Here's a really interesting discussion of transit and density from the Washington Post:
Fairfax County's leaders have a theory. The way to reduce traffic and improve the quality of life in Tysons Corner and the rest of the million-person county, they say, is to cluster thousands of high-rise apartments and offices into areas near public transit.
And in response to those who argue that cramming in more towers and people seems like an unlikely way to reduce congestion, the leaders have a single word: Ballston.
That section of Arlington, along with the rest of the corridor between Rosslyn and Ballston, is a national model for "transit-oriented development" -- and it is now defining the debate over how to redevelop the Washington suburbs.
Over three decades, Arlington has transformed what was once a timeworn commercial strip into a thriving corridor of gleaming towers and busy sidewalks strung like an open necklace along Metro's Orange Line, which reached Ballston in 1979. Most notably, the surge in development along the corridor has produced relatively little additional automobile traffic, which is why Fairfax, Montgomery County and other suburbs are invoking the high-density model as the cure to their traffic woes.
What strikes me about this is that it stands a few assumptions about development on their head. Very often, people group "density" and "downtown" together. That is, people who advocate density are people who like "cities," and people who resist density are people who like "suburbia" or "sprawl."
But in the DC case the density in question is SUBURBAN density. Ballston and Arlington and Tysons are outside the District, but I suspect that they have a lot more density than anything inside the city limits. Which I think indicates that you can support towers and density and transit and all the rest--without necessarily supporting a huge build-up in the CBD. Now, a lot of times building up that CBD would make sense. But perhaps other times it would not.
Is it a horrible crime or a terrible disaster that these towers are going up in Northern Virginia instead of in Capitol Hill? It might be, particularly if the city can't make a go of it financially because of the loss in property taxes.
Still, I think it's interesting to watch how it plays out. In many ways--in terms of nightlife and restaurants and diversity--DC's suburbs are becoming downright metropolitan. Which leads to an even more intriguing question: What's "downtown"? Northern Virginia is not just a bedroom community for lobbyists and congressional staffers. If you look at Tysons and Reston and all the rest, you see a tremendous amount of tech, service and other employment. You have a major university in George Mason. You have major cultural institutions such as Wolf Trap and the Smithsonian's ball-busting new air and space museum out by Dulles.
A lot of lines seem to be getting blurred. It's harder to be "for cities" or "for suburbs" when the two start looking more and more alike.