It was the concern of one member of the Falls Church City Council last Monday night that the proposed Mason Row mixed-use project on 4.3 acres by the W. Broad and N. West Street intersection, with its proposed 340 residential units, could expose the City of Falls Church to, simply put, too many people. This, he noted, would especially be the case given the hundreds of new units that will come onto the market when the Rushmark (Harris Teeter) and Lincoln and Tinner Hill projects are completed now sooner rather than later.
But you see, from the standpoint of the kind of Little City most residents here are hoping for, it will take some more bodies to make it work. Density is a key to jump starting a vibrant commercial corridor, and the reason that even the six new mixed-use projects of the last decade haven’t “popped” the way we were promised is that there are simply not enough people around to populate them and spend their money at them.
Falls Church is in no way running the risk of overpopulation. Just for purposes of perspective, in San Francisco, not by a long shot the densest city in America, has 18,187 persons per square mile. So, by that standard, Falls Church’s 2.2 square miles could accommodate over 40,000 people. We are now at about 13,300. (It’s not even in the same ballpark to note that Manhattan manages 69,771 per square mile).
Mason Row is the first among the many projects that have come to the City which has built into it by necessity the means to achieve “critical mass” as a destination for entertainment and dining. Its hotel and residential components will be vital for filling seats in the movie theaters and restaurants, adding an edge component to be complemented by others from around the City and the region.
Without the bodies, the businesses will languish. On the other hand, once that elusive “critical mass” is achieved, the businesses become self-advancing. The best model in the region is the Mosaic in Merrifield. It is new, but it is now crawling with that one thing that retailers and developers, alike, get most excited about: lots of people.
Mason Row promises to be Falls Church’s Mosaic, if on a smaller scale by itself, when combined with the rest of what’s happening on W. Broad Street, now and into a future that will include the development of the Upper West End, will make for a main corridor that will be the envy of the region.
It will be the way Falls Church’s public wants it, too. Unlike the ugly specter of bullying condemnation (see article Page One this edition), the real advantage to everyone in Falls Church is that extensive public input will help ensure that all the vital components of “smart growth,” including walkability and livability, will define us. The more the merrier to make that happen.