With all the communities around the country trying to build more housing, especially in commercial corridors, it’s useful to see where this has already been done. There are very few examples of success and many of failure. One of each stands out.
The biggest success is the 2.5-mile-long Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor across the Potomac from D.C. Anchored by five stations on the Metro Orange Line, the corridor has added about 25 million s.f. of office space, about 3.5 million s.f. of retail, and about 37,000 dwelling units. An additional 6000 units are approved or under construction.
The biggest failure is the attempted redevelopment of the El Camino Real/ Highway 82 on the San Francisco Peninsula, which stretches about 35 miles through wall-to-wall suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose. Almost 20 public agencies met between 2006 and 2021 (15 years of meetings!), but this arterial remains a hodgepodge of squat commercial that is much the same as it was 50 years ago. The El Camino Real is about 15 times longer than Rosslyn-Ballston, but has only about 1/20th the redevelopment.
There are three major reasons why one succeeded and the other failed. The first is transportation. Rosslyn-Ballston has five transit stations that became the “bullseye” for upzoning, while the El Camino is a state highway. The second is autonomy: Rosslyn-Ballston lies in one city, Arlington, while the El Camino Real runs through many. The third factor is community support: Arlington focused density around the station “bullseyes” and protected nearby neighborhoods, while along the El Camino nearby neighbors stopped development.
The key lessons here? 1) Focus your efforts in smaller areas with walking and transit; 2) create accountability for results on the ground.