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More and more sidewalks are coming to Tysons, but not all of them are created equal.

Sidewalks have been getting a lot of attention lately, They’re credited with the power to revitalize the economy and save lives, but sidewalks, like all infrastructure, need planning, engineering and investment — and some are implemented better than others.

Modern designers understand the subtleties of how to make a sidewalk safe and comfortable, while exciting new materials offer new technological possibilities and economists are coming to better understand the investment potential of sidewalks.

The best tools in any arsenal are multitaskers, and sidewalks aren’t just for moving. Just like we use streets for both driving and parking, we use sidewalks both for walking to a destination and also for standing still once we arrive.

In dense residential areas, like The Boro or The Mile, sidewalks can provide an outdoor common space, like a shared living room, for those living in small apartments. Sidewalks are also a good investment — they contribute thousands of dollars to property values. Good sidewalk design can even make a street safer for drivers.

Anatomy of a Sidewalk

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has a lot to say about how to engineer sidewalk space. In its design guide, it carves sidewalks up into three parallel zones – and while all three are for people, only one is actually about walking.

The frontage zone meets the facades of buildings and functions as an extension of them. It is usually home to cafe seating, benches, signs, staircases and entry ramps, and in residential areas individuals’ front gardens.

It can provide small nooks where you can stand under an awning and fire off a text message, or a place for eager customers to wait in line at the hip new cupcake shop. The frontage zone, while public, feels most closely associated with the building it touches.

The through zone is where pedestrians actually travel. It’s a clear lane for foot traffic, extending straight across multiple blocks, free of obstructions and wide enough for wheelchair users or groups of walkers to pass one another. It is often distinguished from the other two zones by a slightly different paving material. In order for pedestrians to move quickly, comfortably and efficiently, the through zone must be wide (at least five feet and up to 12) and unobstructed.

The furniture zone, also called the curb zone, is both the access to and the barrier from the street.

Traditionally, it is home to trees, light posts, traffic signs, utility boxes, newspaper stands and bus stops. In the 21st century, it gives us access to our wealth of new mobility options: car rental kiosks, Capital Bikeshare stations, pick-up zones for Uber or Lyft. This is where shared scooters ought to be parked.

Like the frontage zone, it can have benches or picnic tables, but this space feels entirely public, whereas benches in the frontage zone seem to belong to the adjacent building. The objects, furniture, and especially trees in this zone protect pedestrians from car traffic but the bus stops, taxi stands and bikeshare stations let them enter it on their terms. Like the wall of your house with its doors and windows, it protects you from the elements while also forming a point of access.

All sidewalks have these three zones, although they might blur together or be very narrow. Designing a good sidewalk, though, means understanding the role of each. Many sidewalks in Tysons, for lack in investment, don’t have the essential elements that fully flesh out the frontage and furniture zones. These sidewalks, simple concrete paths through grass, are incomplete.

Sidewalk Engineering

Concrete is classic, but new materials offer exciting possibilities for the sidewalks of the future. New kinds of sidewalks could double as automatic storm drains, use recycled materials, or generate electricity — and the D.C. area is on the cutting edge.

Engineers in many cities around the world have started experimenting with using recycled rubber as a paving material for the last two decades. Results have been mixed, with maintenance costs higher than expected in some places, but the rubber has a threefold advantage. DC has been a national leader with this technology, meaning Tysons has a lot of local expertise to reference.

First, by reusing waste rubber, the material is ecologically friendly.

Second, this rubber paving is usually slightly porous — meaning it absorbs some water during a heavy rainfall, helping deal with the thorny problem of stormwater management and preventing puddles from accumulating.

Third, as trees on sidewalks grow, their roots can push up and out, dislodging cement blocks and making the through zone inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. Rubber paving, because of its flexibility, can actually accommodate shifts in root structures without cracking.

Another new type of sidewalk has only made its way out of the laboratory a few years ago. In 2013, the George Washington University campus in next-door Loudoun County unveiled the world’s first walkable solar-powered pavement. This “Solar Walk,” part of the public campus sidewalk, uses solar panels embedded beneath a reinforced material to generate electricity that can not only light the sidewalk up at night but also send some power back to nearby Innovation Hall.

However, these flashy technologies have their critics, and it may be that traditional bricks offer greater value and some of the same benefits as the rubber material.

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Nature is at a premium in Tysons.

The area is surrounded by beautiful natural preserves, for example at Wolf Trap, Raglan Road Park and all along the banks of the Potomac River. Within Tysons itself, though, there is more concrete and asphalt than grass and trees.

Where there is grass, it’s often in the form of a manicured but empty lawn. These lawns represent space that has been ecologically, socially and environmentally wasted, but they could easily be repurposed.

Fairfax County has an ambitious plan for the future of the area’s parks, calling for a network of parks and urban oases connected by a recreational trail. This plan is long-term, looking forward to 2050, hoping to bring 1.5 acres of green space for every 1,000 residents. It won’t be completed easily, although at least one new park has opened recently.

Though nature might be rare in Tysons, that doesn’t mean that green space is.  In fact, Tysons boasts a large number of lawns and fields of varying sizes. The problem is that these spaces are green in color only. They don’t contribute anything to the Tysons community: lawns are neither parks nor plazas nor natural preserve.

Environmental scientists find that lawns of this kind aren’t at all ‘green’ in the ecological sense. Because of the fertilizers and pesticides used to maintain them they produce more chemical runoff than they absorb.  They also consume an enormous amount of water and gasoline for the mowers that keep them trim.

Socially, these lawns don’t satisfy a community’s need for open space.

Though they are literally open, they don’t provide space for recreation, gathering, or even peaceful contemplation of nature. Often, the property owner forbids play or dog-walking on the lawns. They don’t contribute to property values or provide any economically productive resource. Urban economics commentator Andrew Price calls such lawns “dead greenspace, consuming labor, money, and oil to keep manicured.”

Take a closer look at two spaces along the north side of Westpark Drive, near Route 7. These sites are only about two blocks from a Metro station and are directly across from The Boro development expected to bring many new residents and new street-level pedestrian and retail activity.

These lawns are associated with buildings that are 20 and 45 years old, and are likely the result of zoning regulations that called for deep setbacks between the streets and the buildings, but didn’t dictate what the developer should do with the space in those setbacks. As Price writes, “When we force a private owner to use their land in a very unproductive manner, they do a mediocre job of it.”

But, recently, Fairfax County has been embracing more effective regulation.

In 2010, Fairfax adopted a Zoning Ordinance Amendment that enables a more urban and denser form for new construction in Tysons.  This amendment is governing the development taking place across the street from these two lawns, and will hopefully result in a much more economically and ecologically efficient use of space.

The Park System Concept Plan emphasizes the specific advantages to be gained from well-designed green space, rather than simply encouraging open space without regard for its design.  It focuses on “a need for gathering spaces, off-leash dog parks, garden plots, ornamental gardens, water features, tot lots and playgrounds, skate parks, open lawns for picnicking and unstructured play, shade structures, fitness courses and trails, multi-use courts, athletic fields, amphitheaters and space for public art.”

Green lawns are on that list — but only as one item, and only because of their use to the community.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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Idylwood Plaza is home to to a new international gallery.

The pop-up Dara Global Arts offers paintings, furniture, ceramics, and gifts at a wide range of price points, and is a gallery driven by social consciousness with particular attention to women’s empowerment. Many of the artists represented are Iraqi: while most Americans only see Iraq as a battleground on the news, Dara Global Arts provides an opportunity to see firsthand the country’s importance as a source of contemporary art.

On a recent visit by Tysons Reporter to the gallery, the directors, Nawara Omary Elliott and Maysoon Al Gbari, were busy setting up. Over the smell of slow-burning incense, freely mixing Arabic and English, the pair revealed more about the gallery, the artists and the challenges and opportunities of opening a pop-up in Tysons.

Omary Elliott has been running Dara out of her basement for years, hosting exhibitions that often filled the space to its capacity. She is motivated by her belief that “art is a peaceful language that can bring awareness” and her dedication to social justice.  That dedication to justice has driven her to collaborate many times with a variety of charities, including Bringing Resources to Aid Womens Shelters, the Iraqi Childrens’ Foundation, and the Downs Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia.

Al Gbari is a professional artist who, upon arriving to the United States, faced a problem shared by many international artists: a lack of opportunities for gallery representation. Many artists come to this country but, lacking a community and behind a language barrier, struggle to make a living selling their work.

Al Gbari and Omary Elliott both grew up in the secular, intellectual, artistic climate of pre-war Iraq and the pair met in Virginia in 2016. They became fast friends, and Omary Elliott’s work as a gallerist blossomed. After a year and a half searching for a suitable space, they are excited to announce the opening of Dara’s first storefront location.

The idea for a pop-up came from Omary Elliott’s frequent visits to New York City, where the practice is popular among gallery directors. When she first brought the idea back to Tysons, it was hard to find support, and property owners often weren’t even familiar with the concept. Over the past 18 months alone, though, she’s witnessed substantial change.

“As Tysons is growing, I noticed that the pop-up term has become more popular,” she said. Even so, it took patience and a very helpful realtor to find a suitable location. Omary Elliott encourages others to consider a similar approach, but cautions them that they’ll need a lot of patience and flexibility.

The Washington Post has previously suggested that pop-up retail could be catalytic for Tysons’ development.

The gallery showcases work by a half-dozen artists, about half of them Iraqi. Omary Elliott didn’t set out to represent Iraqis specifically; in fact, she is constantly searching for new artists to represent, saying “we don’t close the door to anyone who wants to participate.” Rather, the strong showing of Iraqi artists is testament to Iraq’s millenia-long tradition of visual art and Baghdad’s stature before the 2003 invasion as home to the greatest artistic institutions of the Arab world.

Al Gbari’s own art fills much of the exhibition space. Working in several media and several artistic styles, she seems to give us several artists’ worth of paintings and household objects.

“I love to work,” she said. “To be honest, I find myself, my soul, through my work.”

Al Gbari’s art blends figuration, often of women and cities, with a rich symbolic language and bold expanses of color. Some paintings draw deeply upon Arab legends and Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious traditions, connecting them to modern-day social issues. Others literally pop into the third dimension as the shapes of faces jut from the canvas. Yet more speak through simple figures to universal themes of motherhood, love and loss.

Al Gbari’s “Shahrazad’s Tales” is an elegy to Baghdad that draws on the Arabic classic “One Thousand and One Nights.”

That classic relates the stories of a woman, Shahrazad, who must spin a new tale every night to avoid the wrath of a vengeful king. She is a symbol of self-expression, literary beauty and cunning femininity. In Al Gbari’s painting, Shahrazad lies fallen against a field of symbols rich with meaning, struck against the skyline of medieval Baghdad with its churches and mosques — a scene which, Al Gbari tells me, truly was as colorful as it appears. But here, Shahrazad has fallen silent, mourning a city wounded by 21st-century bombs.

Bahir Al Badry’s work is more abstract and is highly textured with shining colors and tight detail. Though his art can be endlessly analyzed for its symbolic content, often drawing upon visual motifs from ancient Mesopotamia, it is also invigorating to the eye. In Omary Elliott ‘s words, it “brings happiness and hope.”

Oliver De La Via is a young Bolivian-American artist whose most recent series, “Numbed Contours,” deals specifically with sexual assault and sexualization on American college campuses. His works are unrestrained, honest and, at times, startlingly ambiguous.

Baha Omary Kikhia has exhibited her work, which is “based upon her concept of the woman as a powerful and inspiring figure,” internationally. Her abstracted, curved figures are highly emotive. They call upon her personal experiences, like her struggle to raise two children as a single mother in 1970s New York City, and international issues, like ISIS’s destruction of precious cultural heritage in her home country of Syria.

Other artists featured in the gallery include Ahmed Ghareeb, a sculptor and painter with a bright, chaotic, abstract style that tends toward expressionism, and Haydar al-Yasiry.

The gallery carries a variety of decorative arts in addition to paintings. The collection includes lamps, wooden boxes, chairs, and large and small tables, as well as a variety of gift-appropriate objects at all price points. The Dubai-based brand Mishmashi makes an appearance with lively, one-of-a-kind cushions from their Flip collection. Al Gbari, a Muslim, hand-paints Christmas ornaments, echoing the secular Iraq of her childhood.

Dara Global Arts accepts commission orders to custom-decorate furniture or to paint a canvas at a specific size and using a specific color palette to match any room. Committed to social good, they are also eager to work with charities of all kinds, and will happily host private charity events and offer 20 percent of proceeds from art sold directly to the charity.

Dara will also host a series of special events, like a solo exhibition reception on Feb. 5. and a Valentine’s Day event on Feb. 15.

On one recent afternoon at the gallery, an interested couple happened to stroll in to view the art on display. One commented that the works were “extremely colorful and vibrant — and for a good cost,” and added, “I love the message that’s attached to it, too!”

Dara Global Arts will be open at in Idylwood Plaza next to the Starbucks 7501 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, until the end of March and possibly beyond. Hours from 10am-7pm daily. Contact 702-582-0804 or [email protected] with inquiries, or see the online store at daraglobalarts.com.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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Tysons is far from the cultural wasteland it once was, but there are still challenges ahead as the area develops a creative arts scene.

If Tysons truly hopes to become “America’s Next Great City,” it must become a cultural hub as well as a technological and financial one.

Urban planners across the country use arts districts to bring reinvestment to neighborhoods, and cultural amenities can be a powerful draw to the creative class. However, there are still many obstacles in the way of local artists.

Arts in the area are served by public programs like the $500,000-a-year ARTSFAIRFAX grants, but ARTSFAIRFAX is a county-wide program and its budget is relatively modest for such a large jurisdiction.

High property values can be a major obstacle to those who would rent studio or gallery space. The Katibeh Art Center, which featured works by the Iranian artist Ebrahim Emad, recently closed.

Emad told Tysons Reporter that he’d had to close the gallery in part because of difficulty physically advertising its presence, as he was unable to hang promotional signs — and because his location in a mid-rise office building offered very little pedestrian traffic.

While the Katibeh Art Center has closed, here are some other art galleries open around the area:

  • McLean Project for the Arts (1446 Chain Bridge Rd, McLean) — The McLean Project for the Arts hosts exhibitions, classes for all ages, and special events. The upcoming exhibition, Intention/Invention, will run from January 10 until March 2, with an opening reception on January 12 and an artist talk on January 26, featuring abstract works by two contemporary artists. The Project’s classes cover a wide range of media, and include many classes meant for adults with some artistic background as well as both classes and summer camps for children.
  • MK Gallery (1952 Gallows Rd, Tysons) — This gallery, a Tysons establishment for over 15 years, primarily features artists of Korean nationality or heritage. The current exhibition, on show until January 11, is a double, featuring two exciting artists. The first, B. G. Muhn, a professor of art at Georgetown, organized the first-ever exhibition of North Korean art in the United States. The other, Suh Yongsun, is based in Seoul and uses strong color to depict themes of modern social and political life.
  • Dara Global Arts (7501 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church) — Dara is a small pop-up gallery focused on painters from Syria and other Levantine countries. Featuring “a highly curated collection of original art that reflects the empowerment of artists and their freedom of expression,” it particularly features the work of women.
  • LIK Fine Art (Tysons Galleria, 2001 International Drive) — Peter Lik’s latest of seventeen luxury galleries offers large-format landscape photography.
  • Wentworth Gallery (Tysons Galleria,‎ 1807 International Drive) — This gallery brings the work of internationally-recognized artists to Tysons. A wide variety of painters are represented, from neo-impressionists to pop artists. Wentworth rotates their gallery frequently, bringing a new artist every month for a show and a reception so that patrons have a chance to meet the artist. Every month brings something “new and different.”
  • The Hermitage Gallery (6831 Tennyson Drive, McLean) — Offering both fine art framing and an exhibition gallery, the Hermitage represents a variety of local and international artists.
  • YMM Art Space (8216 Old Courthouse Rd C, Vienna) — YMM is not a gallery, but rather a space of creation and education “dedicated to stimulating the imagination and enhancing the creativity of each and every student.” They “offer classes like fashion design, comics design and origami to students as young as 8, so kids have the opportunity to develop their interests in pretty specific areas,” and there are also classes for younger children and for adults.
  • Tysons Art and Learning (8343 Greensboro Dr, Tysons) — This space offers a wide range of art courses for a variety of ages. Their courses extend to digital arts and to writing, and registration and schedules are flexible.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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What 5G Means for Tysons

5G is coming to Tysons — sooner or later — but its local rollout is not without challenges.

The next generation of wireless internet technology, which will arrive in Tysons in the next few years, means more than faster Netflix. It means infrastructure, laying the groundwork for innovation and entrepreneurship. It means bringing technology like self-driving cars a step closer to reality.

It also means regulation: it means Fairfax County negotiating with property owners, telecom providers, and the federal government. Tysons is built on a legacy of leadership in network technology, and the path forward relies on wise implementation of wireless technology. The future of “Internet Alley” hangs in the balance.

Mobile internet has changed a lot since 2G technology came along in 1991. Every additional G (for ‘generation’) follows the same trend: speed increases while range drops. Long-gone are the days of a single cellular tower providing a signal for the entire city. Today’s 4G technology relies on a network of smaller nodes, often located on top of buildings, that each cover a neighborhood. Tomorrow’s 5G nodes, with speeds up to twenty times faster, will probably have a range between 250 and 2000 feet. Fortunately, these will be “small cells”: maybe as large as a thirty-foot tower or as small as a backpack attached to a streetlight that’s already there.

5G’s higher speeds will be critical for Tysons moving forward. With much of the area’s historical success and present industry built on network technology, internet connection is as important here as was coal to the cities of the Industrial Revolution.

The new technology will be particularly important for self-driving cars, often called autonomous vehicles or AVs. Full automation will require that an AV is always connected to the internet, at reliably high speeds, so it can communicate with other AVs on the road. Only then will the full potential of the technology be unleashed. Tysons is heavily reliant on cars for transportation and Fairfax is “trying to become a capital of driverless cars,” so it is clear that AVs and 5G will play a transformative role for ‘America’s Next Great City.’ 5G will also be important for “Internet of Things” technologies like cashier-free retail and augmented reality.

Tysons faces unique and formidable challenges in implementing 5G. These challenges arise from the combination of 5G’s limited range with Tysons’ unusual physical and legal environments.

Where should 5G small cells be located? The first half of the question is physical. In traditional cities like Washington, we can attach them to existing streetlights on every block where they’ll cover traffic on the streets as well as people using mobile devices on the sidewalk or in parks, shops, and cafes. But Tysons doesn’t really have blocks. Here, a cell at the side of the road might not be strong enough to reach all the way through the parking lot to the building behind it. Here, the 495-123 interchange is almost 1,000 feet wide — it alone might need several cells.

Although Tysons is working hard to be more pedestrian-friendly, most people walking in the area are still inside buildings. Because 5G signal can’t easily penetrate walls, that means that our malls, parking garages, and big-box stores might only get reception if the cells are actually indoors with the shoppers.

Solving those technical issues will be difficult enough, but on the legal side of things the problems really get thorny.

Many of Tysons’ streets, along with its enormous buildings and parking garages, are privately-owned. This means it will be difficult for Fairfax County to coordinate a unified system that covers the entire area. The wide variety of private landowners will each bring their own desires to the table, but for the 5G network to be really useful it will have to be unified. To imagine what an inconsistent network might mean, think about an autonomous vehicle that drives itself off the highway ramp only to abruptly switch back to manual control when it enters a private street. To imagine a consistent one, think about placing an HD video call from your seat on the Metro and the connection not missing a beat as you disembark and walk to your favorite shop inside the mall.

To make the situation even stickier, Fairfax will be handling all of these negotiations with one hand tied behind its back. The FCC recently released a set of regulations dictating that local governments will only have 90 days to approve or deny small-cell installation applications, restricting environmental approval processes, and limiting the fees that can be charged to a service provider. 90 days is the blink of an eye for regulators, meaning that Fairfax will have to have a well-made plan ready before the first installation applications appear.

5G is coming quick. It could arrive as soon as next year, though probably not soon enough that you should upgrade your phone yet. However, if we hurry to bring 5G to Tysons, we might ignore the complexity of the issue and get the rollout wrong.

Early-adoption 5G might provide an advantage in the short term that turns into a long-term obstacle when the system is too established to change. We might be better off if we take our time and avoid other communities’ mistakes. Internet connectivity is important here, but it’s more important to get it right than to get it fast.

D. Taylor Reich is a freelance journalist who writes about urbanism and development. They are a Fulbright scholar, a 2017 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Brown University and a proud alum of Arlington Public Schools.

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