The Names That Developers and Marketers Give to New Places

Canyon Lakes was built on a dry hill, Paradise Park is without a park, and Three Rivers Crossing sits miles from the nearest river

Over the weekend, I went to a birthday party for a smart and fun 13-year-old in my extended family, with three other kids and three other grownups. It was at a fun restaurant and the company was swell. I had an excellent time, and it took my mind away from the terror of my impending return to work after a longish vacation.

The only fly in the ointment, so to speak, was the nearly 60-mile drive round trip from our house in the city out to the far suburbs, where the restaurant was, and back. I wasn't about to complain, though, because for one thing it isn't a very nice thing to do; and, for another, absolutely nothing about a long drive in the suburbs to a kids' event would have seemed remarkable in the least to my adult companions, who are deeply committed suburbanites. For them, it's just part of ordinary daily life, like waking up and having breakfast. Walking or taking transit to an event, now that would have been remarkable.

Dulles Town Center (by: panoramio user:gorostiza via Google Earth)

The restaurant was at a place called Dulles Town Center. To get there we went out to the Dulles Toll Road and Virginia Route 28, took an exit, approached a road named City Center Boulevard, and pulled into a parking space near the restaurant.

The names Dulles Town Center and City Center Boulevard struck me as wildly ironic, if sadly familiar: where we were, there is no town; there is no center; there is no real boulevard; and there is certainly no city. What there is, is hundreds of acres of low-rise sprawl, giant parking lots, arterial roads with scary 70mph traffic, and 1.4 million square feet of shopping space in an enclosed mall. It is the mall, of course, that is named Dulles Town Center.

Dulles Town Center & City Center Blvd (via Google Earth)

I'm not kidding when I say there is no town. There is a county (Loudoun, for some time one of America's fastest-growing), and then a bureaucratic artifice called a "census-designated place" that in this case apparently takes its name from the shopping mall. Sprawl may be dying at last, at least in its most egregious forms, but this excursion was a wake-up reminder that it ain't dead yet.

I'm not saying, by the way, that the ironically named "Town Center" is a terrible place, once you're there. I get a little freaked out when enclosed in huge shopping spaces, but I still would probably use it if I lived out there. It certainly has stores that I patronize in other locations.

Dulles Town Center & City Center Blvd (via Google Earth)

But the whole thing got me thinking about the names that developers and marketers give to new places, frequently to evoke exactly what those places are not -- or, worse, what they are no longer. We all know subdivisions with names like King Farm that replaced the actual King Farm, for example, or The Meadows where pavement has replaced the actual meadows.

I floated the idea for this blog post with friends, and Brenda volunteered that there is a big newish development near where she bicycles in Maryland called "Dunfarmin." No doubt. Jan reported that the joke near where she lives in North Carolina is that a subdivision called "Fox Run" is a reference to the one fox left who is running as fast as he can to get out of there.

see a canyon nearby? (via SellingCentralPalmBeach.com)

I did a little Internet research on the subject of naming new places and found plenty. This site, for example, reports a Saddle Ridge with no horses, a Paradise Park with no park, a Three Rivers Crossing miles from the nearest river, and a Canyon Lakes built on a dry hill. This one riffs on street names, reporting a Crabapple Lane linking two grim industrial parks, and a plot of McMansions where the streets are named Great Muskrat, Wooded Bog, Wild Turkey, and Nesting Duck. When I was researching NRDC's 1999 book Once There Were Greenfields, I came across a large if mundane development in Colorado where Spotted Owl Avenue intersects Wildcat Reserve Parkway (which, surprise, is not even a true parkway but just a wide road that links subdivisions to each other).

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Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.

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