One rainy afternoon in August, Michael Caplin stopped his car in an empty, beat-up asphalt lot and swept his hand across the scene. “Here we are,” he said. “This is Town Square!” In actuality, it was a dormant 10‑acre construction site in the shadow of Tysons Corner Station, an elevated stop on the new Silver Line, a long-awaited expansion that draws the Washington, D.C., Metro system deep into the suburbs of Fairfax County, Virginia. But Michael Caplin doesn’t see actualities in Tysons, only eventualities. So he got the site developer, Lerner Enterprises, to let him host a series of festivals here. And he arranged for nearby building owners to light their roofs so as to create some semblance of a skyline. And he wrapped the droopy fence surrounding the site in a banner that read Town Square, just so no one could mistake it for an empty, beat-up asphalt lot. Now, if he could only get someone to put up the money to repave it.
“I’m saying, ‘Listen, this is key to the vitalization of this region, and it has to look good!,’ ” Caplin said. “So when people come, they come back.”
Getting people to come back is precisely the challenge facing Tysons. This part of Northern Virginia was a rural afterthought until 1968, when Ted Lerner opened a mega-mall called Tysons Corner Center. Named for a crossroads, Tysons Corner quickly matured into one of America’s largest employment hubs (today it hosts Freddie Mac, Capital One, Gannett and USA Today, and Northrop Grumman, among many others). It also came to epitomize the sprawling, car-dependent suburban business parks that popped up around so many U.S. metro areas in the late 20th century, and that were profiled in Joel Garreau’s 1991 book, Edge City.