Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Downward Spiral of Office Locations

Good Afternoon.  I'm writing to you from a non-descript building in McLean, VA. Not because I'm doing secret work but more because all of the buildings here look the same.  This place is terrible.  But let's start from the beginning.

18th and K NW
When I first arrived in our nation's capital, my office was located at 18th and K St.  Right in the heart of DC.  If K St. sounds familiar its because it's known as the home of lobbying in DC.  There was an NGO in our building which took most of the building and they once had a Sherpa conference.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Though I wondered if the attendees had to bring the podium, speakers, chairs and water glasses with them.  I was able to walk to my office in about 15 mins.  Not since my one year in the North End, did I get to walk to work.  It was awesome.  And because it was awesome, it only lasted about 10 months.  The office, which used to be Henry Kissinger's after he left government, apparently cost $20,000 a month.  And our new corporate overlords were not really excited about paying that.  So, then we went to.....

Crystal City
As an area, this place isn't terrible.  I now was driving, but it was a reverse commute and it was right across the river from DC, and there was parking.  So overall I didn't really complain.  I had a great view too, of the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the approach path of DCA as well as the railroad and I-395.  It was a kickass view.  But overall, Crystal City is a terrible place.  It was designed in all its concrete glory by an evil mastermind named Charles E Smith.  You can read his obit here.  The buildings are all interconnected, which is great if you live in Duluth or Minot, ND.  But in DC, there's no reason to have to walk from your office to your car or to Potbelly.

I really do think that the place, built in the late 60's, was an answer to some sort of nuclear winter.  There's restaurants, a supermarket, a theater company, doctors, dentists, shrinks, and most importantly a Dunkin Donuts.  If you want to feel like a commuter in a rat race, work there.  Later I got moved to an office with a terrible view.  In my company, as in others I'd guess, more senior people get window offices.  I would trade all of these windows for the cube I had at 18th and K.  Finally, due to a transfer I landed in McLean.

This is a really rich (per capital income around $83,000) and white (80%) area.  The CIA is located in the Langley area of McLean.  And of course, there's Tysons Corner, which is actually two malls that are huge.  One for normal folks and one for diplomat's wives who are trying to get rid of blood diamond money and the like.  Thank God we have stores for that.  Anyway, McLean is part of Northern Virginia that has seen a population explosion as people have been pushed further out to find homes.  There's no mass transit here, but in VA that's almost a given.  The Silver Line which is supposed to connect to Dulles is being built, snarling traffic in every direction.

But this place is an Edge City, a term coined by Urbanist Joel Garreau in 1991.  I read his book in college, and it was pretty interesting.  Basically an Edge City is a conglomeration of uninteresting glass or steel office buildings that spring up outside major cities that usually combine mixed-use commercial and some residential.   Garreau has five requirements to be an Edge City:

  • It must have more than five million square feet (465,000 m²) of office space. Such an area can accommodate between 20,000 and 50,000 office workers - as many as some traditional downtowns.
  • It must have more than 600,000 square feet (56,000 m²) of retail space, the size of a medium shopping mall. This ensures that the edge city is a center of recreation and commerce as well as of office work.
  • It must be characterized by more jobs than bedrooms.
  • It must be perceived by the population as one place.
  • It must have had no urban characteristics 30 years earlier.

I don't know about you, but that sounds terrible.  And it is.  To even call this a city is insulting as no one walks anywhere and there's no diversity or mass transit or real identity.  I had to go to the mall to get fitted for a suit for my brother's upcoming wedding and ran into these people from some office who had driven there to have their exciting lunch at P.F. Changs.  I wanted to smother them with my jacket, to ease their pain.  Blech.  

Hoping to return to living and working in a city, soon.  


alohab said...

you do know that you've just been lucky to live in the cities you have. i've never lived in a city where you could walk anywhere, nor did they have any sort of (reliable) mass transit system (though they are trying really hard to build one in hawaii. it should take another 20+ years to come to fruition).

Hero to the Masses said...

Right you are AB. I am lucky to have lived in the places I have. Boston and NYC are totally walkable also. Hawaii is harder because it's spread out and the military is a large presence and they mostly have cars.

Your kids might know an island with mass transit.

Anonymous said...

I think you should bless your lucky stars that you live in DC. Living in the redheaded stepchild of a city to Chicago is VERY sad. Good thing people here can choke their sorrows away on fat, Beer and MASS CHEESE CURDS! Missing the East Coast and a REAL city.

Hero to the Masses said...

Well said Ross. I am waaay better off living. here and working in hell than other way around.

I miss cheese curds though