Crystal City, Virginia, located across the Potomac River from Washington DC, provides an interesting example of how key investments can shape “activity centers” into more dynamic and successful communities.
This is republished from our partners over at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Region Forward.
Major redevelopment in the 1960s transformed Crystal City’s industrial landscape into a major commercial center that was marked by large office buildings, superblocks, and pedestrian tunnels. Crystal City’s central location and connections to Downtown DC, the Pentagon, and National Airport made it an ideal location for its federal and defense contractor tenants.
More recently, challenges such as the relocation of 13,000 jobs out of Crystal City as recommended by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the departure of large employers, and aging buildings have prompted Arlington County government and business leaders to reposition Crystal City.
To this end, the Crystal City Sector Plan, adopted in 2010, provides a framework to guide future development, addressing the area’s transportation, land use, density, urban design, and public space and parks.
Almost a decade ago, Crystal City stakeholders began a systematic process to reinvent the area. Those seemingly simple yet deliberate steps forward began a movement that no one could have expected – and, to this day, the results continue to reap major benefits.
With the formal approval of the Crystal City Sector plan two years ago this month, the Arlington County government and area developers have committed to continue this reinvention. Today, the progress is palpable as the county begins public infrastructure investments on the two-way conversion of Crystal Drive and new transit services, and as private development has already begun at 1900 Crystal Drive, 1400 Crystal Drive, and Boeing’s new regional headquarters.
As Crystal City’s overarching physical transformation is underway, with a spotlight on making it an active community. The Crystal City BID hosts numerous bike races, from the Air Force Cycling Classic to the Diamond Derby (the region’s only indoor garage bike race). Crystal City also has free outdoor yoga and Zumba classes throughout the summer, hosts 5k races every Friday in April, and outdoor recreational volleyball and street-hockey leagues.
The Crystal City BID has also focused on the arts, helping transform stark walls into canvas through its Art Wall program. Works from local artists are reproduced and hung on numerous buildings. The area is filled with fun wine events in September, outdoor movies in the summer, and fashion shows in February.
Crystal City is one of the most accessible areas in the region. With the Metro subway, the Virginia Rail Express commuter train, easy access to highways, connections to two regional bikeways and an airport that one can walk to, few areas can claim anything close to the location and access that has been the foundation of Crystal City’s long-term success. The Crystal City BID works to enhance these assets with creative extensions, such as Capital Bikeshare, redesigned gateways, better connectivity, and free nightly retail parking. They have also expanded information access with free Wi-Fi in all of its open spaces.
Finally, Crystal City makes green a fundamental part of its fabric. All of the Crystal City BID’s events are low-to-no waste and 50 recycling cans line the streets to keep materials out of landfills. Every April, the yearly Power Purge & Shred safely and securely keeps tons of electronics and documents out of the trash stream. Starting in May and running through November, the weekly FRESHFARM Farmers Market gives area residents and workers access to local and fresh produce and other products, and includes free composting services. Pole banners are recycled into bags, landscaping features are redistributed in floral frenzy programs, and eco-friendly forms of transportation are actively supported.
Crystal City is in a state of dynamic transformation, which can be seen in the new art walls that have turned the area into a living gallery of color, heard in the sounds of jazz emanating from events in the area, and felt in the energy and spirit of racers, runners, walkers, and spectators at area cycling and running events. Parking lots have been turned into festivals and athletic fields, a food court into a fashion night club, and a courtyard into an outdoor movie theater for more than five years running. Old buildings are coming down, and bright new ones are going up. Crystal City is in flux, and the future looks brighter than ever.