Danger: soul-sucking housing complex!

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s pretty well established that your environment affects your behavior. Only crazy people who can afford better like Cory Booker will live in bad neighborhoods. Booker (D-NJ) was crazy like a fox. He leveraged his willingness to live in crime-infested public housing to become mayor of Newark, New Jersey and now U.S. senator. He now lives in much better digs, which is good because the complex he lived in has been torn down.

If you have to live in a bad neighborhood, well, it’s probably better than being on the street. Still, if you have the money, why would anyone choose to live in a neighborhood like this?

Coppermine Crossing near Herndon, Virginia (photo courtesy of Google)
Coppermine Crossing near Herndon, Virginia (photo courtesy of Google)

This is a community called Coppermine Crossing, a relatively new condominium complex south of Herndon, Virginia and just a few miles from my house. This link should take you into a Google Maps street view where you can explore the neighborhood. I was ignorant of the neighborhood because until recently I had no reason to go down this part of Coppermine Road. That was until my wife suffered another seizure some weeks ago, the result of which means I take her to and from work now. She works not too far from Coppermine Crossing and this back door route saved a little time.

As you can see plenty of people live in Coppermine Crossing. I’m no urban architect, but I’m guessing this is what current builders think of as the new urban chic kind of housing. For those who live there and like it, if there are any of you, more power to you. It looks new and clean and safe. Driving through it most days though it makes my eyes bleed. If this is 21st century living, I’m glad I’m a foot closer to the grave.

It looks and feels soulless. Nature is almost completely absent, worse because it is this way by design. Households are stacked on top of households. You have intimate views of your neighbors’ cars, and long stairs you must hoof to the entrance to your condominium on an elevated second floor. That’s because the first floor garage is sized for one car only. The second car must sit behind it on your tiny driveway, or must be parked on a street far away from the community, because it’s pretty much all fire lanes and that’s because the houses are so close together. The website conveniently includes a link to their towing company. Apparently they take no prisoners.

But since you are in an urban area, what does it matter? Except, of course, you are not. You are in suburbia. Yes, you can walk to shopping but it’s a bit of a walk. And the retail there is, well, not quite so prime. There is a grocery store, but it’s sure not Whole Foods or Harris Teeter. Try a Shoppers Food Warehouse. There is some ethnic dining, but also greasy pizza places, a Subway and a McDonalds. It’s just a strip mall. If you want to go to a movie theater, you won’t find one there. You have to walk substantially further into Herndon itself to the Worldgate Theaters. So you’ll probably drive.

The good news is that it’s hard to get closer housing to Washington Dulles Airport. And one of these days the new Silver Line will extend out to a station on nearby Centreville Road. If you don’t mind walking about a mile, or maybe catching a Fairfax Connector bus that runs infrequently near the neighborhood, you will be able to take the Metro into DC, Alexandria, Tyson’s Corner or points further. But this is twenty miles from Washington D.C. It’s not urban by any stretch of the imagination, except for in this condominium complex, where units are stuffed as tightly as possible into these limited parcels of land.

They are there because the developers ran the math and this type of ugly neighborhood was how they could squeeze the most profit out of the land. Stack units them on top of each other, put adjacent buildings within three feet of each other, give the appearance of modern amenities (like a one car garage) without providing any of the amenities that count, like parks or playgrounds or much in the way of places to even walk the dog. In this neighborhood, you better have a cat.

If you have school age kids, the good news is they can walk to elementary school. The relatively new Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School is a short walk. The school has a tiny playground that will have to suffice for your kids on the weekend. Want to climb a tree? Well, there are a few planted along the curbs, but there is so little open space between road and house that they won’t be able to grow very tall or broad, and doubtless the condo association will keep the branches trimmed so that climbing them will be impossible even when they reach maturity. Most likely, it’s against the condo rules.

But, but most units have a balcony … that looks out over asphalt and concrete and gives you intimate peeks into your neighbor’s bedrooms, assuming they are indiscreet enough to leave the blinds up. And going up and down the stairs to your front door looks like the workout you won’t get otherwise because there is nothing to do in this “neighborhood”, so you’ll be spending your time indoors and cloistered. Perhaps you will get a rear window with a view of traffic passing on Coppermine Road, not something that will attract a subsequent buyer. And don’t worry about not blending in. Each house is virtually identical to the next, with only subtle variations in the carefully approved shades of siding to differentiate them.

This type of housing must appeal to some people as there do not appear to be any vacancies. Drive through it though and it’s like no one is there. You rarely see anyone, just cars in the driveway. No kids playing because, well, where the hell would they play? You rarely hear anything except the sounds of cars on nearby thoroughfares. Pretty much the only thing you can see outside your window is more of the same featureless housing, so uncomfortably close and intimate.

So, not to worry. I don’t plan to retire here or to any “community” that is anything like this. I assume these condos are at least close to most people’s offices. There are so many software and telecommunications companies along the Dulles Technology corridor. At least your commute to the office, assuming you work nearby, is minimal. Perhaps you could walk there.

Other than that I can see no reason why anyone would want to live in one of these monstrosities. The development was probably rubber stamped by Fairfax County officials. But there should be some arbiter of taste that is empowered to say, “Your houses are just not something that people should ever live in. It will suck out their soul and their spirit.” Doubtless the community was profitable to the home builders. Doubtless too is that it is not a place that can possibly feel like a real home. It’s a place to live, hopefully for as short a time as possible, before you can get the hell out.

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