Chronicles urban planner Robert Simon’s quest to create a new kind of suburban American town that values community, nature, diversity and social equity.
In the early 1960’s Robert Simon had a vision for American life that was radically different from 1950’s post-war suburban sprawl, which he felt isolated people. Simon dreamed of “another way of living” that valued community, nature, diversity and social equity. This innovative American planner set out to build a new kind of walkable suburban community that integrated citizens across racial, economic, and religious divides. His ambitious vision was realized in Reston, Virginia.
Inspired by the hill towns of Italy, Simon purchased 6,750 acres of farmland in Virginia with the intention of building a robust, inclusive community. The idea of a fully integrated community was unheard of at the time in Virginia, historically a Confederate state that was resisting integration. But Reston managed to draw in people who appreciated his unique vision as full of new opportunities.
Despite early challenges, including serious financial struggles, the town became an international model, inspiring new trends in suburban development – mixing residential and commercial zones, and creating open spaces and plazas to promote community. Simon’s work to integrate nature into everyday living and reduce car dependency was also revolutionary among his contemporaries.
After a 20-year absence, Robert Simon returned to Reston as a community activist, working with other residents to ensure the town of 60,000 remains true to its founding principles, despite 21st century challenges presented by rapid urbanization and rising housing costs.