Arlington, VA

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village. Spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes are under construction and will deliver soon!

Finding a relationship during the pandemic has gotten a little easier.

George Mason University students Cameron Smith and Dennis Nayandin developed and released a new dating app, SpecUdate, which is currently focused on the D.C. area. Devised as “Online Dating’s Real Game,” the app seeks to offer a new experience for users in “a fun way for people to break the ice online in a way that hasn’t been done before,” according to Smith, the CEO for the project.

Smith and Nayandin began work a year and a half ago on the project. The computer science majors — who have completely self-funded the project — went released the app on Friday, Oct. 8, with 1,500 subscribers and 100 active users. SpecUdate is open to anyone interested, but initially has targeted GMU and other area universities.

“Once we’ve made a foothold in the DMV area and the Northern Virginia area, we would like to expand to other areas,” said Smith, an Arlington native who attended Yorktown High School. “We want to be as big as we can, but we also want people to share the idea, share the concept, buy into the app itself.”

The development and direction of the app came as a result of Smith’s personal experiences with online dating apps and after interviews with college students, gauging their experiences with other services. After gathering the insight of students, chief technology officer Nayandin fit Smith’s vision for the app.

“SpecUdate is designed to help find relationships and friendships, but the way it does it is unique,” Smith said. “Unlike other services, we decided to go a route with our app where it’s actually like a real game.”

As a result of the feedback Smith and Nayandin received from their interviews, the primary focal point of SpecUdate is how users interact and develop connections. Before a connection can progress to a conversation, the app requires users to participate in two social games: “two truths and a lie” and a simple true or false question.

The games are meant to be icebreakers that can be used and referenced after a connection has been made and a conversation has opened between users.

The app — which is compatible on iOS and Android devices — has also taken on the challenge of being as inclusive as possible by taking advice from contacts made through George Mason’s LGBTQ office.

“One thing we had to conquer was ‘okay, how can we make this inclusive for everybody,'” Smith said. “I wanted everybody to be able to use the app, no matter gender or orientation.”

While COVID-19 has impacted the app and the marketing for it, Smith and Nayandin have taken the challenge head on. The duo had 1,000 email signups before the pandemic hit and George Mason went to virtual learning, and they’ve added 500 emails as a result of social media marketing. The app has also been adjusted to allow users to increase their search radius from a maximum 100 miles to 300.

“SpecUdate was designed to be a fun icebreaker dating game where people can actually enjoy playing the game more, as well as enjoy the process of dating, which should be a relaxing, enjoyable process,” Smith said.

“There’s a big stigma these days surrounding online dating apps that prevents a lot of people from even trying them just based off of what they’ve heard from other people, that they’re ‘hook-up apps,’ ‘they’re boring.’ We want to be different than that. We want to be the app that people enjoy to play and have fun connecting on, and is less stressful.”

Photo via SpecUdate

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A portion of Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon City, is being transformed into a vibrant display of gardening through a new agricultural initiative.

The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture, National Landing BID, Livability 22202 and Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation collaborated to develop a project that is revitalizing a strip of land in the park for a temporary demonstration garden. The project, called the Highlands Urban Garden (HUG), is located at 1600 S. Hayes Street.

Project HUG will include a display of various irrigation systems, while showcasing how to counter challenging soil conditions and how edge spaces in parks can be converted to functioning gardens. Produce from the garden will be donated to local food pantries.

The garden — which volunteers broke ground on Sept. 27 — utilizes the space adjacent to the tennis court practice wall at the park. This fall marks the initial installation and preparation of this pilot site for a spring planting season.

“Project HUG will revitalize underused land near the park’s tennis courts and illustrate how otherwise fallow spaces can be transformed into productive land that builds a vibrant ecosystem,” said Arlington FOUA Board President Robin Broder. “The Highlands Urban Garden will serve as a model for future community-driven agriculture features throughout Arlington’s urban neighborhoods.”

A team of neighborhood volunteers will maintain and manage the garden. On-site signage will inform community members about the practices used in caring for a planned mix of edible vegetative crops, native plants and pollinators.

The rectangular strip of land HUG occupies will consist of three bays of six fabric grow bags connected to automatic irrigation systems. The garden will also feature smart sensors to track water, light, fertilizer and temperature that can be used as part of a long-term data collection effort for STEM curricula at local schools.

“We are pleased to collaborate with our partners in the community to expand natural elements throughout National Landing’s built environment by transforming land on the margins and in unexpected places,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, Executive Director of National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID. “The Highlands Urban Garden will invoke curiosity and joy in passersby, residents and park visitors alike.”

As a part of the temporary design of the garden, there will not be any below grade digging or disturbance of the grounds at the site.

Photos courtesy Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture

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Arlington County has undergone drastic changes over the last 100 years to become what it is today.

In celebrating the county’s history and the 2020 census, County Manager Mark Schwartz will compare a snapshot of the area from 100 years ago and today’s Arlington during a virtual discussion.

The two-hour program will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on the county’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, or on Arlington TV (Comcast 1085/Verizon 40).

An interactive storybook and map will be paired with the discussion. The session will also feature a “conversation with the members of the Complete Count Committee appointed in 2019 on their experiences with working on the 2020 census,” according to Schwartz.

“Viewers can expect a summary of how Arlington of today compares with the Arlington of 100 years ago on a number of measures, including population, family size, demographic makeup (race, age, gender, languages spoken, housing types),” Schwartz wrote in an email.

Schwartz added that the discussion will include “a history lesson on what Arlington looked like and some stories from 100 years ago that shed some light on the Arlington of today.”

The broadcast will explore the county’s transformation since its naming as a nod to the Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery — an association that is now under scrutiny. The name was officially changed from Alexandria County in 1920 to avoid being confused with the city of Alexandria.

Arlington County grew from a primarily rural area of farms — the last of which closed in 1955 — as its population steadily increased and new developments were established.

Farms gave way to housing developments, new businesses and modernized infrastructure over the years. The population followed suit as an increase of federal workers spilled into the area during the 1930s, as National Airport opened in 1941, as World War II saw the construction of the Pentagon, and as the Metrorail corridors were introduced in the 1970s.

The county’s population has grown exponentially from the 16,040 residents counted in the 1920 census, which included sections of Del Ray and the City of Alexandria that were part of the county then, according to Arlington’s website.

Arlington County has grown every decade since 1920, except in the 1970s when the area’s population dropped by 12.4%. However, the population rebounded and steadily grew to 207,627 in 2010, according to census data.

The latest estimates peg the county’s population at 228,400, a 10% increase from 2010. A forecast by the county shows the population growing to 301,200 in 2045.

“Today, Arlington is a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with a population that continues to grow at approximately 1% per year,” the county website says.

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Though we are well out of spring, a new bunch of flowers has bloomed in Clarendon.

A new sculpture entitled “Floral Sky” was installed Saturday at the corner of Clarendon Blvd and N. Edgewood Street at Market Common Clarendon.

Artist Michael Kalish from Los Angeles was chosen from around 75 submissions to create the sculpture, according to Jason Yanushonis, manager of investments for property owner Regency Centers. The sculpture was designed, fabricated, built in and shipped from LA before installation began on Thursday, Sept. 17.

The installation was commissioned and funded by Regency Centers in collaboration with the Arlington Cultural Affairs division for the county, Yanushonis said.

Jim Byers, Marketing Director for Arlington Arts, describes the installation as “a multi-dimensional sculpture of larger-than-life blooms native to Virginia sprouting up from the ground.”

“Floral Sky is a vibrant and whimsical addition to the public plaza and streetscape at Market Common Clarendon,” Byers wrote in an email. “In our busy worlds where we are often looking at our phones, it encourages passerby to stop and look up. “

Planning for the art installation began in 2018 as part of the redevelopment of Market Common Clarendon.

“We wanted to do something really extraordinary here. We decided to work with Arlington to come up with something collaboratively that kind of expressed what we felt about the area of the neighborhood, and especially our project,” Yanushonis said.

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In a year that has been more trick than treat, traditional Halloween activities may be next on the chopping block.

Arlington County has not yet issued an official directive for Halloween this year. However, Arlington’s Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese is cautioning against participation in trick-or-treating or other traditional Halloween activities due to the pandemic.

In a virtual COVID-19 town hall on Friday, Varghese expressed optimism about Halloween, under the right circumstances. He said revelers should observe six-foot distances between people or groups, and individuals who show any signs of illness should not be out and about.

“Those are going to be some of the things that parents are still going to have to think about,” Varghese said. “I think there are ways to do it, but it’s going to probably be on a more limited scale and making sure that people [know] what’s more important, the candy or the costuming.”

On Tuesday, the CDC and the VDH released guideline for participating in Halloween activities this year. Both listed high, moderate and low-risk activities in the guidelines while reminding everyone to wear a mask or cloth face covering, and to practice social distancing and proper hand washing.

The high-risk activities the CDC and VDH suggest to avoid include door to door trick-or-treating, where treats are handed out, or attending crowded events or parties, such as indoor costume parties or indoor haunted houses. Both also advise against going on hayrides or tractor rides with people outside of your household.

The CDC and VDH also offer a variety of low-risk activity ideas that includes carving or decorating pumpkins with family or at a distance with neighbors or friends, decorating your house, and virtual costume contests.

“The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid being exposed to the virus altogether,” VDH said. “This is particularly important for people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

In Alexandria, trick-or-treating will be allowed, as the city is not regulating the holiday, Washingtonian reported last week. Arlington County similarly does not set official trick-or-treating times nor has it, in the past, set any Halloween-specific regulations.

Nationally, a number of cities and states — like ChicagoNew York, and Arkansas — have said they will not cancel Halloween festivities outright, though many are encouraging revelers to follow existing safety guidelines.

Los Angeles made headlines at the beginning of the month for initially banning trick-or-treating and other activities. However, public health officials reversed course a day later and merely recommended canceling trick-or-treating, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) After years of stalled plans, concepts for a new public plaza and office building in Virginia Square are taking shape.

Arlington County and developer Skanska released two new concept designs for the plaza as part of a community engagement process for the planned development, located near Arlington Central Library. The county is seeking feedback on the designs, which have changed since the development was first approved in 2012.

The site at 3901 Fairfax Drive once housed the Arlington Funeral Home, but has been a parking lot since the funeral home was demolished in June 2012. The site plan was amended twice, in 2015 and 2018, to extend the term of the original plan and allow the location to be used for temporary parking.

Skanska bought the property, after years of development limbo, in October 2019.

In its latest iteration, the building now includes 10,280 square feet of space for retail tenants at the bottom level, with storefronts featuring roll-up doors that open to the plaza, and 184,036 square feet of office space.

Designs for the plaza have been updated due to changes to the building design, including the removal of a proposed black box theater and tweaks to the ground floor retail space. The two new, proposed designs for the .2-acre public plaza are dubbed “The Serene Urban Oasis” and “The Breezy Public Forum.”

“Neighbors, patrons of nearby businesses, and library goers can use this space to chat, play, or even get started on that new book they’ve checked out,” says the project website.

“The Serene Urban Oasis” features a passive water feature that is proposed as “more of a sculptural object,” according to John Becker, an architect for CallisonRTKL Inc. and project manager for the development.

“The Breezy Public Forum,” trades the water feature in the first concept for an overhead shade structure in a small area on the northern side of the plaza. It also integrates ornamental trees in the paved area to allow for additional shade.

Both concepts feature a smaller paved area on the north end of the plaza, with a larger paved area on the south. They also feature trees along the sidewalks, berms with inset benches, moveable tables and chairs, and a seating zone for retail. Interactive play elements are also a listed possibility.

County-standard streetlights surround the perimeter of the site on the sidewalk. A mixture of hidden, direct and indirect LED lighting is included with both concepts. Both designs are accessible for those with disabilities.

The original plaza budget — which is funded by the developer — was $825,000, but now sits at $914,000 after being adjusted for inflation.

“Through estimates, we believe that the schemes presented are capable of being delivered within the $914,000 budget,” Becker said.

Feedback received on concepts for the plaza will be used to create a “hybrid of these two preliminary concepts” that will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Oct. 27 for review, according to planners. The County Board will consider the final concept as a part of a site plan amendment in November.

There is no listed timeline for the start of construction on the project.

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Arlington County has opened a temporary tax payment location.

As the Oct. 5 deadline approaches for vehicle personal property taxes and the second installment of real estate taxes, the Arlington County Treasurer’s Office on Monday opened a temporary payment location at Thomas Jefferson Community Center (3501 2nd Street S.) to accept payments in person.

The satellite location is in addition to the Treasurer’s Office payment windows on the second floor of county government headquarters (2100 Clarendon Blvd), which is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“In addition to having limited staff at our main office, we will be at Thomas Jefferson Community Center to safety take your payments in person, Sept. 21-25, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.,” the Treasurer’s Office said via email. “Please remember to wear a mask.”

Payments can also be made online via the Customer Assessment and Payment Portal (CAPP), mailed to Arlington County Treasurer at PO Box 1754, Merrifield, VA 22116-1754, or a check can be dropped off at one of two 24-hour drop boxes.

Any person financially impacted by COVID-19 may call the Treasurer’s Office at 703-228-4000 for assistance.

For anyone who moved or sold their vehicle, taxes may still be owed for the months the vehicle was still located in Arlington. Vehicle tax bills — which were mailed in August — should be reviewed for accuracy in this matter, the Treasurer’s Office said.

“If you are waiting for your account to be adjusted, please be sure to avoid a late payment penalty by paying your bill in full by October 5,” the office said. “Any overpayment will be refunded to you once your account has been adjusted.”

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