Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, May 6, 2013

‘Densification’ is new a challenge for Downtown DC Business Improvement District, WaPo, May 5, 2013

Whoa!  Now even the Washington Post has recognized that the space per office worker is dropping sharply!  Ergo, it must be true--even in over-monied Washington, DC!  Apparently, office space is slipping from 250 square feet per worker to 150 square feet per worker.

Apparently that trend has oozed across the Potomac, however, because here in Fairfax County the Department of Planning and Zoning and apparently the County Board of Supervisors is trying to make the Reston Task Force buy ion to a huge increase in office space based on 300 square feet per worker--twice what is going on in DC (and, actually, pretty much the rest of the United States, maybe even the developed world). 

Here's what reporter Dan Beyer writes in Sunday's Post:

I dropped by a presentation on the health of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District recently to hear an update on the area’s ongoing resurgence.

The business leaders had plenty to say about their successes, of course, patting themselves on the back for snagging this restaurant and celebrating that anniversary. But they also were not shy about discussing their challenges, displaying a kind of candor I don’t often encounter at this sort of event.

A chief concern, it seems, is something called “densification,” which is a fancy term to mean that companies, law firms, banks and residents are settling for less space than they once occupied. The local lexicon is full of talk about “micro” apartments and office “hoteling,” where workers share desks and common spaces.
There are a lot of explanations for the trend. . .
. . . Where once 5,400 workers might be needed to bring the vacancy rate in 2012 down to 9 percent, assuming each worker accounted for 250 square of space, now 9,000 workers would be required if they wind up only needing 150 square feet a person.
You can see where this is headed. Either the demand for buildings will decline, or business groups such as the BID must redouble their efforts to attract even more people and companies to the city — this at a time when the suburbs are hatching their own plans for rival town centers and transit-oriented development.
Click here for the rest of this article. 

So why do we care?  Because the goal in transit-oriented development (TOD) is to try to establish a balance in the jobs and housing in the area around the transit station.  A good balance between the two minimizes congestion growth while maximizing transit use, and minimizes the impact on the environment, road improvement costs, etc.

Instead, we are headed for a situation in which the risk exists that at least twice as many jobs will be added to Reston's station areas than is intended and the jobs:housing balance will remain nearly as skewed as it is now (14:1!).   Now that's simply bad planning based on bad assumptions, assumptions that are known to be false in the real world.

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