Sunday, January 25, 2009

Places Have Beginnings & Endings

One of the truly dislocating aspects of sprawl is that it's impossible to tell where a town begins or ends. Once upon a time I could recognize each Town as a Place because the houses were clustered together, there was a main street or a town square at its center, and the edges showed a distinct demarcation between the town and the countryside around it. Now there are often no edges, only a leakage of development across former cornfields, filling up the spaces between each place, blurring everything together into a hazy Nowhere.

Many of the towns of Western Loudoun -- Bluemont, Hillsboro, Middleburg for instance -- are still places with distinct beginnings and ends. As you drive toward them, you can actually see where the rolling fields stop and the sidewalks and streetlights begin. But Eastern Loudoun has no such visual clues. Though I've lived in Loudoun for nearly ten years, I can not tell you exactly where Chantilly or Ashburn are. They're mixed and melded in with Reston and Herndon and numerous other suburbs stretching into DC and Maryland. The islands of megaplexes that tie them together seem to have more "placeness" than these areas with no edges and no center.

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