By William Mark Habeeb
The new Arlington County logo seems to announce that we are nothing but an appendage of D.C. Is that a sad admission of the truth, or the declaration of a rather uninspiring ambition? Either way, it’s a gross underestimation of what our county of nearly 240,000 could be.
Arlington enjoys a solid tax base, a geographic and population size conducive to the creation of community, and a diverse, well-educated — and generally liberal-minded — population. So, why are we so timid in exploring ways to use these assets to create a model progressive community, a place where new ideas are tested and refined, where we do more than wring our hands over problems like systemic inequality? In short, why aren’t we more bold?
Arlington has been bold in the past: Over 50 years ago, Arlington’s elected leaders insisted that the Metro be built underground, not above ground as originally planned. While this decision cost billions more, it allowed Arlington’s Rosslyn – Ballston corridor to develop as a compact urban community; the increased tax base must certainly have more than made up for the higher construction costs.
Contrast that decision with the issue of mass transit along Columbia Pike. The best solution would be bus rapid transit (BRT). But to be truly rapid, BRT needs dedicated bus-only lanes. That, however, would require removing street parking along Columbia Pike, which some would oppose. But being bold sometimes requires making decisions that meet resistance. Being bold requires a vision — in this case, the vision of a community dedicated to the reduction of vehicular traffic.
Addressing the “missing middle” housing crisis also requires boldness. Revised zoning laws to allow more small multi-family buildings and duplexes would make it possible for more people and families to live in Arlington’s neighborhoods while maintaining a neighborhood feel. Cities like Somerville, Massachusetts, maintain a neighborhood feel even though much of the housing stock is multi-family. Would this make everyone happy? Of course not. Being bold seldom makes everyone happy, especially when the bold actions are aimed at addressing inequalities or better sharing a community’s resources.
Bold ideas can be borrowed. For example, a way to provide lower-income Arlingtonians with more educational opportunities could be based on the “Birmingham Promise,” a public-private partnership in Birmingham, Alabama — which has a far lower tax-base than Arlington — that provides tuition assistance for graduates of Birmingham City Schools who attend public colleges in Alabama, and offers an internship and apprenticeship program where high school seniors gain work experience while earning money and academic credit.
Other ideas — such as community land trusts (CLTs) and participatory budgeting — have been successfully implemented in a number of communities. CLTs are publicly funded non-profits that purchase and hold property in trust in order to guarantee affordable rental rates. Participatory budgeting (PB), an idea that originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil — allows community members to decide how to spend a designated portion of the public budget. PB goes beyond Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Program by allowing community members to identify a wide range of community needs and allocating public budget funds to address them.
Not all bold ideas are realistic or cost-effective. But to find the ones that turn out to be real gems, we must be nimble-minded and willing to take a few calculated chances. If Arlington’s leaders — both elected officials and unelected community leaders — become so risk-averse, so afraid to arouse opposition, so scared of pushing the idea envelope, then we will be in danger of becoming what our new logo portrays: The missing corner of DC, a metro-area afterthought living in our just-good-enough community.
I would like to see Arlington become an urban “beta community,” where we test bold ideas even if they’re in the start-up phase. Let’s take advantage of our citizens’ innovative ideas and other resources — to see how successful we can become in creating a model 21st century urban community.
William Mark Habeeb first moved to Arlington in 1977 as a graduate student, and he and his wife bought their Arlington home in 1991. Their son attended Arlington Public Schools. Mark teaches in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
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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._
Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.
Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.
About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.
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