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Progressive Voice: Putting a Human Face on the Immigration Debate

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 Cheryl Moore

In August, I travelled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer for a week with immigrants who are seeking asylum. The South Texas Family Residential Center, 80 miles south of San Antonio, houses 2,400 women and children, most from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who were apprehended by border patrol agents when trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t speak Spanish very well, but when I heard from an attorney friend about this opportunity, I felt compelled to go. With so many stories in the news about family separation, detention and the cruel treatment of immigrants at the border, this was my chance to “do something,” even if I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing. I wanted to be a witness to what is happening to immigrants coming to the U.S. amidst this unwelcoming political climate.

Along with other volunteers with the Dilley Pro Bono Project, my mission was to help women prepare for their Credible Fear Interview (CFI) with asylum officers. Receiving a “positive” after their interview means they are freed from detention (after paying a bond or submitting to wearing an ankle monitor) and can begin the long process of seeking asylum, as is their legal right under U.S. law.

It was not an easy week. We worked 12-hour days, filled with non-stop activity, noise and, often, tears.

For much of the week, I helped women fill out basic forms. As I showed them where to write their name, date of birth and other details, I learned part of their story. The answers to questions on the forms also offered clues about wrenching decisions some of the women had had to make when deciding to leave their country.

Some mothers asked, “Do I only put the name and birthday of the child who is here with me?” Clearly, many had had to leave another child behind. As a mother myself, I couldn’t imagine making that choice.

Other volunteers spent the week helping women prepare for their CFI by asking them to recount the testimony they would tell the asylum officer. Why did they leave their country? What persecution did they face there? What might happen if they went back home?

The extreme danger and violence our clients described was appalling — gangs, rape, death threats, kidnapping, extortion. We learned more about the culture and government of the countries that these women were fleeing, and about the extreme poverty and inequity that contribute to crime and lawlessness. It was clear that these women were escaping from systems that would never protect them. They were victims, not criminals; yet they were in a detention center.

With many CFI interviews looming toward the end of the week, I was asked to do some CFI preps on my own, working with an interpreter by telephone. Thanks to the in-depth training we received and wise counsel from the Dilley Pro Bono Project legal staff, I was able help two clients. It is not often that I feel I’m holding someone’s fate in my hands, but I did that day.

After I returned home, their faces swam before my eyes as I tried to go to sleep at night. Fortunately, I was able to check on their status and it appears that they both have been released from detention, and presumably are now with family or friends as they proceed through the asylum-seeking process.

While I may have helped some women start a new chapter in their lives, I will never know how their stories unfold. As with all mission work, the difference is in me. The women I met are part of my story now.

Back in Arlington, I will never look at the woman from Central America standing next to me in the supermarket line without contemplating her story. I will wonder what happened to make her leave her birthplace, and I will pray it wasn’t as bad as some of the stories I heard in that Texas detention center.

Above all, my week at the detention center reminded me that immigrant detention and family separation are more than just policy issues. They are human issues.

Cheryl Moore has lived in Arlington for 35 years. She has been a volunteer for Arlington Public Schools, her church, civic association, the Arlington Community Chorus, and many nonprofit organizations serving the Northern Virginia community. She continues to work on her Spanish language skills.

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Progressive Voice: Arlington’s Kodak Moment?

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.

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Progressive Voice: Canvassing in the Time of Choler

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.

By John F. Seymour

Updated 3:45 “Why am I doing this?” It was a lovely summer morning and I could be watching my grandson’s soccer game, or finishing the crossword, or dividing perennials. Instead, I was knocking on the doors of 35 strangers in Arlington.

The homeowner looked at me with the familiar impatient frown. But it (thankfully) morphed into a wry grin as she saw this thin, white-haired, unprepossessing guy. I could see the speech bubble above her head –“No clue who this is, but he seems harmless.”

I introduced myself as a volunteer for Arlington Democrats. I asked whether she was registered to vote, and was likely to vote in the upcoming election. For a likely Democratic voter, I simply highlighted the importance of every vote–a message made more credible following the one-vote loss of the Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in Newport News in 2017 and the repercussions of that loss on the evenly-divided House. I was prepared to engage on issues, but Saturday morning conversations with the uninvited typically hold little appeal — for either person. I thanked her and went on to the next door. Thirty-two doors to go.

So why do we canvass, particularly those of us who guard our own privacy, dislike arguments and are by temperament very reserved?

The Practical Reason: At bottom, we do it because we believe in the party’s platform and values and have the time to, perhaps, nudge turnout a tiny bit. Door-to-door canvassing is generally believed to increase voter turnout among frequent voters–at least marginally. Turnout in non-presidential elections is particularly important for Democrats. And Arlington Democratic turnout has become critical in statewide races.

Where Sen. Warner and then-Gov. McAuliffe won with narrow statewide voting totals (a 1% margin for Warner and 2.5% margin for McAuliffe), Arlington voters provided winning margins of more than 40% for both candidates–enough, together with other northern Virginia jurisdictions, to offset deep red voting elsewhere. Although Sen. Tim Kaine’s re-election race this year is unlikely to be close, turnout can help with down ballot candidates, proposed constitutional amendments, and bond referenda.

The Real Reason: But canvassing these days is, at least for me, far more important as an outlet for outrage at the flood of voter suppression measures championed by Republican legislators in Richmond. Virginia’s photo ID law–among the strictest in the country–purports to fight an epidemic of voter fraud but is viewed, by all but the most credulous, as a tactic to disenfranchise eligible Democratic voters.

Indeed, Republican legislators have fought hard for legislation requiring any voter submitting an application for an absentee ballot by mail to submit a photo ID. Such a law seems absurd because the registrar would have no corporeal being standing before him to compare to the photograph. The absurdity did nothing, however, to discourage the Virginia House and Senate from passing the bill on party line votes, although the Republicans were unable to override then-Gov. McAuliffe’s veto.

Virginia also remains one of four states to permanently disenfranchise citizens with past felony convictions, unless the Governor grants relief. Such laws have their roots in Virginia’s Reconstruction Era efforts to deny civil rights to newly freed slaves. In most states, convicted felons regain the right to vote upon release from prison or at thereafter.

Although then-Gov. McAuliffe expanded upon the efforts of prior governors by issuing an Executive Order restoring voting rights to convicted felons upon completion of their sentences, the order was subject to a successful Republican legal challenge. Currently, the Governor has begun to issue voting restoration orders on an individual basis, over the strong objections of Republican legislators.

Absentee voting, too, continues to be curbed by Republican lawmakers. Republicans continue to oppose efforts by Virginia Democrats to extend and legitimize early “no-excuse” absentee voting. Republicans have even opposed legislation seeking to allow certain caregivers or voters older than 70 to vote absentee without an excuse. As Republicans are well aware, Democrats lead Republicans by a wide margin in absentee voting.  Broadened absentee voting rights, irrespective of their obvious benefits in furthering democracy and civil society as a whole, simply do not serve Republican interests.

In the face of efforts to dampen voting rights, canvassing represents, for many of us, an individual act of defiance against the dysfunctional ugliness of contemporary politics and Republican efforts to preserve and extend Jim Crow-era restrictions on state voting rights. However time-consuming and awkward it can seem, canvassing is the very stuff of democracy. In these days when a governing national party sows discord and incites contempt for government and its institutions, canvassing is not an antidote to cynicism and despair. But it can be, even for the shy, a weekly tonic.

John F. Seymour is a long-time resident of Arlington, Virginia.

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Progressive Voice: Time for Arlington to Choose — Factions or the Future?

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 Maura McMahon

People familiar with the Federalist papers may see James Madison’s factionalism alive and well in Arlington’s governance and citizen advocacy today. It is borne out in colored t-shirts, divisive rhetoric, project delays and failures to make bold decisions. It is personified by the ongoing “North” v. “South” Arlington discourse and evident in the demographic differences of our neighborhoods and schools.

Factionalism should not fuel our decision-making. Limited assets, needs of a growing population, and operating costs of an expanding school system have come to a head. Disconnected planning and out-of-sync budgets and processes preclude our ability to efficiently serve common interests:

  • The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Commission (NCAC) emphasizes neighborhood-specific interests, pitting neighborhoods against each other without prioritizing concerns.
  • Development projects that over-emphasize site-specific matters and neighbors’ preferences fail to maximize benefits to the larger community. Opportunities are lost due to leaders’ reluctance to operate outside familiar norms or to engage private developers in addressing the full implications of a project’s impact.
  • Decision timelines that are out of sync with appointed working group schedules or charges dilute the importance of broad community input, ignite civic distrust, and prolong real solutions.

For instance, a delay in establishing the Career Center Working Group (CCWG) put its work off-track of a crucial budget process. Critical decisions were rushed and based on incomplete information before the group’s work concluded. The relevance of more than 30 community volunteers’ and staff members’ time and effort was put into question.

The Career Center site is approximately 12.5 acres and home to Patrick Henry Elementary School, Arlington Community High School, Arlington Tech, numerous academic programs within the Career Center, and the Columbia Pike public library. Since January, CCWG has worked to develop a plan to add 800 seats to the Career Center facility and evaluate how to optimize future development on the site, including amenities for a possible fourth high school.

The complexity of redeveloping this parcel illustrates the necessity to look beyond the immediate school needs and to employ coordinated planning. It is a prime prospect for a new Arlington Way: re-prioritizing County projects to synchronize planning across departments and Arlington Public Schools (APS), providing maximum benefits to various stakeholders, and meeting critical needs in a more timely and cost-effective way.

Such an approach could simultaneously extend the range of benefits beyond schools to Parks and Recreation, transportation services, the public library, commercial development, and the vision for a revitalized Columbia Pike.

Arlington County says its Comprehensive Plan “… is one of the (County’s) most important decision-making and priority-setting tools” and guides “coordinated development.” But it is comprised of several plans for an array of independent concerns and does not include APS.

By integrating schools and the various County priorities:

  • The county’s Creative Preschoolers program could work with APS to expand preschool access;
  • Urban Forestry could help APS and the county create natural playgrounds with interactive play elements to complement science and physical education curriculum and enhance benefits gained from exposure to nature;
  • The county could revise permitting processes to reduce school construction costs and timeframes;
  • Transportation could coordinate bus routes for secondary students, in turn expanding transit services for all residents and enabling APS to extend existing bus resources to its growing elementary enrollment;
  • The county could implement zoning and housing policies that generate economically diverse neighborhoods and schools, reducing disparities and maximizing opportunities;
  • County and School Boards could cooperate to eliminate obstacles that prevent the optimal use of existing sites and facilities.

Madison cited “factionalism” as a threat to sound public policy. Today, the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee and Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices are steps forward. But the County can make swift progress through smart inter-departmental planning. APS can accomplish more by employing holistic decision-making and a long-term vision. As citizens, we can reject factionalism and unite around our common goals.

Collectively, we can reaffirm Arlington’s standing as a leader in progressive governance and community engagement, turning opportunities like the Career Center site into models of exceptional achievement instead of exercises in frustration and divisiveness.

Maura McMahon is the mother of two children in Arlington Public Schools. An Arlington resident since 2001, she has served in numerous capacities including the Thomas Jefferson, South Arlington, and Career Center working groups. McMahon is president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs.

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Progressive Voice: Uniquely Arlington

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.

By Joan Horwitt

You may know that Arlington is geographically the smallest self-governing county in the U.S. It is also home to the country’s most famous cemetery. But what else makes Arlington truly unique?

To the short list, I would add the one-of-a-kind LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH program, a highly successful, home-grown school and multi-neighborhood collaboration to promote healthy eating and community engagement. Nowhere else in the country — to the best of my knowledge — do hundreds of elementary school children and neighbors come together in the spring and fall, grow a bountiful crop of organic greens and celebrate their harvest with a spectacular multi-ingredient Fiesta Salad extravaganza for more than 700 students, teachers and neighborhood volunteers.

It is now a common yet extraordinary sight at the Fiesta Salad celebration, held at Ashlawn Elementary School, to witness girls and boys vying with each other to see who can eat the most salad servings. We now have scores of stories from students and parents that indicate how attitudes and behavior about healthy eating can be transformed.

LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH, which spans three Ashlawn-connected neighborhoods, is a model that could and should be implemented countywide, in part to strengthen community engagement and because 26 percent of Arlington’s children are already overweight or obese even before they start kindergarten, according to a report in 2015 by the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families.

Starting eight years ago, LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH became a program of the nonprofit Reevesland Learning Center that I and other volunteers formed, inspired by the legacy of the late Arlington dairy farmer Nelson Reeves who tended an iconic vegetable garden adjacent to his farmhouse overlooking Bluemont Park. He became famous for sharing his crop and knowledge with neighbors. After his death in 2000, Arlington County purchased his property but his garden disappeared — until it was reimagined by local residents as the Reevesland Learning Garden, a centerpiece of the LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH program.

Every planting season in the Reevesland Learning Garden, and at two other sites, hundreds of Ashlawn students get excited about curriculum-based lessons in math, science and language arts while they plant organic seeds in raised beds that were built by volunteers. The seeds have colorful, intriguing names. “Tennis Ball,” a beautiful green Bibb lettuce, was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites at Monticello, and “Mayan jaguar” is an intriguing dark green romaine with maroon speckles. And students sometimes select red romaine seeds that were also used by NASA at the Space Station for a farming experiment in 2014. The students learn the different characteristic shapes of the lettuce leaves and why the darker the color, the more nutritious it is. This is a revelation for those only familiar with iceberg.

We have witnessed the educational power of student involvement and experiential learning among young children of diverse academic levels. But that is only part of the LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH story. The simultaneous participation of adults, both parents and non-parents alike, helps to reinforce the community value of growing and eating healthy food.

To enlist adult participation, we go door-to-door in the three neighborhoods surrounding Ashlawn, inviting neighbors to grow organic greens in their yards or gardens to promote healthy eating. Typically, more than a hundred sign up and, like the students, they select a seed variety of their choice. When they bring in their crop sealed in Ziploc bags several days before the Fiesta Salad celebration, they are often as excited as the students.

Yes, LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH is unique, but it should be commonplace throughout Arlington and beyond. The message is simple yet powerful: involve the kids when they’re young and give them a voice in the decision-making, reach out to neighbors and make it fun and you’ll have community-supported healthy eating on a scale that can really make a difference.

Joan Horwitt is a longtime Arlingtonian and one of the founders and president of the Reevesland Learning Center, which runs the LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH program in collaboration with Arlington Public Schools.

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Progressive Voice: Bipartisan Cooperation on Trade Policy Would Be for the Greater Good

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 Kevin Wolf

A core progressive value is getting things done for the greater good, which often requires bipartisan collaboration. Regardless of what happens in the November elections, trade policy is an important area for bipartisan cooperation because it affects us all.

I am a traditional Democrat but see remarkably few differences of opinion with my mainstream Republican friends on current trade developments. Basically, we don’t disagree with the administration’s general goals in concept, but fundamentally disagree with its zero sum approach (for us to win others must lose) to achieving those goals. Also, the tariffs based on national security justifications often appear to be more like protectionist industrial policies.

The United States has overwhelmingly benefitted from free trade, which has been supported by presidents of both parties. President Obama, for example, recognized that because 95 percent of the world’s consumers and 80 percent of gross domestic product are outside the United States, it was vital to open up growing markets in Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There is no doubt that trade has negative costs, and we have a responsibility to aggressively enforce our laws and help those workers disrupted by trade agreements. But, overall, America overwhelmingly benefits and our peace and economic prosperity since World War II has resulted from a global trading system that we built.

As seen in the daily news, this administration has taken a fundamentally different approach to trade policy that largely revolves around imposing tariffs. Tariffs are, however, a tax on consumers and provoke retaliation, leading to more harm than help for U.S. companies and consumers.

To put the issue in local terms, think about schools in the construction pipeline, and what a higher cost of steel for those buildings would mean. Think about higher prices on consumer goods. Think about your business and ask how it could survive if, overnight, your costs increased 25 percent.

The issue often gets boiled down to a “fair trade” versus “free trade” debate, but it is really about drawing the right lines to achieve policies that:

  • Allow for economies to benefit from their advantages (things that they do better than other countries),
  • Respect the rules of international trade, reduce barriers and foster good relations with allies,
  • Support domestic innovation policies and protect other parts of the economy harmed from unfair practices or that get left behind,
  • Reflect our values, such as protecting the environment and rights for labor, and, fundamentally,
  • Do more good than harm.

Proposing bipartisan cooperation may seem strange in the current highly partisan climate, but the issue affects too many people to leave current actions unchecked.

There is, however, recent precedent for how a bipartisan approach and an open legislative process can lead to success. Legislation became law this week that enhances U.S. government authorities to address emerging national security issues associated with foreign investment in the U.S. and the export of critical technologies. The legislation improved over time because Congress used a nonpartisan, bicameral, civil (mostly), principled process that included robust hearings, thoughtful debate and engagement with stakeholders, former officials from Democratic and Republican administrations, other subject matter experts and Trump administration officials. The debate identified the real national security and trade issues and addressed them in a way that all these interests could largely agree on.

My modest proposal here is for those on all parts of the left and all parts of the right to take a breath, collect the facts and work through the current trade issues together for the greater good.

Kevin Wolf is a long-time Arlington resident and was the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration from 2010-2017.

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Progressive Voice: Better Incentives Needed for Housing Conservation Districts to Succeed

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.

By Ralph Johnson

This past December, the Arlington County Board voted to establish 12 Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs), from areas in Westover and Penrose to portions along and near Lee Highway. The expressed intent was to “preserve and enhance” market-rate* rental housing in Arlington. Apartments in these districts are no longer allowed to be replaced “by right” with townhouses.

The County Board promised to develop “incentives” to the owners of these apartments for removing the “by right” option, such as the relaxation of some zoning requirements to allow an increase in the size of existing units or additional density to the site for in-fill and bump-outs. If the owner uses one of the options, the owner would be required to commit a number of his market-rate affordable units to become “committed affordable” units, with direct county oversight and guaranteed lower rents.

These apartments are market-rate affordable because they are old (many 75 years old), functionally obsolete buildings, with small units and few, if any, amenities. The infrastructure of the apartments is rapidly deteriorating and market rents are not keeping up with the expense of maintaining them. It is highly unlikely that a private owner will invest money to build new units that will be attached to his old structure. And, his reward for doing this is to give up some of his market units to become committed affordable units. This is not going to happen.

With this plan, the county is punishing the very owners that are now providing low-income housing. The “incentives” being discussed so far do not provide an adequate trade-off for loss of the “by right” option.

Having your apartment building placed in one of these districts reduces the value of the property. The townhouse “by right” option was the exit strategy for the owner and the lender as well. As the apartments age, the value will fall, continually and inexorably.

The owner can still apply to build townhouses on his site but now he must go through the onerous and costly site plan process, leaving him little if he comes out on the other side of this long process. He could replace his old apartment with a new building but most, if not all, of these old apartments were built prior to current zoning regulations. Under current zoning regulations for a new apartment, the owner would end up with significantly fewer units than he owns now.

So what can be done to preserve market-rate affordable housing while still ensuring property owners in HCDs can operate cost-effectively?

County staff have been working this spring and summer to recommend incentives beyond bump-outs and in-fill, and a citizen group has been advising them. Staff and the citizen group are looking into the idea of awarding TDRs (transfer of development rights) to property owners if they agree to maintain their apartment rents at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). TDRs are a tool to help preserve a special condition (such as open space or affordable housing) on a parcel of land by “transferring” its density and other development rights to a different parcel.

Here’s an example of how TDRs could work. Six years ago the County Board approved a plan that would award TDRs to owners of a historic designated apartment building if they would agree to permanently preserve the apartment building. With the sale of the TDRs to a developer, the owners were able to pay off their debt. The preserved apartment building in question faced a huge plumbing replacement job this past year but, because there was no debt payment, the owners’ cash flow was sufficient to meet this challenge.

The buildings were preserved, 84 market-rate affordable units were preserved and the means to maintain the old buildings was set. This is the kind of innovative idea that must be incorporated into the HCD program if it is to be successful.

Without creative and aggressive incentives and options for apartment-building owners in HCDs, the plan will be nothing other than an effort to hold back the tide — a futile effort and a prescription for a slow death of market-rate rental housing in Arlington.

* Market-Rate Affordable Units (MARKs) are owned by the private market, with apartment rents that are affordable (generally at 80 percent of Area Median Income [AMI]) to low- and moderate-income households by virtue of the age, location, condition and/or amenities of the property. Rents in Committed Affordable Units are generally at or below 60 percent of the AMI.

Ralph Johnson is a longtime Arlington resident who has owned and managed apartment buildings in Arlington for 45 years.

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Progressive Voice: Zero-Energy Schools are a Net Positive for Arlington

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.

By Laura Saul Edwards

Skyrocketing enrollment is forcing Arlington Public Schools (APS) to build new schools at a time when the international trade situation is driving up steel prices and a persistently high commercial vacancy rate at home is affecting revenue.

It’s the perfect time for innovation to squeeze the most from construction dollars. One way is through zero-energy buildings that produce more electricity than they consume. In the process, the buildings generate savings for the school system while battling climate change and revolutionizing learning.

The first of these certified zero-energy schools in Arlington is Discovery Elementary School. Designed to reduce energy use intensity as low as possible, the materials, siting and massing of the school did much to lower its energy consumption. The 1,710 photovoltaic solar cells atop Discovery further lowered energy consumption to the point that the building produces more electricity than it consumes.

These solar panels arrayed on Discovery’s rooftop play a major role in lowering the school’s annual utility costs by approximately $100,000 in comparison to a typical APS elementary school of similar size, according to John C. Chadwick, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations.

It cost nearly $1.6 million to install the solar panels and an online energy dashboard that displays the resultant energy data in real time. It is estimated this amount will be paid off in 15 years. The evidence so far shows the return on investment is considerable and worth replicating across the school system.

Discovery’s surplus energy will soon be even more valuable to the school system. Thanks to legislation introduced by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. (D-48) and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Dominion Energy will launch a pilot program next year that allows the school’s surplus energy to offset utility costs at other schools. In effect, the program will reimburse the school system for its energy-efficient school. Discovery’s surplus electricity could earn approximately $9,000 per year for APS.

Two more zero-energy schools will soon follow — Alice West Fleet Elementary School in 2019 and a new elementary school at the Reed site in 2021. These two schools are part of an APS vision in which a network of solar panels and energy dashboards exist at every one of its schools.

What is remarkable is how zero-energy design transforms a school building into a teaching tool.

Discovery’s energy dashboard is a tool for teaching math, science and sustainability. Teachers collect data from the dashboard to formulate homework and test questions, teach graphing and analytics, and use in writing prompts and art projects. Students also collected data from the dashboard to complete an audit that earned the school a Zero Energy Certification award from the International Living Future Institute in April 2018.

In addition, four of the school’s solar panels are on a rooftop learning lab. Through it all, students and staff take control of how their actions impact the world around them and use that information to become responsible stewards of the planet.

Perhaps a recent American Institute of Architects report said it best, noting “Discovery offers a positive example of a solution to the global crisis of climate change — and along the way emboldens students with the expectation that they are creative participants in those solutions.”

The age and condition of some existing Arlington schools mean that reaping the benefits of zero-energy design will require creativity and time. This is why APS is poised to enter a Power Purchase Agreement to lease roof space at schools to vendors who will install solar panels on them. The vendors will sell the power they produce to APS at lower rates that the utility company charges, reducing acquisition and utility costs for the school system while mitigating exposure to long-term increases, said Chadwick in May. Five schools have been selected and the resulting savings will fund zero-energy upgrades at other schools.

Zero-energy schools will also help Arlington generate 100 percent of the power it uses through renewable, sustainable means like solar by 2035, as outlined in the Community Energy Plan.

APS deserves credit for its drive to transform school buildings into zero-energy facilities. The long-term benefits outweigh criticism that might be levied against investing in such far-reaching innovation during a period of tight budgets. These facilities will generate long-term savings and income, fight climate change and make a lasting and positive impact on teaching and learning. That’s a lot of bang for the buck.

Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.

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Progressive Voice: Creating Jobs That Pay and Stay — Unleashing Virginia’s Untapped Potential

 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 Vivek Patil

The Virginia economy has extraordinary untapped potential. Arlington and other municipalities could tap that potential in ways that bring prosperity to regions lagging behind and that allow those already doing well to secure their future.

Unleashing that potential will require a statewide approach that nevertheless remains sensitive to local needs. Such an approach would take advantage of the synergies that result from bringing our urban, small town and rural areas together under a common strategy — a strategy that creates jobs that pay well and stay put in an increasingly globalized world.

But what would such a strategy involve? Part of the answer is expanding clean technology industries, which provide products and services related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced batteries, and state-of-the-art energy monitoring and control devices. Another part is sustainable agriculture, forestry and ecotourism.

These areas represent emerging strengths in the Virginia economy. They could make the commonwealth a clean technology center for the world and a path-breaking player in the management of sustainable natural resources. Developing these strengths would align the Virginia economy and its people with powerful sustainability trends that are now shaping the future across the globe.

Clean technology investments alone are expected to reach $6.4 trillion worldwide between 2014 and 2023, according to the World Bank. Sustainable agriculture and forestry bring premium prices for the food and fiber they produce. Ecotourism helps preserve Virginia’s natural beauty by making it profitable to safeguard.

Let’s explore the possibilities more concretely. Let’s imagine that an Arlington high school graduate develops a novel clean technology invention such as a next-generation battery while attending Virginia Tech. Let’s imagine he or she is supported with the financing and commercialization assistance necessary for a new enterprise. Let’s imagine a partnership with rural communities in southwest Virginia that with state incentives manufacture these next-generation batteries for the world market.

Similarly, let’s imagine a rural entrepreneur who establishes a statewide agricultural supply network that provides sustainable produce and livestock products from southern Virginia to food cooperatives and specialty grocers in northern Virginia’s high-density urban corridors.

Realizing this economic vision will require listening to what communities actually want. Conversations with Virginia’s communities would guide the development of critical economic infrastructure. That infrastructure might include a joint university-community college consortium to educate the needed workforce and a public-private coalition of clean technology investors.

So how would we summarize the untapped potential that will underpin such a strategy? Virginia has exceptional, but underutilized advantages that include:

  • Locales remarkable for their diversity and high quality of life.
  • A low-tax, business-friendly environment.
  • Agricultural and forestry resources ready for expanded sustainable development.
  • Natural beauty that attracts tourists.
  • Universities and colleges ranked among the nation’s best that are the key to a highly educated and trained workforce.
  • Synergies that come from linking businesses with the federal government, the military and leading global nonprofits in northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.
  • Proximity to major federal innovation centers at the Department of Defense including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Energy including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

By thinking broadly about Virginia’s possibilities, we can pursue a unified strategy that will allow us to develop many more homegrown businesses while persuading out-of-state and foreign enterprises to bring operations here.

If we can succeed in building a clean technology economy, there might come a day when Virginia ships batteries to carmakers throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

If we can succeed in expanding sustainable agriculture, forestry and ecotourism, we can ensure wise stewardship of our natural resources that will then provide long-term jobs to Virginians.

These outcomes exemplify a winning combination worth pursuing for the sake of all Virginia and for the world beyond us. If we Virginians make the right moves, “Made with Love in Virginia” could become an emblem of forward thinking and innovation across the globe.

Vivek Patil, Ph.D., is a biotech entrepreneur and a Director at PerkinElmer Inc. He is a member of Arlington’s Economic Development Commission and co-founder of BuildingBridgesVA and Ascent Virginia, two social impact ventures focused on bridging the social, political and economic divide in Arlington and across Virginia. 

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Progressive Voice: Communities Coming Together Challenge Divisiveness Day by Day

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 Fatima Argun

Today, developments such as the Trump administration’s ban against immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, the deadly violence at a Charlottesville protest rally and an uptick in hate speech are at sharp odds with America’s basic need for civility.

The need to stand up to intolerance and divisiveness is more important than ever. Even in a progressive community like Arlington, hate speech leaflets recently were distributed in some neighborhoods and a Nazi demonstration took place in a shopping center parking lot. These disturbing events underscore the necessity of taking direct action to protect progressive values that so many of us share.

It is encouraging that Arlington citizens are responding by forming alliances that build bridges to understanding between neighbors of diverse beliefs and backgrounds. For instance, as a proud co-leader of the Arlington chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (SOSS), I facilitate relationship building among my Muslim and Jewish women. We encourage collective action to combat hate, negative stereotyping and prejudice.

We seek to influence family, friends and the public about the strength in coming together to challenge discord and stereotypes. We identify with the message of Joseph Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Whoever the ‘others’ may be, say something. Don’t let it go unanswered.”

With this in mind, let me tell you about a social justice journey I recently took with Muslim and Jewish friends to the Deep South. We wanted to be more directly exposed to the history, politics and activism of the civil rights movement launched more than 50 years ago — and to expose these communities to diverse groups not widely represented in these communities.

From Atlanta to Montgomery to Memphis, we heard first-hand accounts from those who experienced the struggle for a just society, such as Carolyn Maull McKinstry, who witnessed the Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 that killed four little girls.

In addition to gaining a better understanding of the civil rights struggles of the past and present, we also walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, where members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by John Lewis (now a Congressman from Georgia), were beaten in 1965 in the marches from Selma to Montgomery. We facilitated meetings and cooperation among and learned from local members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, and worked together on a Habitat for Humanity renovation project. By putting faces and places to the American civil rights movement, I learned valuable lessons that help me stand up to intolerance.

Back home in Arlington, SoSS members also have been involved with community service projects like the MLK Day of Service, voiced our concerns about gun safety and supported efforts to help immigrants, refugees and most recently the children separated from their parents at our borders. Starting this week, SoSS will participate in a national voter registration drive to ensure that eligible citizens have the opportunity to make their voices heard.

While divisiveness continues in America, it is encouraging that people who model equality and respect through discussions, friendship and outreach are building resilience in our communities. And it is heartening that day-by-day community unity and action can be a powerful antidote to discord, intolerance and polarization.

Fatima Argun is a strategy consultant, visionary and advocate focusing on interfaith engagement, dialogue and women’s empowerment. She works with senior levels of government, corporations and NGOs to support leadership development, capacity building and corporate social responsibility. As a longtime Arlington resident, Fatima serves on numerous boards including the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators Network, the Center for Pluralism, and the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society (JIDS).

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Progressive Voice: Arlington Must Do More to Protect Consumers

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 Christian Dorsey

The state of Arlington’s economy as measured by job growth, unemployment and average wages is strong. Yet while average wages are high, wage growth has not been strong enough across many sectors of the economy to keep up with inflation. This dynamic can be seen most acutely in the service sector with leisure and hospitality jobs, but it also exists with higher earning professional services jobs.

Furthermore, public sector jobs, a significant component of Arlington’s economy, have seen sustained wage stagnation since the end of the Great Recession in 2009-10. And retirees — a fast growing age cohort — receive inflation adjustments to their fixed incomes that are insufficient to keep up with the costs of the goods and services they require.

So even in relatively well-off Arlington, many earners face a growing income insecurity. Combined with Arlington’s high housing and child care costs, this situation deepens the need for safety net services for some citizens, and protection of scarce dollars for all consumers.

Arlington County government alone cannot reverse these market forces, but we have not been doing all we can to support people facing growing income insecurity. So, in January 2018, I asked our County Manager to reinvigorate our county’s efforts to protect consumers who suffer income loss through unfair, deceptive, abusive and fraudulent practices (UDAFP).

While there are no comprehensive data on allegations of UDAFP, Arlington County government hears frequent complaints involving trespass towing, billing and service issues with cable and telecommunications companies, title and payday lenders, identity theft from credit card skimmers, hired transportation, rental housing and general contract enforcement.

A consumer seeking redress of an alleged violation was faced with navigating federal statutes with multiple agencies having jurisdiction, a state office with limited capacity and no clear point of contact at the local level. And, frustratingly, consumer protection laws leave the complaining parties to seek redress on their own. This can have a chilling effect on anyone who suffers an injury but does not have the time, English proficiency or resources to hire counsel to resolve the dispute.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has relatively weak protections against UDAFP, however, state law does allow for local jurisdictions to operate a consumer protection bureau. Arlington must fill the void by standing up a consumer protection bureau that consolidates our efforts at educating businesses and consumers about their rights and responsibilities; aggregating and investigating complaints about illegal and unfair practices; and providing guidance to those who seek redress of their complaints.

This spring, Arlington took an important step in utilizing this authority by creating a clearinghouse landing page for consumer protection resources.

It is here that people can learn more about their rights, how to prevent becoming a victim of UDAFP, how to connect with state and federal resources and, most important, file a complaint that will be investigated as necessary.

Over time and as warranted, I want these efforts to expand by having the bureau mediate disputes, sanction bad actors, provide outreach and education to Arlingtonians, and promote businesses that commit to fair practices. Properly organized, a consumer protection bureau will provide a clear benefit to consumers and also to businesses that value fair marketplaces.

My vision for this consumer protection office does not require an increase in bureaucracy or any substantial increases in funding. In fact, when we consolidate efforts that are currently spread across several departments, including the Arlington County Police Department, we may be able to deliver better services at lower costs.

If you or anyone you know have been the victim of an unfair, deceptive or fraudulent business practice, visit Arlington’s Consumer Protection Clearinghouse to see if help is available. If you have any suggestions for additional areas of focus, please contact [email protected]

All Arlingtonians can benefit from systems that encourage faith in businesses and promote engagement in commerce. Fair practices and consumer protection must be part of the essential toolkit in keeping Arlington’s local economy such a healthy one. 

Christian Dorsey is Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board, a Member of the WMATA Board of Directors, a Commissioner on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a Member of the Transportation Planning Board, and Member of the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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Progressive Voice: What Might ‘A Good Deal’ With a Corporate Giant Like Amazon Look Like?

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 Takis Karantonis

Amazon’s public “beauty contest” about where it will locate a second headquarters has re-energized the discussion about investment incentives and responsible community benefit negotiations. Is competing for Amazon’s HQ2 a good thing for Arlington? What determines the acceptable balance of costs and benefits?

Skeptics fear that Arlington (and its partner Alexandria) may overestimate the ROI (return on investment) or underestimate its adverse impacts — and end up offering too sweet of a deal to Amazon.

Supporters see gains for the private and public dollars invested and an offset for many of the possible negative impacts.

This public discussion is taking place in the context of Arlington’s expensive housing market and chronic underinvestment in key infrastructure and critical public assets (transit, school capacity). How might a “good deal” overcome these obstacles?

If Amazon decides to come here, it intends to invest $5 billion over 10 years and would bring 50,000 jobs to our area, which currently has about 3.2 million jobs.

Amazon HQ2 and its employees would enlarge our local economy and the tax-base that supports our schools, services and community investments. Any incentives offered by the state and/or affected local jurisdictions are intended to attract investors and facilitate this virtuous cycle.

However, Arlington should be asking for reasonable investments from large corporations that are relocating here.

As one example, a good deal should emphasize Amazon’s use of public transit and disincentivize car-based commuting. Amazon should be invited to participate in public-private and direct investment in public transit in addition to its mandatory contributions to our transportation improvement fund.

Route 1 is as transit-efficient as it gets: two Metrorail lines, Virginia Railway Express, a bus rapid transit line and National Airport. Amazon HQ2, however, would require accelerating Metro and VRE improvements, and expanding Metroway-BRT. These improvements are compelling in their own right, and Amazon HQ2 should demonstrate how it would act as a catalyst for further improvements.

Another example: Arlington has plans to responsibly accommodate its share of growth along its urban corridors. However more needs to be done, including putting new housing supply policies to work, such as allowing for missing-middle land-use and gentle density, where appropriate. Amazon should demonstrate how it will contribute to wise land use, not exacerbate the current stresses that Arlington faces.

A third example: Amazon’s compliance with Arlington’s Community Energy Plan and Alexandria’s Eco-district planning should be expected as these plans support our community values and pay off for all involved: investors, community and the environment.

Fourth, the stresses for school space affect virtually all parts of Arlington. Amazon should participate actively in how projections of its arrival worsen this problem–and what it might do to ameliorate it in advance.

And what would Arlington bring to “a good deal” besides the obvious, but not trivial (location, well-educated population, etc.)?

The fact that Arlington teamed up with Alexandria for this project is a big step forward.

Amazon HQ2’s size and potential impact are well within what our region as a whole can handle. So we have met a prerequisite for a “good” Amazon deal–better regional cooperation.

So many new jobs and employees will unavoidably strain our tight housing market. In fact, investors see lack of housing availability and affordability–next to our infamous traffic problems–as the biggest drawbacks. Therefore, a good deal demands a regional commitment to increase housing supply and defend affordability. Arlington has such plans on the books, yet must better manage priorities and focus public investment.

Attracting major corporations makes our region economically more diverse and resilient. Big corporations often turn out to be fair and reliable long-term partners. Arlington is home to more than a few, to our mutual benefit. The key question is whether we are determined to maximize return on our hard-earned competitive advantages. Any incentives to an incoming corporation need to reflect credible and quantifiable current and future community benefits.

Amazon’s proposal would create quality jobs and makes the most of our key assets: our workforce, our brainpower, our infrastructure, our urbanism and our location. Its benefits should be welcome despite its notable adverse impacts. Yet the deal itself hinges on the all-important details, which will require a thorough and public debate in which our citizens should be engaging soon.

Takis Karantonis is an economist who has lived in Arlington for 12 years. He served earlier as the Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO), as well as on several advisory commissions, non-profit boards and the Board of his Columbia Heights Civic Association.

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Progressive Voice: Frugality is a Progressive Value

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.

By Laura Saul Edwards

Decades of careful planning and an enviable location next to D.C make Arlington an award-winning and desirable place to work, live and learn. But years of high vacancy rates in commercial real estate, skyrocketing enrollment in the public school system and a rising population have created challenges to how the county and school system maintain Arlington’s quality facilities, schools and infrastructure in a land-starved county.

Today, as the Arlington County Board is poised to approve a 10-year, $1.1 billion Capital Improvement Plan, I wish they had scrubbed it harder. I keep thinking of my dad’s frugality. His advice to my siblings and me — “first make certain you’ve done all you can with what you’ve got” — is just as relevant to county spending.

The county and Arlington Public Schools have made a sensible start in their FY 2019-2028 CIP proposals by targeting some projects for cuts or delays and phasing in others. However, before the next CIP is voted on two years from now, both boards could also follow my dad’s advice–squeeze every possible use from existing resources before borrowing for new construction and other projects.

Creative work is already yielding positive results. The interior space in some Arlington schools has been redesigned to produce hundreds more seats. In high schools, enhanced staff space enables classrooms to be used for six or seven periods (6/7 and 7/7) of the school day for instruction instead of the former 5/7 – only classrooms that need set up time, e.g., laboratories, cannot be used continuously. APS has also converted computer labs to classrooms as keyboarding evolved to personal iPads and laptops.

APS is also testing a new way of busing students to summer school classes. Rather than being picked up at their neighborhood stops, students will be picked up and dropped off at central locations (schools, libraries). If this cuts down the time students ride the bus and generates savings, it should be expanded to more schools.

Other ideas: moving pre-K classes out of elementary schools to central locations (perhaps unused commercial space or community centers), joint school/public libraries at sites like Reed/Westover and the Career Center or co-locating libraries with community centers, reducing the yellow bus fleet for secondary students or further expanding the use of ART and Metro buses to transport secondary students to school. The county could explore such approaches to see if it is wringing the most function out of facilities and resources.

One way to get our ducks in a row would be for county staff to regularly analyze usage data for all of Arlington’s facilities to identify opportunities for even more use. In a “matchmaker” role, the county would link community needs with existing resources in new ways to a greater extent than now, resorting to new construction and major purchases after other options have been exhausted.

For example, in what new ways can existing transit options be combined to transport students, residents, workers and visitors in a safe, dependable and more affordable way than maintaining multiple fleets of buses? Could underutilized parks be repurposed to support field sports and school athletics? Could existing pools, athletic fields and performing arts spaces in schools be shared among schools in lieu of building more, without diminishing instruction and the student experience? Would it make sense to convert some community centers to pre-K centers or schools? Might some community programs move to new locations or be co-located with other programs to make capacity available where it is needed?

Establishing incentives to promote more commercial and private sector support for capacity should be actively pursued as well. In Seven Corners a five-story office building was converted into the Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for Arts and Sciences.  Zoning changes and other incentives could make redeveloping long vacant commercial space into schools, day care centers and seniors centers possible.

It will require planning, public engagement and some expenditure to repurpose and/or redesign existing facilities to make full use of untapped capacity and resources, but hopefully these changes will cost less than starting from scratch.

My dad was a creative penny pincher who found unused space in my childhood home and converted it into a craft room for my mom the quilter, instead of building a costly addition.

Granted, there will always be a need to borrow for major capital projects.  And, granted, it doesn’t make economic sense to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. But the potential for more use at less cost to taxpayers is enticing and a progressive value at its core.

Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington County since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.

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Progressive Voice: It’s Time to Embrace the Mobility Smorgasbord

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 Lisa Nisenson

This year marked a breakthrough for transportation with a new regional deal for Metro funding. But transit options are only part of developing a mobility system to move people while reducing gridlock. Arlington should consider innovative options from other jurisdictions that would update the county’s longstanding “car-free diet” approach. As it so happens, some of the most exciting opportunities for mobility are rolling out, literally, on two wheels.

Perhaps you’ve seen, or even ridden, the new electric bikes and scooters in Washington. These new bike share systems are called dockless, or free floating. They don’t need to be parked at a station like Arlington’s Capital Bikeshare bikes. This is both a blessing (for riders) and a curse (chaotic sidewalks). Likewise, riders can pay by the trip rather than create a membership.

Some of the dockless bikes are also electric, pedal assist models. The power does not kick in unless the rider is pedaling. There are four companies operating electric scooters in Washington: Lime, Waybots, Bird and Skip. Both scooters and electric bike share are part of a pilot project for dockless systems in DC.

While not yet available in Arlington, the county is studying how Washington and other cities are managing systems to avoid “bike litter” (improperly parked or broken bikes and scooters).

These new systems represent something larger than a bike ride. Competition among providers like Uber and Lime to provide on-demand mobility means the rate of change is outpacing our traditional, deliberative processes. The technology companies’ “install now, study later” tactics reverse the usual process for transportation planning, which can take years. Cities are scrambling to adjust for one big reason: the electric scooters and bikes are wildly popular because they fill some of the most stubborn mobility gaps.

In Arlington, electric scooters and electric pedal assist bicycles can expand bike share to the hillier parts of the northern and southern parts of the county. These bikes and scooters can also expand access to Metro beyond our transit corridors.

We don’t have to wait to begin proper planning now. The key to success is incorporating electric bike and scooter share systems into our county transportation programs via a fast and nimble approach.

Testing ideas first: With new ideas and technology, demonstration and pilot projects let the community start small and experiment with design before making large investments. Demonstrations also let the community take a test drive (or ride) of new mobility and for new street designs. On June 28, for example, the Crystal City BID will host a demonstration of the new electric bike share options (JUMP and LimeBike) as part of Food Truck Thursday.

Nimble infrastructure: Many cities install temporary infrastructure like bike lanes to test demand and design. Others use portable amenities like bike parking to meet seasonal or event-based demand. Seattle used modular rails and planters to test a protected bike lane. Austin is painting designated parking areas for dockless bikes and scooters. Arlington needs to make sure it has access to the data to assess how people are using and parking scooters and bikes, and then use the data to target increased investment on routes with high demand.

Simpler permitting: Los Angeles’ People St program has streamlined permits for installing parklets and bike parking on streets and sidewalks. Making parking easy and accessible is one key to managing dockless systems.

Evolving support: One of the main challenges to the growth of dockless systems is charging the scooters and bikes. In fact, scooter companies pay “juicers” to charge and distribute their fleets in a designated area. Over the long term, integrated parking plus charging stations will become standard in buildings for all kinds of electric vehicles.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is going to be cultural. Car drivers and bike riders alike staunchly defend their mode. The new electric mobility models, though, will mean more options for more places that create more opportunities for Arlington residents to get out and about without adding to gridlock. Allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good with planning in this case wouldn’t be progress; it’d be shifting into reverse gear.

Lisa Nisenson leads Alta Planning + Design’s New Mobility groups and is founder of the award-winning start-up GreaterPlaces. She gave a 2015 TEDxArlington talk on building better transportation networks.

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Progressive Voice: Social Isolation Among Older Adults — Can We Build Community in New Ways?

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 Lucy Theilheimer

When I moved in to my Arlington colonial 26 years ago, my neighbors ranged from young families to older residents, some of whom had been in their homes for over 40 years. Over time, I observed the changes that redefined their later lives, like the widow who had to move into assisted living. Having spent my career in the field of aging, health and long-term care, I was acutely aware of how supportive communities might make the difference in helping my neighbors to live their later years with health, dignity and independence.

No senior should have to live without the essential ingredients of a quality life–social relationships, housing, family support and sufficient income. Yet many do right here in our own community.

Can communities like Arlington be more purposeful and innovative in recognizing the need and helping to fill it?

Research has shown that 80% of the factors affecting someone’s overall health and well-being have nothing to do with the care one receives in a doctor’s office or in a hospital. It is those social determinants of health, such as housing and social networks, that are essential to quality of life.

Over time, social networks shrink. And it has become increasingly clear that social isolation is detrimental to one’s health–as risky as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to one study. Older people with fewer social connections often suffer from higher levels of stress and depression. Men without a spouse or cohabiting partner are more likely to suffer from loneliness than their unmarried counterparts. Age-related changes, such as decline in visual, sensory or cognitive abilities, all can impact social interaction. So can loss of mobility and limited transportation. Retirement can result in a change in income, as well as a loss of social interaction and professional identity.

In Arlington, 14 percent of all households have one or more members who are 65+ and 47 percent of older households are single member households, one of the key risk factors associated with social isolation. Of those, 25 percent are widows and another 25 percent are either divorced or single. Most are women (67.5 percent) and 10 percent have significant limitations with activities of daily living.

What I saw happening in my neighborhood with older people is happening across the U.S. Every day, 10,000 individuals are turning 65. While many are in good health today, over time they likely will be coping with an increasing number of chronic conditions, and experiencing difficulty in carrying out daily tasks like grocery shopping or bathing. They will lose lifelong friends and loved ones. And many will not have support systems to remain safely in their homes and communities.

Those most at-risk are the homebound, who can’t leave their homes to join in the opportunities in the community. Often, a Meals on Wheels delivery person is their only human contact. Community organizations like senior centers and religious groups do offer opportunities to bring people together. But the need is outpacing the response.

Today research is identifying and testing other kinds of interventions that can help to reduce social isolation. One example is using technology to facilitate connections between homebound seniors and their local senior centers — a senior center without walls. Another is expanding “friendly visitor” programs where trained volunteers are matched with an isolated senior to make regular visits and build a relationship that is meaningful to both. Unfortunately, even if we prove that these interventions work and are cost effective, who will pay to scale them?

Thinking about my neighbors, I am remembering one who lost her husband to cancer. She was able to remain in her home for a number of years until she started experiencing falls. With no family close by, she ultimately moved to an assisted living community.

Another neighbor lost his wife of more than 50 years. Thanks to an extensive family support system and some modifications to his house, he stayed in his home until the age of 94 and died with his family all around him.

I imagine that most of us would prefer this last scenario for ourselves. Can the Arlington that is home to entrepreneurs, innovation incubators and deep-pocket capital investors also be home to innovation projects that tackle problems like social isolation among older people?

Lucy Theilheimer is a long-time resident of Arlington and was an active participant in the Leadership Arlington program. She is Chief Strategy and Impact Officer for Meals on Wheels America.

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