On a fact-finding tour of this country's most successful planned communities, a group of 15 Korean men descended on Reston last week looking to make their existing community more marketable to residents and businesses.
The 15-man delegation came from Hwaseong City, a town about 60 miles southwest of the South Korea capital, and was in Reston on Thursday to study one of this country's first "New Town" communities.
"You have made a wise decision to choose Reston," said Karen Monaghan, the Reston Association (RA) spokesperson. "Reston is an exciting place and this will be a model for what you are looking to do in your country."
Before arriving in Reston, the group visited other "New Town" communities near Boston and New York City. After a bus tour of the community, the delegation, which included local government officials, business leaders, architects and urban planners, flew to Austin, Texas before concluding their trip in Southern California.
Once known for its agriculture and farmland, Hwaseong City is attracting more businesses, like Kia Motors and Samsung electronics, to the growing coastal town of nearly 190,000 people, famous for its pristine forests. "They are looking to make their city and its infrastructure more livable, more comfortable and more marketable," Monaghan said after the visit. "I think they were blown away and in awe. They were definitely very impressed. In fact, their translator liked Reston so much, he said he wanted to relocate here from Manhattan."
BEFORE THE THURSDAY afternoon bus tour, RA officials treated their Korean visitors to a full morning of talks from some of Reston’s most prominent leaders, including a videotaped welcome message from Reston founder Robert Simon.
In his remarks to the group, Simon encouraged the Korean leaders to follow his model in building a community that reaches out to all segments of the population. "You should carry all kinds of accommodations for all types of income groups and cultures. That is what a community should be," Simon said. "We have 31 languages spoken in Reston today."
Jerry Volloy, RA executive vice president, urged his Korean counterparts to follow Simon’s suit. Volloy said the success of Reston has been built on Simon’s careful preparation and goals. "It all goes back to Mr. Simon. He laid out our community back in the 1960s with the Reston Master Plan," Volloy said. "This plan holds true today and it allows our community to continue to develop the way it was intended."
One of the original Reston salespersons Charles Veatch spoke about the difficulties Reston had in selling a community that barely existed, and had little to no basic infrastructure, back in the 1960s. "There was nothing like this before. It was very controversial," Veatch said. "There hadn’t been anything like this in our county before. Bob Simon made it clear from the beginning that this would be a place for everyone. That was the right thing to do and that is what made Reston such a unique and wonderful place. It really required a great leap of faith to come out here and buy."
Veatch was up front about the problems Reston encountered during its first decade or so, including Gulf Oil’s takeover of Reston after Simon could not pay payments on money borrowed from the oil giant. Starting a community from scratch is not without its pitfalls, Veatch said. "The real problem was an overly optimistic understanding of how fast we would sell and how much money it would cost."
WITH ABOUT 60,000 RESIDENTS, Reston has about a third of the population of Hwaseong City, but both communities have made it a priority to bring in new businesses while trying not to hurt the environment. Sung-Uk Park, an urban planner and member of the delegation, said he was very impressed with Reston’s ability to maintain its natural beauty. "I can’t believe all the trees here," he said, through an interpreter. "The nature is really great."
"Trees are very important to Reston," said Claudia Thompson-Deahl, RA environmental resources manager. In her address to the delegation, Thompson-Deahl highlighted Reston’s commitment to the environment and the community’s 1,300 acres of open space as one of community’s real strengths. Thompson-Deahl also stressed the importance of separating wildlife from recreation in the preservation of open spaces. "Our meadows are never going to be a soccer field," she said.
"Living in Reston is like living in a park," she said. "What makes Reston work for me is that nature is important to our residents."
After listening to Thompson-Deahl’s presentation, Chang Seob Kang, the group’s translator, said the group had a greater appreciation for the work that goes into the stewardship of Reston’s environment. "Now, I understand why Reston is so beautiful, it’s because of you."
Volloy credited Reston’s forefathers for the community’s continued commitment to the environment. "Despite our tremendous business growth, we have been able to maintain our special character and our sylvan environment," Volloy said, during his lesson the history of Reston.
While Thompson-Deahl showed Reston's commitment to nature and the environment, Joseph Ritchey, of PROSPECTive, Inc., trumpeted another community priority, the Reston Town Center District.
"We like to think of the Nature Center as the heartbeat of Reston, while Joe Ritchey thinks the town center is the heartbeat," Thompson-Deahl said. "That's why Reston works, there are so many vibrant areas of this community."
Ritchey explained that the Master Plan had set aside 460 acres of land to serve as the downtown. Anchored by the Reston Town Center, Reston's "urban core" is steadily adding additional office and retail space. More recently, and more importantly for the center's future livelihood, according to Ritchey, construction has picked up on residential units in and around the town center. Ritchey described how the district was conceived and designed, right down to placement of the interior streets and ice skating rink, before anyone or any company ever moved into the space. Placement of the town center district was key, Ritchey said. It was designed to be a five minute walk to the edge of the urban core, to increase pedestrian foot traffic at the core's shops, restaurants and theaters.
"How do you create an instant downtown where previously there was none?" asked Ritchey rhetorically.
Ritchey then detailed the importance of phasing in a project like the town center with mixed use properties.
WHILE PLANNING IS CRUCIAL to Reston’s success, Volloy made sure to credit RA for helping to work to preserve the founder’s vision. "It doesn’t happen by itself, RA plays a major role," the RA executive vice president said.
Volloy outlined RA’s board structure, five-year strategic plan and explained RA’s relationship with Fairfax County and the importance of the roughly $400 annual assessment charged to RA homeowners.
The delegation was listening. Clad in matching dark suits, each of the men wrote down notes as the speakers took the podium. Afterwards, Park and Hyeog Bae Kim, director of the Hwaseong City Industry and Economy Bureau, felt the trip to Northern Virginia was a productive one.
"At home, we are building from the ground up," Park said. "This was very informative."
"We build a new town and we just want to know how to be successful," Kim said.
Longtime resident and community activist Joe Stowers gave the delegation a tutorial on the importance of transportation planning. Stowers outlined several ideas that he said he hoped his Korean counterparts would consider as they move forward. Stowers said leisure opportunities should be available on foot. Stowers went on to say that "ways of getting around must be aesthetically pleasing."
In addition, Stowers challenged the Koreans to find a balance between people who live in their community and people who work there. Not all transportation ideas in Reston were thoroughly addressed, Stowers said. He criticized early plans that did not include sidewalks in Reston neighborhoods. Stowers also criticized Reston’s less-than-friendly relationship with bicyclists. "Pedestrian and bicycle issues must be given priority especially in high density areas," Stowers said. "We didn’t give much thought to bicycle planning. Visit Holland and Denmark if you want to know how to do that right."
Stowers also said that while the Dulles Toll Road was generally a positive development for Reston by increasing access and luring companies to the high-tech corridor, it also has made a difficult divide in the community. "The toll road formed a huge barrier," Stowers said. "It separated us and we need to find a way to knit the community back together across the highway. That is one of our biggest challenges to our future."
In his closing remarks to the delegation, Volloy talked about Reston’s community spirit. "We are very proud of Reston," he said. "We hope that the pride in our community is what you will take with you. That pride and the way Reston has developed was the result of a plan and idea of one individual."