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New County Board chair announces Arlington’s first ‘visioning process’ since 1986

The Arlington County Board Jan. 2, 2024 annual organizational meeting (via Arlington County)

The Arlington County Board is ringing in the New Year with a sweeping public engagement opportunity to envision what the county should look like in 2050.

Libby Garvey, named Chair during the Board’s annual organizational meeting yesterday (Tuesday), announced the forthcoming initiative during her remarks.

This year, she said, the county will gather “thoughts, suggestions and ideas from as many people as possible” about their vision for Arlington 20 years from now. It will be the first such initiative since 1986 when residents came together to envision what Arlington could be in the new millennium.

Residents will likely hold some “mutually exclusive” visions of the future — some of which the Missing Middle debates laid bare — but “most will fall into two or three general vision bucket buckets which we can present at the end of this year,” she said.

The 1986 report on the future of Arlington after the year 2000 (via Arlington County)

Tuesday’s meeting was also the first official day on the job for Susan Cunningham and Maureen Coffey, who were elected in November. Garvey said this is the first Board in 40 years with a female majority and possibly the first to span three generations, as Coffey is the youngest member ever elected while Garvey, turning 73 this year, is in line for the oldest.

Board members used the annual organizational meeting to spell out their priorities for 2024 and what they think lies ahead for Arlington.

They forewarned of a difficult economic year but stressed the need to fund Metro and the electrification of buses, cars and buildings, while tackling rising costs for home owners, renters, and parents, plus rising office vacancy rates.

Members also stated broad social goals of strengthening connections among and caring for all residents while deciding on a shared vision of Arlington two decades from now.

For Garvey, who was also Chair in 2020, that means putting to paper some of the lessons learned from the pandemic.

“Our whole community, our government, and our residents pulled together to make sure that everyone, not just the well-off, had food, shelter and medical care,” she said. “We did things differently. A resilient community can adapt and cares for everyone in it. So as we continue our transition this year to whatever is becoming normal, equity, innovation and resilience will continue to be my general focus areas.”

Takis Karantonis, who was named Vice-Chair yesterday, urged Arlingtonians to participate in the 2050 visioning process as a way to move forward together amid worldwide violence and instability, threats to democracy, climate change and the rise of risky technology such as artificial intelligence.

“2024 is a year of inflection for our nation and possibly for the entire world,” he said, adding:

In Arlington, we are holding high the values [that] our officers defended on the west side of the Capital of the United States on Jan. 6, 2021: of democracy, the rule of law, of equity, justice and liberty for all, of accountable governance, and of civic and civically minded debate — all of which the chair’s Arlington 2050 Strategic Visioning initiative provides a very appropriate and opportune place for civic engagement this year. I want to invite you to make 2024 an exemplary year of the civility and humanity that Arlington values convey. It is not an exaggeration: literally the entire nation and probably the entire world is watching us.

Cunningham likewise urged residents to participate in public life and not assume that Arlington will be a “world-class community” without their input.

“We also need sustained connection to be the world-class community that we envision,” she said. “That takes invitation to all the voices, a lot of effort and a lot of showing up from all corners of our community. That’s all of us, not just the five up here. So, in 2024, I invite you to engage and re-engage with each other to listen and question to deliberate and argue and ultimately compromise so that we can support our people and steward our resources.”

For Coffey, the onus is on the county to improve its public engagement so that people feel encouraged to participate and do not encounter a “wrong door” to getting involved.

Coffey said the 2050 visioning process will allow the county to hammer out concrete plans to address entrenched challenges, from climate change to office vacancy rates to high living costs.

“In the short run, most things are fixed and pretty difficult to change, but when we think bigger and further out, we have the opportunity to dream a little bit and hopefully, in this process, follow that dream up with a blueprint and the policy of how we’re actually going to get there,” she said.

Board member Matt de Ferranti pledged to tackle the issues his colleagues raised, drawing inspiration and motivation from his daughter, who was born on Dec. 18, 2023. To this laundry list of priorities, he added another hyperlocal one: issues in the Arlington County Detention Facility.

There, several inmates have died in recent years and many take psychotropic medications for their mental health. These issues are compounded by a staffing shortages among deputy sheriffs and clinicians as well as occasional disagreements with the jail-based private medical provider.

“We must invest in addressing some of the issues at our jail,” de Ferranti said. “I look forward to taking over the chairmanship of the community criminal justice board that can work on critical interception points where we can appropriately divert people from jail and better address pressing mental health and substance abuse challenges.”

The full New Year’s remarks from each Board member are below.

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