Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Larry Roberts
Nearly four years ago, I had the honor of taking on the role of editor of a new ARLnow column titled “Progressive Voice.”
I believed that weekly columns by Mark Kelly and Peter Rousselot, while well written and informative, were not fully representative of views many Arlingtonians had about their County, elected officials, and County government.
I believed that the best answers would not come from a more conservative direction, a desire to keep the status quo, or steady criticism of County government.
In my view, Arlington was going to be affected more and more by what happened at the federal level, in Richmond, and through heightened competition from jurisdictions in Northern Virginia as well as the District and Maryland.
I saw important trends that I believed Arlington needed to acknowledge and respond to in order to remain economically vibrant and competitive.
Some examples – then and now – included: 1) diminishing federal spending in the county and the impact of the Base Realignment and Closing process on Crystal City and Arlington more broadly; 2) the opening of the Silver Line to competitive centers such as Tysons, Reston, and Loudoun County; 3) changing demographics including an influx of millennials; 4) shifting trends in real estate toward mixed-use and transit-oriented development; 5) an increasing office vacancy rate; and 6) losing important tenants such as the National Science Foundation to other jurisdictions (in that case to Alexandria).
At the same time, Arlingtonians continued to want and press for high-quality services and more of them. Moreover, a rising school population required additional resources to maintain a school system regarded as among the best in the nation.
Because of the trends identified above, I believed it important to provide a voice for the proposed Crystal City-Columbia Pike-Baileys Crossroads streetcar system that was vitally important to the County’s competitiveness and maintenance of affordable housing.
I continue to believe that defeating the streetcar project – including turning down $285 million in dedicated funding from the Commonwealth – was a major policy mistake that will set back Arlington for generations to come. However, the voters chose a different path and left local elected officials with little choice but to move on to other items of importance.
The history buff in me wanted to ensure that we honored Arlingtonians living and no longer with us who shaped the County such as Ellen Bozman, Joe Wholey, Talmadge Williams and those who risked much so that Arlington (together with Norfolk) became the first jurisdictions in the Commonwealth to integrate their public schools.
Unlike the “Right Note” and “Peter’s Take” columns, ARLnow wanted the new Progressive Voice column to reflect a range of voices and, particularly, to give voice to women and persons of color. So rather than writing my own weekly column, I became a column editor.
At first, this seemed to put me at a competitive disadvantage, because I had to enlist a group of columnists and — to be expected — each columnist had their own perspective on what issues she or he wanted to address and how to approach those issues.
But I came to value very highly the process of identifying talented columnists and providing a platform to express diverse points of view from varying perspectives and life experiences.
I met or got to know better many outstanding Arlingtonians. I learned, re-learned, or gained valuable insight into a broad range of issues, programs, needs, goals, and services.
And I learned to think more broadly, deeply, and holistically about Arlington County and its place in the Commonwealth, region, and nation.
All of that reaffirmed for me how unique and special a place Arlington is, but also that Arlington must continue to progress – as it has progressed – and not seek to stay in place or shrink from new opportunities. Communities either grow and thrive or they wither and lose what made them great.
I want to thank the Progressive Voice columnists for their outstanding contributions and willingness to produce quality columns under deadline pressure, ARLnow for the opportunity to edit the column, and the new editors who will continue to ensure that a broad range of voices will be heard via the Progressive Voice column.
Finally, I want to thank the readers who gave us reason to write our columns. I can’t say I have enjoyed every online comment received, but it has been a pleasure to hear from so many people over the years that they appreciate the column.
Carry on and move forward!
Larry Roberts was recently named Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. He has long been active in Arlington’s civic life, including serving as Chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee. He chaired five successful statewide campaigns, served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine, completed a successful term as Chair of the Board of the Virginia Public Access Project, and was named a 2017 Virginia Leader in the Law by Virginia Lawyers Weekly.