Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
I have lived in Arlington for almost 5 years and I’ve come to see the “Arlington Way” as both a blessing and a curse on the County.
For those not familiar, the Arlington Way as a tradition of citizen democracy, realized through an extensive culture and apparatus for public engagement around most County policies, as well as new commercial or residential developments. The goal is to give residents many opportunities to influence, or at least register their opinion, on a range of regulatory and administrative topics and projects that will have a broad impact.
However, the problem with this reliance on resident voices is the over-representation of the whiter, older, home-owning population. This does not reflect the Arlington’s diversity. County-wide, less than half of housing units are owner-occupied — 44.5%. These households are much more likely to be White than Black or Latino.
Because our tradition and apparatus for soliciting public input privileges homeowners and leaves out renters, many people have the opinion that renters are not invested in Arlington. We saw the manifestation of this attitude in the Sun-Gazette’s November 27 editorial, which argues that renters should not be mobilized to participate in local elections because they “have short-term interests in a community they do not plan to live in forever.” I’m heartened to see the results of ARLnow’s poll show a more inclusive attitude.
But the difficulties in engaging Arlington’s renter majority remain, and it should be the county’s New Year’s Resolution to bring more renters into the civic engagement process. I also encourage renters who are reading this to make a commitment to get more involved in their neighborhoods.
There are many civic organizations in Arlington that are conscientiously working to improve the representation of Arlingtonians in public discourse. My own civic association, Aurora Highlands, has a mix of single-family homes and multi-story apartment buildings. During my year on the executive board, I’ve been pleased by the effort to bring more renters into the conversations. The Arlington Civic Federation, a venerable institute for amplifying resident opinions, is also working to be more diverse as well.
But we can do more to bring renters and other underrepresented groups into to public discourse.
The County Board and its staff should use their influence with developers and property owners to ensure better communication about the Arlington Way with renters. Management companies need to help their residents be part of the community. This isn’t just the community within the building, but the broader neighborhood beyond their doors. Every apartment building, particularly those with professional management, should participate by distributing Civic Association newsletters, letting the Civic Association hold a meeting in their community space, and inviting County staff and board members to speak to residents. Some effort on the part of property managers can go a long way to show that renters want to have a voice in the County.
Happy New Year! Let’s resolve to make 2020 a great year for civic participation from all Arlingtonians.
Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her husband and son. By day, she is the Development Director for Greater Greater Washington and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.
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The 44th Leeway Overlee Community Day and Yard Sale will be along the John Marshall Drive/Ohio Street greenway on Saturday, June 3 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. The community will be out in force to exchange information and greetings, sell unneeded household items, and pick up a few bargains.
About 100 families set up tables for the festivities, which take place along the six-block stretch of the greenway from near Langston Blvd. to Washington Blvd. Attendance is free, but a $10 fee will be collected from individuals and families selling household items during the event. Ensure that all goods and rubbish are removed from the greenway by 1 p.m. Leave dogs at home.
For more info, call 703-532-6101. If planning to sell, start labeling your items for sale NOW! Event will take place as long as there is not active rain. Rain date is June 10.
36TH FESTIVAL ARGENTINO
ARLINGTON JUNE 3RD, 2023
Sat, June 3rd I 3:30 pm / Shows 5:50 pm I Kenmore Auditorium I Glencarlyn
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