The Future Crystal City: A Vision of ‘Manhattan on the Potomac’ Realized?

by July 21, 2010 at 9:52 am 7,078 19 Comments

Earlier this year, the Washington Post’s John Kelly shot down Rosslyn’s attempt to brand itself “Manhattan on the Potomac.” You won’t find the word “Manhattan” anywhere in the 156-page Crystal City Sector Plan, but it certainly comes to mind when one sees an artist’s rendering of tall buildings and wide sidewalks surrounding the renamed “Jefferson Davis Boulevard.”

A thriving “see and be seen” street life and a dedicated cultural district are among the goals of planners who hope to convert Crystal City from the workaday home of monolithic government office buildings to an urban oasis of gleaming trophy office towers, shiny new apartment buildings and busy retail corridors.

To achieve the vision of a pedestrian-oriented urban community, however, major investments will need to be made in Crystal City’s inadequate transportation infrastructure — specifically, the roads.

Currently, Crystal City is surrounded by Crystal Drive on one side, Jefferson Davis Highway on the other, and a disorganized jumble of parallel streets in between. It’s unclear who decided that Clark and Bell Streets should be separate, discontiguous traffic traps, virtually devoid of easily cross-able intersections, but it was obviously someone who, at the time, considered the Crystal City Underground to be the end-all be-all of pedestrian-friendliness.

The sector plan calls for the streets to be combined and “realigned” into a singe, tree-lined “Clark-Bell Street” that will traverse Crystal City top to bottom. Achieving such a realignment will be one of the plan’s biggest challenges. Entire buildings will need to be acquired and torn down to make it happen.

Jefferson Davis Highway, meanwhile, will be utterly transformed into an urban boulevard and will be appropriately renamed “Jefferson Davis Boulevard.” Traffic will be “calmed,” pedestrian crossings will be made safer and, if all goes as planned, the thoroughfare’s current capacity will be maintained.

One longer-term goal is to replace the ramp from Jefferson Davis Highway to the airport with an at-grade traffic circle to be named “National Circle.” Jefferson Davis Boulevard will pass under the circle, allowing traffic to flow uninterrupted.

Elsewhere in Crystal City, new streets will be added to the grid. The plan calls for a 25th Street will be built between Jefferson Davis Boulevard and Crystal Drive. To the west of Jefferson Davis, 12th Street will be extended between Eads and Fern Streets, allowing easier vehicle access from Crystal Drive to Pentagon City mall.

Public hearings on the Crystal City Sector Plan are scheduled for September 13 and 25.

In the latest video from our walking tour of Crystal City, County Board Vice-Chairman Chris Zimmerman and Crystal City Business Improvement District President Angela Fox explain the thinking behind the realignment of Clark and Bell Streets.

  • JRS

    Since we’re renaming it anyway, can we take Jeff Davis’ name off the road? It’s a remnant of the Jim Crow era and Davis (unlike Robert E. Lee) has no significant historical connection to Arlington.

    • Let’s Be Free

      It could be renamed the Chris Zimmerman parking lot.

      • TGEoA

        Well naming it MLK Jr Blvd isn’t going to happen. The property owners would have kittens.

        • JRS

          The story said it was already being renamed slightly. And I was thinking something more like Pentagon Memorial Blvd.

    • sam

      Exactly. Well said. You should send you comments into Arlington County’s
      a) new county mgr. Mike Brown
      b) Economic Development office – Terry Holzheimer
      c) ARl. Transportation Dept – Dennis Leach

  • I love the video piece of this article! I work in Crystal City and I love how they’re always trying to bring culture and community events to the area, but I definitely think those would all be improved with more flow to CC’s pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

  • The Arlington BAC saw a rough draft presentation of this plan several months ago, the concept looks good. They’re also planning to bring the Columbia Pike trolley through here too, crossing Davis at (I think) 15th street and then heading south on Crystal Drive (with the long-term goal of connecting it all the way to Alexandria.

    Also, JRS, I agree with you that Davis Hwy is an anachronism of a bygone era, but try convincing the folks in Richmond of that. Davis Hwy is under VDOT control, not the county, so a name change would probably have to get state approval. Good luck convincing them they shouldn’t be honoring Jeff Davis’ legacy.

    • TGEoA

      Speaking of anachronisms, the NAACP needs to change their name as well.

    • Don’t necessarily have to convince Richmond to change the streetname. After all, it’s known as Richmond Hwy through Fairfax County, and it’s under VDOT control there too.

      • Did not know that. Thanks Froggie.

      • Anon

        Not sure I want to name it after Richmond either!!

  • Felix

    Could name it after Ulysses S. Grant: a President of the United States with an underappreciated legacy of urban renewal projects, one of which changed the face of downtown Richmond. I’d love to see the look on the faces of the UDC ladies if that one was approved…

  • MC

    The Jefferson Davis naming is weird historically. I understood what’s present day Arlington was largely under union control during the Civil War, but I’m no Civil War historian, so don’t get excited if I’m not totally accurate.

    Transforming Crystal City will be a huge task simply because there’s stuff there already. In some ways transforming Tysons might be easier. But I commend the efforts to do so. My dad worked there for 40 odd years, and it’s been gratifying to see the start of transformation in recent ones.

  • Darwin

    Great idea if they do it, I remember a few years back when DC was going to move the Supreme court building and make an island and have a subway stop there and all sorts of grand changes, none have happened.

  • Henry S

    Sounds expensive.

  • Eyemakeupneeded

    CHRIS ZIMMERMAN: “Let ‘em eat cake.”
    Who does this nonentity think he is? I will tell you who he is. Picture him as a woman in a beehive hairdo cavorting with the peasants in 18th century France, displaying an affectation for the countryside. You’ve got it. Marie Antoinette.
    Chris Zimmerman is a male Marie Antoinette. He believes that people who live in Arlington are there to finance his boondoggles. They are there to pay for every one of his grotesque fantasies about how to spend their money. He pretends he is a simple man. He longs for the past. He spends our money to carry out his fantasies.
    Picture another image. A laughing man in a white toga, playing a stringed instrument while a city burns in the background. You’ve got it. Nero fiddling while Rome burns. That’s another way you could think about how Chris Zimmerman operates.
    Let’s dump this clown before your property taxes get so high that even if you rent, your landlord will raise your rent astronomically to finance the tax increase. If you have spent your hard-earned money to buy a house or a condo, you will have to sell and move somewhere else where elected government officials don’t rob you of it by enacting absurdly high taxes to finance equally absurd boondoggles.
    Vote for Mark Kelly. Dump Zimmerman. Let’s dump Zimmerman and get rid of the bleeding. Stop sweating any more tax hikes. This is it. We have had enough.
    I am not even a Republican. I just have had enough of this bleeding so Chris Zimmerman can carry out his absurd pet projects.

    • Bob2

      He seems to know what he’s talking about if you ask me. These 60’s buildings were not well constructed and doing nothing will prove even more expensive in the longer run. When the buildings become unsafe and tenants move out the area will start turning into a slum and your propert values will really begin to suffer. Blame urban planners of the past for not designing something more sustainable.

  • Pingback: Welcome to Crystal City Week! Part 1 | Under One Roof()


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