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Shaping Suburbia

Museum, NOVA Offer Look at Alternatives to Sprawl

One viewing of the National Building Museum's smart growth exhibit was not enough for Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg).

Herring saw the 24-panel "Reimagining the Suburbs" exhibit last year at the urging of a fellow committee member on the Metropolitan Development Policy Committee of the Council of Governments. The exhibit analyzes suburban planning and design from a smart growth perspective, focusing on the historical development of 10 American communities, and is included in a four-part series on alternatives to sprawl

displayed at the National Building Museum from 1999 to 2001. The smart growth tools used to create the development projects are described in the exhibit.

The exhibit was something Herring wanted other Loudoun residents to see, so he turned to the Loudoun Museum and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) for help. The college agreed to house the exhibit at the Waddell Building Gallery, while the museum organized its presentation and four panel discussions focused on topics related to smart growth.

"I thought it was important for it not to become a political issue," Herring said, adding that the exhibit is meant as an educational tool. "The county can learn important lessons from what other localities have experienced over time with suburban development."

THE EXHIBIT "Reimagining the Suburbs: Smart Growth and Choices for Change" opens at NOVA March 6 and will be on display through the month.

The exhibit, developed by curator Mary Konsoulis for the Washington, D.C. museum, demonstrates how different communities from the 1960s to the present tried to cope with rapid growth while maintaining quality of life and includes growth and land use statistics. The communities are from Virginia, Maryland, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Missouri and Ohio.

"The message that comes out of the exhibit is that a balance can be struck between growth and environmental quality, but it takes a lot of work and money to make that happen," said Douglas Foard, executive director of the Loudoun Museum.

The museum is presenting a four-part series of panel discussions to explore the issues described in the exhibit. The panel discussions include:

* An overview of the Reimagining the Suburbs exhibit, March 6, presented by Konsoulis; Robert Simon, developer of Reston; and Richard Collins, director of the Institute of Environmental Negotiation and professor of architecture at the University of Virginia.

“It talks about tools that can be used to deal with suburban growth, and certainly it is part of a larger picture,” Konsoulis said. “You can’t deal with sprawl block by block, but it represents a big picture thing.”

* A look at Loudoun's tools and resources for managing growth, presented as "Loudoun's Existing Resources for Shaping the Future" on March 14. The panel will include Herring; Kathryn Miller, chair of the Loudoun County Planning Commission; Dorn McGrath, director of the Institute for Urban Environmental Research at George Washington University; and David Edwards, director of the Winchester office of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

"You can't plan for growth if you don't know what you have in your inventory," Miller said. "In the past, we didn't plan. Everything was reactive. Now, we plan for growth ... with the idea of creating cohesive communities that have a sense of place."

Jane Kirchner, Loudoun planning commissioner, said the exhibit gives a view of communities as a whole. "It provides the planning commission the opportunity to step outside of Loudoun, refresh the discussion and get away from the minutia and back to the big picture," she said.

* A look into what tools will be available to the county in the future, presented as "New Visions: Forthcoming Resources for Shaping Loudoun's Future" on March 22. The panel will include Julie Pastor, director of planning for the Loudoun County Planning Department; John Herbert, Loudoun planning commissioner; and Anthony Downs, author of "New Visions for Metropolitan America."

* A look at "Whither Loudoun?" on balancing growth with quality of life, scheduled March 27. The panel will include Loudoun Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run); developer Robert Buchanan of Buchanan Partners; and Joel Garreau, author of "Edge City: Life on the New Frontier."

FOARD SAID, "Ultimately, it is the Board of Supervisors that has to deal with this."

The museum aims to inform residents on public policy in the county and on issues that require public officials and residents to make choices about their future, Foard said.

"We wanted to do this because we want the museum to be an asset to the community, not just in preserving history but in understanding the Loudoun experience past and present," Foard said. " A good museum is more than a place to keep old stuff. It should be a vital educational institution."

"I'm hoping we'll get little pearls of wisdom about reasonable things to do in our zoning ordinance, aspects we haven't thought about," Harris said. "This is a great opportunity for Loudoun to take advantage of noted scholars and professionals in the building industry to get their opinions on the latest trends and their versions of what might be called smart growth."

Herring said the information is important at a time when Loudoun's debate on sprawl is in the forefront, since sprawl can occur when smart growth policies are not implemented. "So much of the debate that carries on at the press level seems to carry with it so much political baggage that some of the objective analysis about sprawl seems to get overlooked," he said.

The panel program will be funded in part by a $2,500 museum grant from the Charlottesville-based Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy.