I was in McLean, Virginia recently, specifically Tyson’s Corner, for a conference, and while I was stopped at a light at the head of a lane of traffic I looked out onto this:


I’ve probably absorbed a lot from Strong Towns at this point, and particularly their Strong Towns Strength Test, so I’d bet I see a scene like this differently now that I’m familiar with their way of thinking about American communities as either sustainable or unsustainable. A little stream of consciousness thinking that ended with the light turning green:

This little median, separating what is an incredibly wide road that would be impossible for all but the most fit to get across during a light change, is a sort of public mystery. No doubt there’s some public authority to repair/replace it from time to time, but at its heart it’s a public space that’s “out of reach” for anyone other than an unknowable bureaucracy to take care of. There are scores of places like this across America, presumably someone’s responsibility—but whose responsibility, precisely, is basically unknowable for the average person. We assume things are being properly managed, but when it’s not clear who’s really responsible for it, how do you have accountability? If someone asked me to tell them, “How much does this little median cost?” I would have no idea how to begin to even answer it.