(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington has long prided itself on the pathways available to residents to have a say in local policy-making, also known as the “Arlington Way.”
But a growing number of county officials, local leaders and civic groups think the tradition, while noble in aim, doesn’t work for everyone. They say it leans too much on affluent retirees and sabotages the county’s equity efforts.
For years, Arlington County has acknowledged that its traditional engagement processes privilege those with the time, resources and connections to invest in discussions about projects, studies and policies. That leaves out a growing segment of the population outside that mold: renters, parents of young kids, people who work non-traditional hours, people without access to reliable and affordable transportation, and those who are not fluent English speakers.
Suggestions to retool, reform or scrap the process are not new, but in recent months, the topic has bubbled up in county-level conversations.
References to the “Arlington Way” arose in a County Board public comment period this summer that ran long due to controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market, which shut out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments. More recently, diversity concerns prompted the Arlington County Civic Federation — which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss local topics — to pass a resolution prioritizing improved community outreach and representation.
Amid this renewed focus, some novel approaches and long-term reforms have been proposed that county and civic leaders and community engagement staff tell ARLnow could widen the Arlington Way.
“Generally speaking, Arlington residents care about the issues that impact them, but do they know about it? How do they get the information?” asks Samia Byrd, Arlington’s Chief Race and Equity Officer. “We take for granted that residents know how to participate in the process.”
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol reprised the dilemma last week during a conversation about the community oversight board, which is currently seeking members to review cases of alleged police misconduct.
“We’ve been wrestling with… how we properly compensate people for that time and expertise,” Cristol said, as quoted by County Board watcher Stephen Repetski. “Because, frankly, that is… one of the biggest reasons you see our most heavy-hitting community engagement activities tend to rely disproportionately on well-off retirees.”
In a follow-up conversation, she told ARLnow that she’s been thinking about diversity in County Board-appointed commissions.
Six years ago, she believed that the solution would be finding and recruiting new faces at all levels of leadership. Over time, she’s realized the homogeneity of civic leadership is a consequence of how engagement is structured. Night meetings — or even day meetings — at county headquarters disadvantage students, parents and anyone who doesn’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including overworked young professionals.
“It actually was not just about inviting more diverse people to the table, as defined, but maybe the table was defined in a way that made it hard for certain people to sit there,” she said. “There have to be many ways to engage.”
Those involved in county communications tell ARLnow they likewise think about diversity, not in terms of commission composition and structure, but in terms of regular outreach.
Who’s left out?
Assistant County Manager and Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer has been tackling community engagement homogeneity since she was hired in 2016. She and Byrd both say “it’s been a challenge” to reach people who aren’t white, affluent or a retiree, as well as people who don’t already know how to get involved or navigate the county website.
Blackstone Management, LLC
2221 South Clark St.
Arlington, Virginia 22221
A property management firm is planning to open a new office in Courthouse in January.
Blackstone Management, a company that helps run properties for the board of directors for home owner and condo associations, is aiming to have a larger presence in Arlington, said Forrest Baggarly, the managing director of the company.
“We would definitely like to have a larger presence in Arlington. That’s something we’re trying to push this year,” Baggarly said.
Blackstone Management takes over the management of residential buildings for homeowner associations, which includes tasks such as maintenance requests, amenities management and training community managers. The company also focuses on helping associations collect memberships fees and budget their money properly.
“We’re locally owned and operated,” Baggarly said. “We are very familiar with the D.C. area. We know where are properties are. And another big point is that we visit our properties.”
While the company is locally owned, it also has the features of a larger corporation, he said. The company is constantly adding and improving technology to make management easier for associations to run better and low the board of directors to have access the info they need.
“People see us online and all our capabilities and think we’re large frim. He said. “And we are a large company, but we’re locally owned and operated.” So we can give each customer the attention they need.
The company has an app that allows board members to see all the different maintenance requests, manage payments, set tasks for themselves and other board members and other tasks needed to keep up property management. The app also lets owners view their account and make payments and request on the go.
Baggarly said he thinks the app will be popular among Arlington home and condo associations, as the local residents are up to date on new technology.
“The homeowner associations and condo owner associations we have in Arlington, they use are online system more than 80 percent of the other areas,” he said.
The company already manages buildings in Arlington, including in Rosslyn, and so far, Baggarly said he noticed that things are “newer, things are better kept” in the county.
Although the company is pushing its technology, the company is still reachable by phone and email, Baggarly said, adding that the company is very responsive and will return all their calls and emails.
“If you call us, we’re going to respond as quickly as we can,” he said. We have a request tracing system to make sure owner’s calls do not go unanswered.
The company’s focus on being reachable, whether through an app or by phone is what separates them from other management companies, Baggarly said. The company has taken over properties where former managers failed to respond to maintenance requests or failed to collect dues, he added.
One of these properties was in Maryland, where a management company had let a condo association rack up about $200,000.00 in maintenance bills and had numerous unpaid electricity bills. The association now has paid all its bills and has money in savings. More members are showing up to the association meetings, as well, Baggarly said.
“We listen to what the issues are in the community and tell them in our experience what we can do to help them,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re running the association, homeowners association, condo owners association, apartment building, the way its supposed to be run.”
The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Heather Mongilio for ARLnow.com.
A place to convene with neighbors, donate those dusty spy novels and show children the merits of community service comes in a package the size of an old cranberry crate.
These Little Free Libraries, neighborhood-sponsored curbside libraries with a free, “take a book, return a book,” policy, have sprouted up in Arlington since Robert Walter installed one in his neighborhood off Glebe Road and Walter Reed Drive in 2012.
“It’s better than donating to Goodwill, who will sell [the books], and it’s a way to give back to the neighborhood,” said Walter, who heard about The Little Free Library organization on Facebook.
Little Free Libraries encourage communities to contribute any books — from children’s books to novels to cookbooks — as well as to enjoy the contributions made by other neighbors.
There are now seven Little Free Libraries in Arlington, located at 3900 7th Street S., 1060 N. Liberty Street, 4706 32nd Street N., 5117 N. 27th Street, 1700 S. Edgewood Street, 6328 22nd Street N. along a section of the Four Mile Run trail, and on the grounds of Washington-Lee High School.
Last week, each library was stocked with books, including comedian David Cross’ memoir and an installment of the “Berenstain Bears” children’s series.
Much like ordinary libraries, Little Free Libraries are meant to be a community hub. However, they don’t charge late fees or require library cards, just an interest in reading and paying-it-forward.
“It’s good for poor people and the [undocumented] population who might have been intimidated by the registration process at a library, or who want to avoid potential late fees,” Walter said of his Little Free Library. “It’s also more social.”
After his proposal for a Little Free Library was approved by the homeowners’ association of his eight-residence community, Walter requested a box from Little Free Library.
Walter said his homeowners’ association paid approximately $350 for their recycled cranberry crate, its post and installation, but many communities make their own libraries rather than buying them from the organization.
“I’ve seen some really elaborate, cool designs that people have done,” Walter said. The Little Free Library website includes pictures of library “stewards” like Walter, who built their libraries to look like covered bridges or old-fashioned school houses.
More than 2,000 Little Free Libraries exist across the world. Since the organization’s beginning in Wisconsin in 2009, Little Free Library owners in Vietnam, Germany and Australia have registered their libraries on the official map.
For residents interested in installing their own, all that’s needed is the approval of the neighborhood association, access to building materials or the means to purchase a library box, and registration with Little Free Library’s map. A steward to sponsor and maintain the library is also essential.
“When I was a resident, I would just keep a box of books in the house and it was like a constant reserve,” Walter said.
Although Walter has relocated to Fairfax, and will soon transfer stewardship of his library to someone in his old neighborhood, he knows his library still gets frequent business.
“I went back there to pick up some mail, and there were books there, different ones from the last time I saw it,” Walter said.
Last week, the website Deadspin took a break from sports coverage to post an email from the president of an Arlington homeowner’s association
Apparently the HOA president of the Westwind townhouse community near Ballston has had it up to here with dog owners not cleaning up after their pooches. After encountering a wayward turd on the sidewalk, the president, whose name was redacted, sent a letter to residents threatening action.
Specifically, the HOA president proposes installing surveillance cameras and, if that doesn’t lead to the guilty party, using DNA testing to match poops with pups.
… I will be proposing in the next Board meeting (July 31), a new rule that would require all dog owners to register their dogs’ DNA so that poops can be positively identified. This practice has now been adopted across the country by many homeowners’ associations who are tired of sending warnings to their residents with no effect.
In addition, the safety surveillance cameras I and other Westwind residents are planning to install on their front and back doors will help identify the offending dog owners.
Do you agree with the HOA president’s suggested course of action?
Photo via Google Maps