By RCA President Colin Mills

Time’s running out for Citizen of the Year nominations!  The deadline is Sunday, so if you haven’t
submitted yours yet, download
the form
and get writing!
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Winter has come early this season!  Being a snow
, I welcome this early taste of the white stuff.  Certainly, it’s a welcome change from the
largely barren winters we’ve had the last couple of years.  The snow and ice meant a surprise four-day
weekend for my daughter Leslie.  For my
wife and me, this meant working from home. 
While I was tapping away on my computer and watching the
flakes fall, I thought about the phenomenon of telecommuting.  It’s pretty remarkable that technology has
advanced to the point where we can be practically as productive outside the
office as in it.
One of Bob Simon’s founding principles for Reston was that
“the people be able to live and work in the same community.”  In a way, telecommuting is the ultimate
version of that goal: people living and working in the same house.  And there are people who think that this is
the future: widespread telecommuting will be what saves us from traffic
paralysis and environmental degradation.
Maybe they’re right. 
But the move toward telecommuting is emblematic of a troubling trend in
our society, toward less face-to-face human interaction.  That trend runs the risk of damaging our
sense of community.
We live in an increasingly atomized society; we spend less
and less time in the company of others. 
For a lot of folks, life is a continuous cycle: from home to work to
shopping and back home again.  With the
new self-checkout feature at grocery stores, you can get in and get out without
having to talk to another person at all. 
It’s a lonely way to live.
Civic and fellowship organizations are a lot less popular
than they used to be; so is going out for bridge night.  Many of today’s leisure activities can be
done at home alone (video games, surfing the Internet, etc.).  Lots of people work out at the gym, but
that’s a solitary pursuit too, a time to plug in the headphones and unwind from
(or get ready for) the day. 
The office is one of the few places where we really spend
time with people outside of our families anymore.  If we’re no longer going into the office
every day, what happens then? We are social creatures; instant messaging and
video conferencing aren’t a real substitute for face-to-face contact as our
primary source of human interaction. 
Moreover, that’s not how you build and sustain a
community.  A community isn’t a group of
individuals holed up in their hives; it only happens when people come
together.  Interaction and relationships
are how communities are built.  In a
world where people tend to be more isolated than ever, we need to explore other
ways to bring people together.
Fortunately, in this way as in many others, Bob Simon was
ahead of his time.  By developing village
centers that were built around plazas, he created spaces that fostered human
interaction.  Plazas force us out of our
cars, and they increase the likelihood of chance encounters between neighbors,
friends, and strangers.  They are a
breeding ground for community.
Plazas also serve as a staging ground for festivals, which
are a great opportunity for bringing people together.  Lake Anne Plaza is Reston’s best example of
this.  It was the original home of the
Reston Festival, and today it’s the home to celebrations from Founder’s Day to
the Multicultural Festival to the Jazz Festival.  Not to mention events like the Farmer’s
Market, where I run into at least a few people I know every time I go.  If you want to bring a community together,
you need to have spots for them to gather.
I remember the plazas well from my youth.  We lived closest to Tall
, so I spent plenty of time walking through their on my way to get
baseball cards or sodas from Giant.  But
I remember being especially taken with the plaza at Hunters Woods; the
multi-colored flags hanging from the pergola-style roof always made me feel
like I was in a foreign country, somewhere European, perhaps.
Unfortunately, many of our village centers have abandoned
this original concept; today, all of them besides Lake Anne are strip malls
rather than village centers.  That may
make them more efficient places to shop, but it’s not good for encouraging
people to interact.  The heart of the
“village center” concept is that it’s not just a place to shop, but a place for
people to commune.
I’m hoping we can bring the plazas back as Reston
redevelops.  And I’m not the only
one.  During the Master Plan Task Force,
Bob was a big proponent of making central plazas a part of any Village Center
redevelopment.  RCA strongly supports
Bob’s suggestion.  Community is created when
people come together.  Bob was right 50
years ago, and he’s still right today: plazas help make that happen.
And as I’ve suggested in the past, perhaps we should start
with Tall Oaks.  If ever a village center
needed a shot in the arm, a reason to get people to come, it’s that one.  If we re-envisioned Tall Oaks around a
community amenity like a plaza, or an amphitheater, or a public park, we’d be creating
something truly distinctive.  Tall Oaks
would have a genuine draw for the first time in years, a reason for people to
seek it out.  Maybe we could even hold a
revived Reston Festival at the revived Tall Oaks.  The possibilities are endless.

Many things about modern life are individualized and
isolating.  There’s not much that we can
do about that, but we can help mitigate it by creating common spaces for people
to gather and interact with each other. 
These spaces were a hallmark of Reston in its beginning; with thoughtful
planning and redevelopment, we can get back there again.  I hope to see you all someday at the plaza in
one of our revitalized village centers.  Communicating
online is nice, but it’s even better if we can talk face-to-face.