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 Erik Gutshall
In the 1990s Eastman Kodak dominated the world of photography and held the patent for the world’s first digital camera — yet by 2012, it was bankrupt. Kodak’s failure to respond fast enough to the rapidly changing world around it would forever redefine the once ubiquitous “Kodak moment.”
As the speed of life continues to accelerate, Arlington, perched atop the summit of many “best of” lists, should heed the caution of Kodak’s tale by striving to meet our current challenges with deliberate speed and gusto. While our current success was built on innumerable extensive multi-year community efforts, we must now embrace a more agile model — employing an iterative test-learn-tweak-grow rapid deployment methodology.
Whether the sudden arrival of dockless electric scooters, redevelopment pressure on Lee Highway, or the daily exit of valued Arlingtonians frustrated by housing costs, the urgency for the county to respond to a multitude of threats and opportunities is evident. Unfortunately, our ability to respond is too often hampered by our “bandwidth,” including a lack of staff resources and the time and energy for the requisite citizen engagement process.
Budget constraints render hiring more staff and consultants not feasible. Further, simply pushing more decision-making through our current lengthy civic engagement framework will only backfire with increased frustration from both staff and citizens worn thin by inefficient and tiresome processes.
Kodak’s leaders effectively sealed their fate by insisting they could keep doing what they had become very good at doing their first 100 years. Arlington need not make that mistake. Just as social media re-invented how we share “Kodak moments” with each other, we must re-invent how we engage in decision-making, while embracing three essential priorities:
1. Smaller pilot projects first instead of grand comprehensive plans.
2. Streamlined quality of civic engagement, not exhaustive quantity.
3. Strengthening community trust.
Pilot projects by their nature, define a problem, test ideas, gather reactions and analyze results as a road to permanent solutions. They offer ample opportunity for community input, but without bogging down in multiple rounds of gestation. County staff engender trust in quality civic engagement by sharing information early, widely and completely. Likewise, Arlington’s new agile approach demands a citizenry willing to avoid “paralysis by analysis” and to move forward, even in the face of vocal minority opposition.
There will still be a place for major processes to develop such things as a Lee Highway Corridor Master Plan, but whenever possible, we can break larger issues down into more manageable components for trial-and-error prototyping. No longer untouchable monumental documents adopted at contentious County Board meetings, our major plans will be living documents whose values guide incremental evolution as we pilot-evaluate-modify-expand — always solving real-world problems for real people.
Beyond doubt, robust innovation in county government will produce occasional failure. But if Arlingtonians embrace each failure as a necessary component of continual improvement instead of assigning blame, we will assuredly find greater success than our current sluggish approach.
This new, iterative approach is ideal for a “Missing Middle” initiative to pilot new planning, zoning, and financing tools to create innovative neighborhood-scale housing forms for the middle class. We know the status quo is failing to deliver housing other than high-rise condos for anyone who can’t afford a single-family home. We don’t know yet exactly what will work. We could spend five years studying and talking about it, certainly hardening opinions yet without really gaining much more confidence. Or we could invite developers and citizens to propose what they think would work, pick one or more limited sites for pilot, learn from that experience, adjust and expand.
The County Board can pounce on an early win for rapid deployment by quickly enacting a handful of zoning ordinance amendments to correct technical errors and process noncontroversial amendments consistent with adopted policy.
In Fortune magazine’s eulogy of Kodak’s demise, they observed, “It is the more nuanced story of how easy it can be to get things wrong, even when trying with the best of intentions to do everything right. It’s a cautionary tale of the need for deeper understanding of what innovation really means, and how it is infinitely more vital than most people think it is, even as it isn’t about any single product or widget or technology.”
Arlington would be wise to define our moment — and our future — with an embrace of iterative rapid deployment innovation.
Erik Gutshall is a member of the Arlington County Board elected in 2017 and former Chair of the Planning Commission. A small business owner, he lives in Lyon Park with his wife, Renee, and their three daughters.
In loving memory of Joseph Robert Kapacziewski, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 41.
In loving memory of James Stuart Edmonds, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 84.
A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.
Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 17124 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…
YULA’s ultimate frisbee spring season is now open for registration. We offer programs for middle and high schoolers – open to all players, whether they are new or have previous experience.Middle SchoolIn the Middle School league, mixed-gender teams practice once during the week and have games on Sunday afternoons. Spring league is a fun, safe, and positive environment. The season begins mid-March and wraps up with a tournament in early June. There are several options for practice days, so we can often work around schedule conflicts with other sports & activities.High SchoolThe High School program is organized by school of attendance and teams are classified by gender. New players will learn the basics in a supportive, welcoming environment. Experienced players will continue to develop their skills, and enjoy competition with other high school programs. The season concludes with a state level championship tournament in late May.All players are guided by experienced coaches who emphasize sportsmanship and good spirit. Ultimate is a fun sport with great camaraderie!YULA does not want finances to limit anyone from participating. Our middle school program offers a “Pay What You Can” cost structure and our our high school program is offering a $50 discount to new players.Visit our website to register and learn more. Sign up with a friend, but don’t delay, the season starts in March!http://www.yula-ulti.org
The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village