It is always rewarding to travel – especially because you never know what lessons will be learned and what will serve as a teacher.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C.. Actually, I got no closer than suburban Maryland. It was a quick overnight visit and I wanted to stay somewhere convenient to my event.

Turned out that the reasonably-priced, clean and convenient hotel was located in what I thought was the midst of suburban sprawl.

I was wrong.

When I drove in, things were not very promising. At the intersection of two interstates, the hotel was in the midst of a construction site and seemed to be surrounded by fast food places, national chains and big box stores.

There was also a Metro stop across the way.

And, it was this Metro stop that led to the revelation I would find the next day when I went out for a run.

The temperatures were just below freezing and there was some black ice on the road – a reminder of melting snow, some 30 inches, the D.C. area had received the weekend before. I detoured off the blacktop on to a brick sidewalk and was pleased to find the walk had been meticulously cleaned, not a hint of ice or black ice.

This walk led me past an office complex – the inviting art deco compensating somehwat for what initially appeared suburban office park sterility.

But the walk and the road continued, and before I knew it I was in the midst of an appealing mixed-used community.

The outer age, hotel and office park, was gredually replaced by a high-rise cond, then low rise-condos and rentals, a town square of shops, community center and more.

As the surroundings changed so did my mood. The locale was a city in suburban Maryland but the feel was very much community on a human scale. Mixed uses, a variety of housing types, walkable design, access to mass transit.
As it turns out, others felt the same way. When it opened afew years back, it received praiase and awards. Bestowing a prestigious Charter Award on the development, the Congress for the New Urbanism called it “one of the most exciting projects” among its candidates.

Though, as always, there is an underside to the story, this community remains quite appealing.

As importantly, it reaffirms to me that in notions of community, good and bad can be packaged and wrapped in unlikely places and unlikely ways.

What appeared to be part of suburban sprawl, in fact, was something quite different. Something more.

If only one takes the time to look, consider and comprehend.