Monday, January 04, 2010

Visioning Town Center

This past weekend Mama Wordbones took a road trip down to check out the National Harbor mixed use development in Prince Georges County along the Potomac River. It gave us a pretty good feel for what a high density new urban development feels like.

This is a photo taken of Waterfront Street in National Harbor. It shows a mix of office, residential and retail buildings looking down Waterfront Street from the intersection of Mariner Passage. On the right side is an eight story, 184 room aloft Hotel, a seven story condominium building, and a five story, 60,000 square foot office building. Each building has street level retail space that includes retailers like South Moon Under and restaurants such as Ketchup. On the left side of the street is a three story office building and a five story condominium building. These buildings also have ground level retail and restaurants.

I believe this is a pretty good “real life” representation of what General Growth Properties envisions for Columbia Town Center. We definitely liked what we saw.


Chris Bachmann said...

How boring. And as you say about the lakefront at times, where are the people?

Dan Reed said...

National Harbor is an awful example of what Columbia Town Center could or should be. The buildings are fine and all, but it functions as an isolated resort, not an urban neighborhood. If anything, you should've gone to Downtown Bethesda or Downtown Silver Spring for an example of a vibrant suburban downtown that's actually an integral part of its community.

Dan Reed

Tim said...

Reston Town Center works pretty well too, you should check it out. Reston feels very similar to Columbia, probably because they were both part of the Federal New Deal housing experiment way back when.

Anonymous said...

Having been to NH for a convention, I don't disagree with Dan's beefs, which concern its locale—essentially the dead end of an interstate off ramp—and its lack of vibrancy—which is directly affected by its locale.

However, if I had to guess, WordBones was more thinking of using the "look-n-feel" of NH's "downtown" in Columbia, which—minus the negative aspects of NH's locale—might just work.

Another good example of this "Town Centre 2.0" look-n-feel is downtown Rockville, which has the look-n-feel ala NH, Bethesda, and Silver Spring, minus the negative vibe of the "island of surface parking in a sea of interstates" locale issue that plague NH, Arundel Mills, and Annapolis Towne Centre.

wordbones said...


Allow me to "splain" myself a little better. I agree that Columbia Town Center as proposed is a better overall plan but what I liked was the scale. Anon 8:45 AM correctly guessed my intent with this post. It is hard for some folks to envision what this new proposed density would look like and I felt that this particular street in National Harbor was a pretty good example. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I like your blog.


The people were inside the stores and restaurants. It was below twenty degrees with the wind chill.


Sarah said...

With your splainin, I agree with you, Wordbones.

It's not quite applicable to Town Center, but the Lincoln Land Institute has a great tool for visualizing density-- they have aerial photos of areas with different levels of density to help show people what 4 houses per acre (or whatever) actually is. The link is here: I don't work for them or anything, but I find it a fascinating tool.

PZGURU said...

National Harbor may "work", but that's because it basically had a clean palette to work from as far as building the infrastructure to support it.
Town Center unfortunately has many physical constraints that will make it impossible to provide the proper infrastructure to support a high density concept.
And, as with any "fad" developments, I would bet that in 2-3 years, National Harbor will look more like a ghost town than a "vibrant" urban area.