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What’s Next: Empowering Communities to Recommend Improvements in Their Neighborhoods

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As some say, local government is primarily pothole politics. Why aren’t the water fountains working? When will the snow be removed? How do I make sure dogs are leashed in my local park? How do I fix this big crack in the sidewalk on my path to the coffee shop? Why is the crosswalk sign not working?

Some of these things like snow removal, sidewalk repair, or crosswalk sign maintenance can be done as simply as using the Service Request/Report a Problem function on the County’s website. For items that fall into this category it consistently amazes me how quickly and efficiently the system works. If all other venues don’t work, you can always tweet the Arlington Department of Environmental Services and our personal miracle worker seems to never fail.

After a discussion started by the Clarendon/Courthouse Civic Association President, David Cheek, it reminded me of the ongoing efforts to improve the Neighborhood Conservation Program that provides funding for larger neighborhood projects.

Recently, a large six-foot sign was erected by the county in the 11th Street Park in Clarendon reminding patrons not to unleash their dogs in the park. Cheek immediately recognized that the underlying problem might not be that park but neighbors’ dismay at Clarendon’s James Hunter Dog Park. He compiled ideas from the community for park improvements and is working with the county for potential solutions.

Typically, improvements to existing parks for improvements suggested by the community would be submitted for consideration by the Neighborhood Conservation Program. The recently released 2021 Neighborhood Conservation Review notes that the Program continues to be cut significantly year after year resulting in only six projects getting approved out of 30 per year, and that the process generally favors low-density neighborhoods by a rate of two to one.

The review generally recommends 1) clarifying the County’s priorities for neighborhoods and their infrastructure, ensuring priorities are supported in plans and streamlining the procedures to achieve these priorities; 2) expanding financial resources to the NC Program; 3) Offering NCAC representatives to expand community outreach and provide a bridge to other neighborhood planning efforts; and 4) simplifying NC participation requirements for civic associations.

These considerations are important for empowering neighborhoods to make a difference in their own backyard.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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