Elements of Urbanism: Alexandria, Virginia

April 3, 2014 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Alexandra, VA is the epitome of a vibrant multimodal friendly urban community. Like many communities in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, its neighborhoods are compact and walkable. However, unlike what many Jaxsons envision urban living to be, the city's buildings are generally low-rise, despite having a population density of nearly 10,000 residents per square mile.

Dating back to the mid-18th century, the historical center of the 15 square mile city is known as Old Town. A National Historic District, Old Town dates back to 1749 and is recognized as the oldest section of Alexandria. Characterized by it's gridded streets and historic rowhouses, the district is nationally known for its restaurants, antique shops and galleries.  It also serves as a good case study of the impact of fixed mass transit on established communities outside of core major city downtown areas.

Alexandria is situated along the banks of the Potomac River, approximately six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C. On December 17, 1983, the Washington Metro's (heavy rail transit) King Street Station opened, directly connecting Alexandria's residents with the Nation's Capitol. In the decades that have passed, the areas immediately adjacent to Alexandria's Metro stations have grown to become high density Transit Oriented Development (TOD) districts.

By coordinating market rate new development with public transit investment, the pressures of new growth have been accommodated without widening several arterial roads, helping preserve the city's mature urban landscape and historic building stock. That mature urban landscape, is now an atmosphere with an unique sense of place that attracts tourist and Northern Virginia suburbanites on a regular basis.

Capital Bikeshare's 2011 expansion into Alexandria is also an example of how multimodal options in outlying communities can increase, when combined with reliable mass transit connectivity and pedestrian scale streetscapes. Washington, D.C.'s bikeshare program launced as a public/private partnership in September 2010 with 400 bicycles at 49 rental stations.

In October 2011, the City of Alexandria approved plans to deploy 60 bicycles at six stations in the Old Town and Carlyle neighborhoods by 2013. With bikeshare stations also located at its transit stations, now it's possible for bikeshare users in either city to also take advantage of the program by utilizing the Metro heavy rail transit system as a connector.

They say a picture speaks a thousands words. All the complexities of trying to figure out what the atmosphere of a multimodal urban core environment could resemble in Jacksonville's core neighborhoods can be visually conveyed through imagery of Alexandria, VA. Don't believe me? Take a look at the photo tour to see if your mind can be changed.

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