Nothing is Perfect, But Something is Just Right: Redevelopment of Inner-Ring Suburbs - Integrating Ecological Systems into Modern Urban Villages

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Virginia Tech


The inner-ring suburbs of major metropolitan areas such as Washington, DC are either being redeveloped already or are poised to be redeveloped over the next several decades. The engineered 'gray' infrastructure networks in these areas, largely put in place between 100 and 75 years ago, are aging and reaching the end of their useful life. New developments are being funded by real estate investment trusts and developers and are being welcomed by municipalities and a public that are often genuinely inspired to create the more livable places of the future. Such redevelopments provide a unique opportunity not to just import new 'green' features, but to reimagine the fundamental connections between ecological, human, and non-human systems within the fabric of the larger community in a way that profoundly improves the cognitive experience of a place for the people and wildlife that reside there.

The project begins by recognizing this opportunity and posing a question. Through thoughtful design, how can we bring people back into balance with their environment and back into touch with each other? By working with the cultural and built fabric of a place, the project proposes to reintroduce ecological systems and create places that might not be a perfect clean slate but are somehow just right for the people that live there. The project proceeds first by developing an understanding of the overall ecological context for each of four primary development corridors in Virginia, west of Washington, D.C. across the Potomac River. Then, key intersections between stream systems and the development corridors are identified and assessed to determine (a) whether any existing landscape framework surrounding the stream feature is in place and (b) whether the amenities necessary to support a walkable Urban Village center are present within a half mile in each direction along the route.

The project proposes a design for revealing a continuous flow stream channel currently piped underground and creating integrated stormwater detention basins along the historic stream channel path at the headwaters of Spout Run in northern Arlington County Virginia. Stormwater mains downstream from the headwaters have already been deemed below capacity for the unprecedentedly intense storms that have become an annual occurrence. Here, the major transportation and development corridor, Route 29 (Lee Highway), just across the Potomac River west of Washington D.C, crosses Glebe Road and a unique geological formation, dubbed for this thesis as the 'Headwaters Plateau'. It is an intersection between historically significant transportation routes as well as a unique intersection between landscape and the built environment. Around the Headwaters Plateau, not just Spout Run but the waters of four other streams begin their path to the Potomac River, flowing through numerous Arlington County neighborhoods along the way. As redevelopment plans take shape for the Lee Highway corridor through northern Arlington County, this thesis proposes the unique intersection between the Headwaters Plateau at Spout Run Gap along Route 29 as the site for the core of a modern Urban Village, with the Plateau and the Spout Run Headwaters Channel as the landscape framework around which the redeveloping Village should be built.



Landscape Architecture, Green Infrastructure, Urban Villages, Urban Ecology