, VA and Columbia, MD, two of the first private towns in the United States.

Reston was “not just a building project but a whole new way of living.” Practically, this meant dense, mixed-use development that was not permissible under the existing zoning code in Fairfax County, Va. Although the county was resistant at first, it ultimately created a new zoning code that rejected the single-use standard of the day and allowed for a mix of single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, commercial development, recreational facilities, and open spaces in proximity to one another.

Fifty miles northeast, Columbia, Md., was unveiled on June 21, 1967. This new town was the brainchild of James Rouse, a real estate developer, urban planner, civic activist, and philanthropist. Like Reston, Columbia was built on a vision of livability and integration. Its motto, “The Next America,” was meant to capture Rouse’s hope that the community could serve as an example of pragmatic utopianism for other communities across the nation — that is, an example of social interaction and harmony that, in Rouse’s words, could provide “an alternative to the mindlessness, the irrationality, the unnecessity of sprawl and clutter as a way of accommodating the growth of the American city.”

Both Reston and Columbia have been consistently ranked as two of the best towns to live in the United States. One bit I didn’t know, was that both Reston and Columbia were integrated from the beginning:

In the mid-1960s, Doris Briggs and her four children drove the 700 miles from Chicago to Virginia in her Chevrolet in pursuit of a new life. Briggs would later recall, “Everybody said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, you have no friends.’ I said I have friends everywhere. And I had my faith, had my four children, and I knew it was going to be a better life for me.” Their destination, Reston, Va., promised a community-centered alternative to modern suburbia that was inclusive of black families like the Briggses — well before the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made housing discrimination illegal.

Addendum: Here’s my NYTimes op-ed with Shruti Rajagopalan, Designing Private Cities Open to All.


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