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Progressive Voice: Meeting our Key Challenges

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Larry RobertsArlington has come through a year of divisive political rhetoric no closer to addressing the key challenges that face our county. Hopefully, we will see in 2015 a renewed commitment to tackling those challenges through a united community and not a divided one.

These key challenges exist outside of political party, the neighborhood one lives in, and one’s preference on the mode of transit for the economically-challenged corridor from Potomac Yard to Skyline through Arlington.

The challenges are not the result of current county policies, county spending priorities, or county politics.

And many of the challenges are due to our successes and not our failures.

More often than not, they are a result of the increasing number of people who choose to live in Arlington because they value our schools, parks, services, cultural amenities, neighborhoods, transit-oriented development and transportation options, diversity, and overall quality of life. They also result from increasing residential property values due to the steady demand for Arlington residences. And they result from growing numbers of families with children in Arlington, something most would consider a sign of success.

At the same time, these challenges arise due to forces beyond Arlington’s control, including a dampening of county revenues and a weakening of Arlington’s commercial tax base — through cutbacks in federal spending (and the job security of federal workers), federal BRAC and sequestration actions that have moved jobs out of Arlington and reductions in federal office space, and state budget cuts. This is in addition to increasingly effective competition from the District of Columbia and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions for businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.

Due to their nature, I believe addressing these challenges requires looking beyond the divisive issues of the moment and overemphasizing the importance of county government operations.

These challenges will not be solved by government only and cannot be solved merely by scrutinizing government performance. While it is important to focus on county government spending, we would face the same challenges even if we could succeed in wringing out every last efficiency from county government.

We will instead solve them by focusing on enhancing our competitive advantages and advancing core values that make Arlington an attractive place to live — not just the important core services of public safety, education and transportation, and sound financial practices — but also recreation, parks, human services, environmental stewardship, housing affordability (not just for lower income people but also for workforce housing and helping people stay in Arlington as housing prices rise), arts and culture, and diversity.

Success in tackling our challenges must involve moving Arlington forward or we will inevitably fall back. Many have fond memories of a past Arlington they may prefer to the challenges of today, but I arrived in a 1970s Arlington with schools closed due to declining overall population and student population, businesses leaving, services declining, and weak economic performance.

Fortunately, Arlington had already made wise and forward-looking land use, transportation, and investment decisions that positioned it to take advantage of increases in defense spending, a recovering economy, a technology boom, and the growing importance of Northern Virginia.

How do we move forward? Most importantly through an engaged public that works together to find common ground, a welcoming spirit, and a forward-looking vision for our County that emphasizes how we will compete for talented workers, students and entrepreneurs that will be ever more important to our success as a County as we face greater regional competitive threats.

We must address honestly and openly our growing community needs — including the siting of needed schools, open space, public safety, and other needs that involve facilities and/or land.

We must focus less on the shortcomings of others and more on the role that each of us and each of our neighborhoods must play in addressing our community needs and challenges.

We must focus on how we can work together to remain economically competitive and attract the businesses and entrepreneurs that will help keep our unique balance of commercial and residential tax burdens. We must focus on how our sustaining and building upon successful corridors like the R-B Corridor, Columbia Pike and Crystal City/Pentagon City allow us to afford and enjoy services we depend upon while retaining the suburban feel of our neighborhoods.

By staying focused on our core values, enhancing our economic competitiveness, and the recently announced bipartisan process for addressing the siting of facilities to meet our growing community needs, we can remain a vital and attractive community.

Larry Roberts is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. He also served in Richmond as Counselor to the Governor.


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