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: L. Karen Darner
The recent public spat over the Vice Chair election at the County Board’s organizational meeting was a sad new chapter in our civic life.
The simple and standard selection of Board leaders from the ranks majority was instead turned by Mr. Vihstadt into a public and political issue. The move was unnecessary and unwise at a time when federal and state Republicans are moving aggressively to undermine liberal values, policies, and programs strongly supported by Arlington’s electorate.
The meeting should have focused on community issues and aspirations, not overtly political efforts followed up by a paid Facebook ad seeking to capitalize politically on the Vice Chair maneuver.
I have attended over 30 such organizational meetings. At nearly all, we had on display hard work and collaboration of Board members to build a place where people want to live and work, of which most of us have been very proud — as we should be.
Board members shared their priorities for the new year with County residents and voted for Chairs and Vice Chairs collectively identified as best able to lead the County forward.
The County Board has had a decades-long liberal majority of Democrats and/or Arlingtonians for a Better County members.
Arlington voters still maintain a strong liberal voting record. All but one of our elected officials locally, in Richmond, and on Capitol Hill are Democrats — generally elected by wide margins.
Arlington voters in 2016 gave Hillary Clinton an extraordinary victory margin — a reflection of liberal values and fears of what Donald Trump and highly partisan Republicans would do to undermine so much of the progress made by Democrats.
Our County Board has reflected the electorate’s support for a government that promotes those values, implements progressive policies, conducts government with fiscal prudence and a strong safety net, and delivers public services efficiently and effectively.
For those reasons, I believe that Arlington voters expect the County Board — with a 4-1 Democratic majority — to be led by Democrats.
And until now, Board members have been able to work together, without partisanship and overweening personal ambition, to elect Chairs and Vice Chairs.
Through it all, we saw high levels of mutual respect. When Board members did not agree, we saw healthy discussion, persuasion and compromise focused on what’s best for Arlingtonians. We learned the rationale for policies, processes or projects, changes that might be possible and how compromises were achieved.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, we saw increased divisiveness in our politics — pitting parts of the County against each other and an elected official hurling accusations of impropriety and unethical behavior against elected colleagues.
When I endorsed Katie Cristol (and Christian Dorsey) to be 2015 Democratic nominees, I looked forward to returning to a more positive mindset. I saw Katie as a creative mind with a strong commitment to Democratic values — the worth of each person, quality education, fairness and justice, compassion and unselfishness.
She has developed a strong track record on the Board, fusing her interest in public policy with a practical sense of good governance and an openness to hearing and understanding the viewpoints of all Arlingtonians. She has represented us ably in her regional responsibilities.
An added plus is that Katie’s a millennial. Giving someone from the next generation a chance to step up, especially in a county with the highest proportion of millennials in the country, provides for an important perspective.
To favor Katie for the Vice Chair position is not to denigrate the John Vihstadt’s public service. But John is neither a Democrat nor a liberal.
The January remarks by each Board member about priorities and policies reflected substantial difference between Mr. Vihstadt and his Democratic colleagues. He sounded like a Main Street Republican — and someone with a partisan perspective.
The Board Chair and Vice Chair are the public face of our community and set the Board’s agenda. Our leadership team should not equivocate on fundamental Democratic values that have made Arlington such a great community.
Moreover, at a time when liberal values will be under threat at the state and federal levels by highly partisan Republicans, it is certainly not time for decidedly Democratic urban and suburban jurisdictions to turn to a Republican to lead our governing efforts.
That’s why Mr. Fisette and Ms Cristol were properly selected as County Board leaders and spokespeople. They represent what Arlington stands for and they will continue to work with all residents to seek solutions while showing respect to the people of Arlington.
Karen Darner served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. In 2009, she received the Arlington Community Foundation’s William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Award in recognition of over 30 years as an educator and an active member of numerous community organizations.
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: Jay Fisette
The following is an excerpted version of a statement delivered at the Arlington County Board’s January 3rd Organizational Meeting. The full text will be available on the County web site.
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But the pace and impacts of change vary greatly. This year is likely to bring dramatic, unsettling changes in our national government and internationally. Arlington will feel some effects, but respond as we have before in times of turbulence and more gradual change: with sensible actions, shared community vision, thoughtful dialogue and open debate.
What makes us such a healthy community?
Let’s recognize how fortunate we are in our location next to the Nation’s Capital, income and education levels, community values, and tradition of strong, open government with engaged citizens.
Arlington continues to excel in the provision of core government services — public safety, education, transportation and basic social services for those in need. Of course we’re not perfect, yet in our last resident survey, overall satisfaction with the quality of local government services remained at 89% — 32 percentage points above the national average.
Our smart growth planning is a national model, relying on transit and thoughtful land use planning as prime engines of redevelopment. Our resulting tax base is well balanced between commercial and residential properties. Our tax rate is among the lowest in the region. Our triple-AAA bond rating reflects strong fiscal management. Our unemployment rate remains the lowest in Virginia and well below the national rate.
So what’s our job in 2017?
Listen and lead.
Ensure Arlington continues to move forward.
Improve the predictability and equity of services with County agencies responsive to residents’ and businesses’ questions and needs.
Harness technology, adapt to the sharing economy and improve our communication and notification tools.
Some challenges I intend to focus on in 2017 are: (1) the need for facilities, including schools, within constraints of limited land; (2) strengthening economic competitiveness; (3) housing affordability; (4) environmental sustainability; (5) METRO; and (6) staying true to our vision and values.
On facilities, we continue to work well with our elected School Board colleagues — as partners in local government, sharing fiscal resources, facilities and land. We are all in this together. We all need fire stations, bus storage facilities, parks, schools and more.
Regarding economic competitiveness, our commercial vacancy rate has recently dipped below 20%, though still much higher than our historic averages. We have attracted and retained businesses, but must continue to brand Arlington as an innovation economy hub and market our assets aggressively.
Affordable housing has become a bellwether issue that expresses the soul of our community. We are victims of our own success. Far more people want to live here than we have homes to fill.
To further the Affordable Housing Master Plan, we will review and update our accessory dwelling unit ordinance, consider tools for preserving our attractive and affordable garden apartments, and explore more options for people of modest means, multi-generational households and aging in place.
Environmental sustainability is our generation’s planetary challenge. Arlington must be a leader. Our 2013 Community Energy Plan was adopted after three years of collaborative effort. We did not just sign a proclamation. We have implemented policies and programs to achieve our targets.
Ensuring the success of METRO is the region’s top priority and will require all our attention in 2017. It is a backbone of our transportation network and our economy. 84% of office development in the region’s pipeline is within ¼ mile of a METRO station.
WMATA, under strong new leadership, has taken bold steps to address the system’s safety and reliability. Having the only large U.S. rail system without a dedicated funding source, we must help our region find a sustainable path forward.
A significant task in 2017 will be to advance our values, our vision and our community ethic as we collectively grapple with broader uncertainties and threats to social and environmental programs and individual liberties anticipated with the incoming federal administration.
Local governments will be called upon to lead. Communities like Arlington can serve as a model for combining progressive social policies with conservative and responsible fiscal policies.
Arlington must continue to: stand by our convictions; pursue our aspirations; value the common good; prize public education; look after the most vulnerable among us; strengthen environmental protection; build public trust through broad civic engagement and careful fiscal management; and treat our foreign-born residents with respect and human dignity. We embrace people’s differences as a source of this community’s strength.
Arlington will work to create a more sustainable, equitable and healthy community — a community that works. We will do this together.
Jay Fisette will serve as 2017 Arlington County Board Chair. He was elected to the County Board in 1998 and previously served as the Board’s chair in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014.
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 Krysta Jones
The Arlington section of Columbia Pike runs from Arlington Cemetery and Fort Myer to the western end of Arlington approaching the Skyline area of Fairfax County. For decades, Arlington County, in partnership with local organizations, has sought to make the Pike a destination instead of a thoroughfare, a hub of economic development and a community of vibrant, diverse neighborhoods.
County and regional plans show two-thirds of Arlington’s population growth and nearly half of its employment growth over the next 30 years will occur along Columbia Pike.
In the wake of the cancellation of a streetcar project that was a key element of the plan to revitalize the Pike and protect affordable housing, determined residents are working to find other ways to continue to attract development to the area.
The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and numerous civic associations have stepped up their efforts to work with the County government to transform the Pike, albeit more slowly, into a model of community development.
While more — and more sustained — focus is needed, in light of recent changes along the Pike 2017 is shaping up to be a year of progress for the community.
- In July 2016, the County Board unanimously adopted a new Transit Development Plan that includes improvements through 2026 and will explore the possibility of customized bus vehicles, larger articulated buses and more frequent off-peak service that could encourage more people to use transit.
- Orr Partners is scheduled to break ground on the Columbia Pike Village Center in 2017 at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive. The Village Center will include a 6-story mixed-use building on the site currently occupied by the Food Star grocery store. In addition, there will be 350 new residential units, ground floor retail including a Harris Teeter and three levels of below-grade parking. The development will also include a public square.
- The iconic Rappahannock Coffee shopping area (now referred to as 2400 Columbia Pike) across from Penrose Square will be converted to a 6-story mixed-use building with 105 new residential units.
- The revitalization of Columbia Pike is integrally tied to the growth of recreation and entertainment opportunities. The Pike has been home to the Columbia Pike Blues Festivals and a Sunday farmers market. Recently the Fall Wine and Craft Beer Fest has been a popular attraction. The Penrose Square and Arlington Mill movie nights are also welcome additions for family nights for those who live on the Pike and throughout the area. The Arlington Mill Community Center is a refreshing addition to the west end of the Pike and hosts County and civic meetings and activities.
- Despite some concerns expressed about affordable housing, particularly from several residents on the west end, the County seeks to preserve 6,200 affordable housing units along the Pike. Some residents fear the concentration of affordable housing along the west end will deter new retailers from investing in new developments in that area. As previous Progressive Voice columnists have written, affordable housing is an important aspect of Arlington’s economy, schools and public safety and mobility. Continued conversations about affordable housing are critical to the area’s future development.
These are just a few of the changes that have occurred along the Pike in recent years, but many would not have occurred without years of planning and discussions by visionary officials and determined community leaders.
If the Pike is to reach its potential and be able to accommodate successfully the likely population and employment growth it will experience, Pike residents will need the County to keep up its commitment to preserving the diversity and economic vitality of the Pike.
Our hope for 2017 is that Arlington County will continue to reflect our progressive values as it works to make Columbia Pike, and all of our communities, better places to live, work and play for all Arlingtonians.
Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.
By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz
Over the past six years we have lived Arlington, my wife and I have seen how our community gets involved proactively in the process of effecting positive change. That is why we both joined boards of directors of Arlington-based non-profit organizations that seek to provide a chance for success to underserved portions of our community.
We have further invested in our community by buying a home here and sending our 5-year old daughter to an Arlington public school. Once he is older, our 1-year old son will also attend an APS school.
Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, I strongly believe that local initiatives and solutions throughout our country will be important in determining the wellbeing of our communities in the years to come.
Local initiatives and solutions are more effective when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.
Recently, our elected officials, the people’s representatives, on the Arlington County Board and the Arlington County School Board decided to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) as an advisory body jointly appointed by both Boards. This action is the type of significant step forward in providing a way for encouraging multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs to be addressed at a strategic level.
The overall mission of JFAC is to provide input to the Boards on capital facilities needs assessment, capital improvement plans and long range facility planning for both the Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools.
In accordance with this mission, JFAC will have the ability to provide recommendations and feedback to the Boards on many key matters that will have an impact on the lives of all people who reside, visit and do business in Arlington.
The Arlington County Board in early November provided some specifics about the intended functions and scope of JFAC:
- Review the APS and County needs assessment reports prior to their presentation, receive and review public input on them, make recommendations to the respective Boards on each report and provide input on the development of the CIPs.
- Review both CIPs prior to their adoption, receive and review public input on them and make recommendations to the respective Boards on the adoption of each CIP.
In performing these reviews as a jointly created advisory commission, JFAC should identify and carefully consider partnership opportunities between County and APS to maximize public benefit. Examples of partnership opportunities include, but are not limited to, co-location, joint or shared use, adaptive reuse and efficiencies in construction timing.
- Review periodic updates from County and APS staff on trends and forecasts affecting the community, including economics and revenue, population and demographics, school enrollment, student generation factors, and development activity. This information will inform JFAC’s recommendations on capital facility needs.
- Place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs based on analysis of the latest trends, forecasts and service delivery models. Big picture, visionary thinking is encouraged, and JFAC should be a forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely.
- Partner with staff on facilitating broader community engagement on facilities issues, including hosting fora and public comment periods on both individual siting decisions and longer-term planning.
The mission, functions and scope of JFAC affords an opportunity for the kind of local initiatives and solutions that I think are so necessary in the wake of November’s presidential election.
In this regard, I was inspired by Mary Hynes’ recent Progressive Voice column in which she wrote about her “Thoughts After a Difficult Election” and particularly her paraphrasing the Prophet Micah: “We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.”
Regarding serving one another and walking humbly, I remain committed to moving from the sidelines to the center of public policy debates in my community. My goal has been to get involved in ensuring traditionally underserved voices are part of public policy decision-making processes in Arlington.
JFAC would afford just such an opportunity were I chosen to serve. Whether or not I am chosen, I hope all JFAC members will consider the importance of those less heard voices in our community deliberations.
We can be a stronger and a more stable and equitable community when all voices of Arlington are heard; when all of us proactively get involved in how public policies are developed; and when we hold each other accountable for the short-term and long-term impacts of the decisions made.
Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Pr
By: Jarrod Nagurka
Last December, the Arlington County Board moved forward with plans to give the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) the option to purchase County-owned land (either with cash or through a land swap) adjacent to the hospital. The land became available after the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) moved its programs from that location to the Sequoia complex.
The likely VHC expansion provides the hospital with the opportunity to make important improvements to its psychiatric ward to better serve Arlingtonians with serious mental illness (SMI).
As many as 300,000 Virginians live with SMI, including thousands here in Arlington. Individuals with SMI are often diagnosed with disorders ranging from schizophrenia to severe bipolar. And just like any other illness, mental illness can affect anyone — one in 17 people live with SMI. Considering its impact on friends and family, chances are you or someone you know is affected by it.
Left untreated, SMI can be devastating. However, for those who receive proper treatment and management, there is hope.
Individuals can go through recovery and lead fulfilling lives as productive members of society. High-quality psychiatric services are proven to reduce future hospitalizations and jail visits. That’s why it’s so important that we ensure individuals have access to services that align with industry best practices. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, but it’s smart economics too.
VHC’s potential expansion is an opportunity for the hospital to meet the community’s great unmet need for additional mental health services.
In FY 2016, 208 (42%) individuals in treatment with DHS who were deemed by a magistrate in Arlington to be a risk to themselves or others couldn’t get a bed at VHC because there were no psychiatric beds available. Moreover, this only reflects some of those turned away from VHC. It doesn’t count individuals who are seeing private providers, individuals who are not in treatment at all or individuals who voluntarily sought psychiatric hospitalizations.
To meet Arlington’s true demand for psychiatric services, VHC should use an expansion to take two major steps to better serve our community:
- Expand the number of psychiatric beds. Arlington has far fewer psychiatric beds than the generally accepted standard of 50 per 100,000 residents. As a result, those in need of hospitalization often have to seek services located hours away. This forces individuals to receive treatment far from family, friends and doctors. While VHC has said they will seek to expand overall beds, they have thus far not committed to using these beds for psychiatric purposes rather than in other, oftentimes more profitable, wards.
- Move the psychiatric ward out of the basement. During a renovation roughly a decade ago, VHC moved the psychiatric ward to the hospital’s basement with no exposure to natural light. This is VHC’s only inpatient ward located underground. Lack of sunlight has proven to lead to depression and is certainly not conducive to recovery. Additional space should allow VHC to move its psychiatric ward above ground and configure and equip it in accordance with best practices to include ample natural light.
Though there’s a stigma often, though fortunately less so over time, attached to mental illness, the truth is that SMI can affect anyone at a moment’s notice — even someone who has not previously exhibited symptoms. Just like a stroke, heart attack or any other medical emergency, those experiencing a psychotic break need access to emergency services immediately.
It is very unfortunate that Arlingtonians currently living with SMI are often forced to undergo treatment in VHC’s underground psychiatric ward (if a bed is even available) or seek treatment hours away.
In Arlington, we embrace the idea that we’re stronger together — measured not by individual success but by how we collectively care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Nobody believes that someone having a stroke should have to drive hours away for treatment or recover in a basement. We shouldn’t tolerate those conditions for Arlingtonians living with SMI either.
Commendably, Virginia Hospital Center prides itself on its desire to meet the healthcare needs of the community. In many areas, VHC lives up to this goal and provides world-class healthcare services. By committing to use newly acquired land to improve its psychiatric services, VHC can yet again demonstrate its commitment to serving our community.
Jarrod Nagurka is a lifelong Arlingtonian. He was appointed by the County Board in 2015 to the Arlington Community Services Board, an oversight body for services provided by DHS. Jarrod has previously worked in the state legislature and on federal, state, and local political campaigns in Virginia. He currently works in education policy.
By: Gillian Burgess
2016 has been a tough year and as it draws to a close, many are looking for hope for the future. Arlington County is in a tough position: we continue to grow, have excellent schools and County services and live near the center of the dynamic capital region. Yet growth is also straining public services and transportation systems; and winds of political change bring uncertainty to our 26 square miles.
But in this season of hope, Arlington has reason for hope. We have informed, engaged residents and hard-working, intelligent County and Schools staffs. To tackle the challenges ahead, Arlington needs to embrace its inner nerd and live by a mantra (paraphrased from Richmond): smart counties do smart things.
We do many smart things already, but there are three areas where we need to get smarter: defragmenting planning and public service; performance measurement; and communications and engagement. Arlington has a lot of potential to tackle these challenges. We need committed leadership to make it happen.
De-fragment Planning and Public Service
As with most localities, the County organizes itself into separate departments to streamline delivery of services to constituents. However, this fragmentation can lead to sub-optimal outcomes, particularly when similar services are spread among departments or when it inhibits inclusive long-term planning.
For example, at least three different County departments build small sidewalk and trail projects: neighborhood conservation; parks; and environmental services. All have reported problems finding contractors who can do the work efficiently and effectively because individual projects are too small to be attractive. The County should look to bundle these small projects to make them attractive to contractors or evaluate whether these should be in-house projects.
The biggest divide in providing services in Arlington is the separation of the County and the Schools. For example, if you think your child’s school bus stop is unsafe, the solution depends on whether you call APS Transportation, which may move the stop, or the County’s Department of Environmental Services, which could install a crosswalk to make the original stop safer. But neither department seems set up together to figure out the optimal neighborhood solution.
This area has great potential. APS and the County are establishing the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to coordinate long range planning for facilities and capital improvement plans. The County and Schools should also prioritize establishing a joint transportation commission to follow-up on the Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee’s efforts.
Smart Performance Measurement
Arlington’s big investments in data systems makes it well positioned to be a performance management leader. But data is most helpful when it tracks performance measures that matter to residents.
For example, the Department of Environmental Services measures number of potholes repaired annually, but I am more interested in wait time between when a pothole is reported and when it is repaired.
Fortunately, Arlington has a network of involved residents eager to improve these performance measures. The County could take advantage of the numerous advisory groups to quickly gather suggestions on what outputs matter most to residents and how those could be measured.
By: Rip Sullivan
As we’ve watched the Trump transition with more than a little trepidation, the President-Elect has begun walking back some of the promises that most defined his campaign: repealing the ACA; building the wall; torture; climate change.
And to think Hillary was branded the liar.
But that’s another column.
Along with the lucky $2 bill my Mom gave me, I carry a card in my wallet that my Dad gave me. It reads “the greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” And did we ever fall on November 8. We got knocked down. Bigly.
But not here in Virginia and not here in Arlington. Hillary won the Commonwealth, continuing our advance from purple to blue, and won decisively in Arlington.
Nationally, the early post-mortems lay blame on Democratic turnout. In key places around the country, Democrats didn’t vote. And low turnout is a Democrat-killer.
So now that the election is in our rearview mirror, it is time for us to gear up for another election in Virginia. Next year we will elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, an Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates. We can — must — build on the great work we did this year in Arlington and more broadly in Virginia to win next year’s crucial elections.
Governor McAuliffe’s term highlights how important it will be for Democrats to focus on 2017’s off-year election. He has vetoed over 60 bills during his 3 years in office — and the General Assembly has sustained every veto.
The Governor’s vetoes from just last year include a bill defunding Planned Parenthood and a bill that would have prohibited Virginia from taking any action to comply with the Clean Power Plan.
The General Assembly also considered legislation that was frighteningly similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2. The only thing keeping these bills from becoming law — from harming our economy and making Virginia a national embarrassment — are a Democratic Governor and strengthened Democratic numbers in the General Assembly.
This is why Arlington Democrats, Independents and even Republicans who voted for Hillary Clinton — or against Donald Trump — need to regroup, reorganize and focus on making an impact on next year’s elections in Virginia.
There are plenty of reasons to believe we can be successful next year.
The first and most obvious is that we were successful this year. Over 90,000 Arlingtonians voted for Hillary Clinton, and turnout was a record high.
Hillary won Virginia by nearly 5%, which is more than President Obama’s margin in 2012. She won Virginia’s most prominent bellwether counties — Loudoun County and Prince William County — by a margin of 17% and 20%, respectively. And Donald Trump barely won two of the biggest Republican strongholds in Virginia — Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach — by just under 3% and 5%. We need to ensure that this trend continues.
Next year also presents an opportunity to make the House of Delegates reflect what we saw in Tuesday’s election results. Many House districts currently held by Republicans — including Republicans who introduced divisive bills that Governor McAuliffe vetoed — were won by Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
How do these Republican delegates repeatedly win in what should be Democratic districts? Turnout.
It is an unfortunate and frustrating fact that turnout typically drops 25-35% from a presidential election to a gubernatorial election.
This does not have to be the case in 2017.
Turn the frustration and disappointment you experienced last Tuesday into energy and dedication next year. Volunteer to knock doors in your neighborhood. Donate time and money to your local Democratic Committee. Talk to your friends and neighbors about how important it is for Democrats to participate in and win next year’s elections. Your work will be rewarded next November and beyond.
I’ll be following my own advice — actually, my Dad’s — next year. As the House Democratic Caucus’ Campaign Chair, I will be recruiting, helping fund and advising Democratic candidates in House of Delegates races all across Virginia. Their good campaigns across the Commonwealth can help the entire Democratic statewide ticket as well.
Many of these House races are winnable if we rise up again after our fall, roll up our sleeves, dig in and turn out to vote next November. I hope you will join me.
Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.
By: Mary Hynes
Wednesday morning at 6:45, my thirty-something daughter and her husband walked into our kitchen. She had been in tears for several hours. All her work to encourage voting for Hillary had come to naught.
A lifelong Washingtonian, she was beside herself with fear. Would DC now be a larger terrorism target; would women harassed and abused no longer have the legal protections they now enjoy; would her sister — and those she sees at the busy healthcare practice where she works — no longer have essential healthcare coverage?
My husband and I — lifelong Democrats with deep Minnesota progressive roots — tried our best to reassure her. The Constitution will protect us…we live in a nation of laws…it takes time to repeal laws and there will be opportunities to peacefully oppose unnecessary change.
No one gets to sit on the sidelines now. But let’s face it — we have the same fears and concerns over the past 10 months and yet our voices and actions weren’t enough.
So what should we — the plurality of Americans who chose the losing side — do next?
I will take my cues from the prophet Micah: We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.
My watch words — my guiding stars — will be JUSTICE, LOVE, SERVICE, AND HUMILITY.
JUSTICE: No more spinning. I will not subscribe or listen to media outlets that do not provide fact based reporting. I believe the 24/7 news cycle has perpetuated misinformation. I want hard reporting, backed by evidence. I want a focus on the incredibly difficult issues this country faces and how each of the policy choices we have will affect real people. Anecdotes and opinions in the guise of hard reporting have not served anyone in this country well.
LOVE: If the same-sex marriage movement taught us anything it should be that people are people are people. I don’t know many Trump voters. I will actively look for ways I can help build bridges — across the Commonwealth, within the larger faith community, with folks who are different from me. Because this can be difficult and uncomfortable to do alone, I will urge the organizations I am part of to take this task on as part of their mission.
SERVICE: No sitting on the sidelines. I will pick an issue or two to deeply educate myself on. I’ll call out misinformation where I can and ask as many questions as I need to ask to ensure that we have the information we need and know how to object. I’ll give money and time to those causes that advance building bridges and serving those who may be voiceless.
HUMILITY: No one person can solve our problems or pull this country back together, despite that claim by our President-Elect. The health of our country depends on each of us being, in our work and our lives, respectful of our incredibly diverse fellow Americans. Those of us who’ve been active in the past, who thought we might have peaceful retirement years, had a rude awakening on November 8. I will seek new ways to share my story, knowledge and expertise with my millennial children and neighbors as they assume their rightful places as leaders in our towns, counties, states and country.
This election proves, once again, that every vote matters.
The popular/electoral vote difference demonstrates very clearly that our nation is in the midst of change — and that we have two different visions of what should come next. Lasting resolution will only come through engagement with those whose views seem different from our own.
The first step is to find out where we do agree and begin rebuilding from that strength. Every community, guided by a justice, love, service and humility, needs to take on this work.
Our future depends on it.
Mary Hynes served as an Arlington elected official for 20 years — eight years on the County Board, including service as Chairman, and 12 years on the School Board. She sought in those positions to promote civic engagement and progressive values. She and her husband continue to live in Arlington.
By: Alfonso Lopez
On Tuesday I found myself thinking of Susan B. Anthony, the suffragettes fighting for equality locked up at the Occoquan Workhouse, the incomparable Dolores Huerta, and my role models and predecessors in the Virginia General Assembly State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and Delegate Karen Darner. I thought of my wife, my aunts, my cousins who are like sisters, my Vassar classmates and professors, and my Mom who fought so hard and dreamed of seeing a woman in the White House. On Election Day I proudly voted Hillary Clinton for President.
Like so many in Arlington, I woke up on Wednesday morning incredibly disappointed by the election results. I am immensely proud to have joined over 90,000 Arlingtonians in voting for Hillary Clinton. Arlington alone provided a 71,000 vote margin for Secretary Clinton out of her victory margin of 184,000 votes in Virginia. Unfortunately, despite winning Virginia and securing a majority of the national popular vote, Secretary Clinton will not be our 45th President.
While many have already dissected and analyzed what happened in this election, I think it is important to remember that Arlington is a microcosm of the values and priorities that Hillary Clinton fought so hard to promote in this campaign.
We are extraordinarily diverse and welcoming to people of all backgrounds regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. We value leaders with experience and a steady hand that focus on core priorities such as investing in education, transportation and transit infrastructure, job creation, environmental protection, affordable housing and a robust social safety-net for our most vulnerable citizens.
Although we may not have elected the President we’d want as a role model for our children, Arlington can still continue to lead the way as an exemplary community that remains one of the best places in America to live, work and raise a family. Our values of openness, inclusion and compassion are our strength and will continue to guide us through our challenges.
Though we have steady Democratic leadership here in Arlington, the Republican Party now will control the vast majority of state legislatures and governors’ mansions across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the White House. Over the next few years, they will have unequivocal authority over the direction of our country.
As a result, instead of coalescing around a position of simply opposing President Obama at every turn and refusing to compromise, Republicans now have to own the status quo. They need to govern and take responsibility for their choices. Voter can then fairly evaluate and judge those choices. After eight years rooting for President Obama to fail and doing their best to ensure it — obstructionism will no longer work.
Our democracy is built on the foundation of free and fair elections that determine the direction of our country, and we have the opportunity with every new election to make a course correction and change that trajectory. Just next year, Virginians will have the opportunity to elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates.
If you are upset about the results of this election, I encourage you to get involved with your local Democratic Committee and find out what you can do in the next election to change the direction of our country. In the United States, our revolutions are political and they start with individuals, neighbors and communities coming together to vote, organize and let their voices be heard.
Every vote matters. Indeed, Clinton would have won with just four more votes per precinct in Michigan, seven per precinct in Pennsylvania, and nine per precinct in Wisconsin.
As the old saying goes, “We must strive as hard as we can, to do as much good as we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can.”
This election is an important reminder that we cannot take anything for granted and that there is always more work to do to keep our community, our commonwealth and our country moving forward.
As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “(N)ever stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it.”
Quoting Faulkner, Senator Tim Kaine stated, “They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yit.”
Our work continues. Join us and together let’s fight to achieve our goals, shared values, and dreams.
Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as the Democratic Whip. He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.
By: Elizabeth Jones Valderrama
Incarceration is traumatic. It is traumatic for the individual in jail or prison, of course. It is also traumatic for the families of that individual, particularly children, who are silent sufferers. There are five million children in the United States with a parent incarcerated — that’s about one in every 14 children under the age of 18.
Can you imagine the loss that a child experiences when their mother or father is suddenly gone from their lives for a period of time?
Studies show that children of incarcerated parents are affected in a variety of capacities, including a decline in academic performance, an increase in behavioral issues, an increase in the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system themselves and much more. The family often struggles with how much information to give to the child. Questions such as, “Do we tell the kids where Daddy went?” and “Do we tell them why Mommy is gone?” are difficult to answer.
Children who are aware of what is happening to their parent often experience shame and worry, and the stigma that accompanies a criminal history affects the children as well. Though impacted immensely, children of incarcerated parents bear this heavy burden as a result of something they had no control over. Additionally, families are often left with less income while their loved one is away, leaving many families in financial hardship.
Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is here, on behalf of the community to help.
OAR works with individuals who are currently incarcerated and those returning home to Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church after their incarceration, as well as their families.
In Arlington, OAR partners with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department and offers six-week parenting courses, taught by trained volunteers, in the Arlington County Detention Facility. These classes discuss how to be an effective parent, with a focus on how to have difficult conversations with their children about their incarceration and how to maintain positive relationships with the child’s guardian.
Individuals who participate in the parenting class also benefit from contact visits with their children during Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day — in fact, taking the Parenting course is required for participation in these contact visits. You can imagine how impactful it can be to hug their parent and speak face-to-face rather than through the glass of a jail visitation room, especially during these special occasions.
You can also imagine that the holidays can be an especially difficult time for families of those incarcerated.
Having a loved one away for holidays is emotionally tough and families may not be able to provide holiday gifts for their children due to financial hardship. OAR understands the need to ensure children that their parent is thinking of them during the holiday season. With the support of the community, OAR’s “Project Christmas Angel” provides holiday gifts to children of incarcerated parents in the Arlington County Detention Facility, as well as those who have been recently released and those active in OAR’s programs.
OAR volunteers wrap and distribute donated gifts. Each child receives three gifts mailed or hand delivered to their home and the gifts have handwritten gift tags from their parent. One parent from the Arlington County Detention Facility wrote to OAR about this program: “Thank you so much for providing gifts for my children this year. It breaks my heart that I am not with them and they are suffering from my mistakes. But it warms my heart to know that on Christmas morning they will have gifts from me and know that I am thinking of them every single day.”
There are several ways the community can help Project Christmas Angel and OAR is currently collecting donations. Gifts for children ages newborn to 18 are needed, while gifts for teens are especially needed. OAR is also collecting gift card donations. Denominations of $20 to $25 to places such as Target and Amazon are most helpful. We have an Amazon wish list where donations can easily be purchased online and shipped to OAR’s office. Additionally, financial donations are needed to fund the project. For more information about Project Christmas Angel visit OAR’s Events page.
OAR is so thankful to be serving a community that understands the needs and struggles of individuals currently and formerly incarcerated, as well as their families. As author Bryan Stevenson once said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Elizabeth Jones Valderrama is the Executive Director of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), serving Arlington County and the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and has been on the OAR team for over 11 years. Born in Costa Rica, she relocated to Arlington in 1989. Elizabeth holds a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Virginia and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management. She is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Center for Excellence’s Signature Program and was honored as one of Arlington County’s 40 under 40 Emerging Leaders inaugural class.
By Andrew Schneider
Election season is upon us and, thankfully, the end is near. While it is fashionable to tout this election as a uniquely negative one, I still find myself encouraged and enlivened by the citizen activism that this election, like most elections, has engendered in Arlington.
Just this week, as voter registration draws to a close, the Arlington Democratic Party celebrated their efforts to register 19,000 new voters in Arlington. Regardless of party affiliation, I hope we can all be proud that an engaged and informed electorate helps shape our community.
Civic engagement and informed residents are what led me to host a local weekly radio program. For the past six months, I have had the honor of hosting a weekly radio program, Arlington Voices, on WERA-LP — Arlington’s community radio station and an offshoot of Arlington Independent Media.
The show has given me (and hopefully listeners), an opportunity to discuss and learn about the fabric created by our community ties. I have had the chance to talk with thought leaders, non-profit managers, educators, coaches, musicians and academics. Each has had an impact (and been impacted by) life in Arlington.
As this is the political season, in the past two weeks I have interviewed Delegate Rip Sullivan and our Congressman Don Beyer. Soon, I will host Libby Garvey, Chair of the Arlington County Board.
While each interview is different, I see common threads that seem to weave throughout every guest’s journey. They note in their careers and their lives more generally the value of life-long friendships, inclusiveness and yes, progressive values they have found in Arlington.
These values can be found throughout our community fabric and they are one of the reasons that my wife and I chose to raise our family here. As Senator Mary Margaret Whipple recently noted in this column a few weeks ago, Arlington is frequently touted as a best County for many things including places to raise a family and our schools are consistently ranked among the best in the state, and the nation as well.
Arlington’s schools also shed a different light on life in Arlington. Even though Arlington ranks as the sixth richest County in the nation according to U.S. Census data, over 30% of Arlington’s school population (over 7,500 students) are on a free or reduced lunch plan.
Similarly, estimates indicate that over 10% of Arlington’s populations is living in poverty (estimates vary by how the data is analyzed and broken down). Each day, the organization that I work for, Arlington Thrive, helps some of these residents with same-day emergency financial assistance. This assistance is often what helps them avoid eviction, having the power turned off or not having access to important medical assistance.
So while I am disheartened that we live in a community where there are many people living in poverty amidst so much wealth, I am also thankful that we live in a community that supports efforts to reduce poverty with forthrightness. Our policies do mitigate poverty and often provide a blueprint and an inspiration for other communities around the United States.
These are not just County government efforts. For example, Arlington’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is a coalition of government resources, local non-profits like Arlington Thrive, and support from the local business community.
As the election draws to a close I am mindful how the greater conversations taking place across the country have resonance here in Arlington.
Whether it is the populist appeal of candidates as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, or the release last week of a forward thinking anti-poverty plan by Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the issues of our country are also issues within our community.
My hope is that Arlington will continue to lead the charge on these issues and that, as we do, the people of our community — from those living in poverty to those living in wealth, continue to find Arlington voices — of reason, of hope and of inspiration — that signify a successful and a caring community we can proudly call home.
Andrew Schneider is a lifelong Arlingtonian who is the Executive Director of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit that provides same day emergency financial support to neighbors in need. His weekly radio interview program, Arlington Voices, can be heard every Friday at 10 am on WERA-LP 96.7 FM.
By: Lisa Nisenson
Last week, former State Senator and Arlington County Board member Mary Margaret Whipple kicked off Affordable Housing month with a Progressive Voice column advocating more housing options, such as introducing small multi-family dwellings and accessory dwellings (ADs). In making the case, Senator Whipple cited the benefits of housing variety, while acknowledging concerns about how new housing types fit into existing communities.
Of the expanded housing options, accessory units such as backyard cottages and in-law suites, have the greatest near-term potential to add lower-cost housing options across the County.
In 2008, Arlington updated codes and regulations for accessory units, though homeowners and construction companies still face code barriers that outweigh the benefits of constructing ADs. While safety — such as fire codes — drives many of the requirements, other elements related to parking and design deserve closer scrutiny.
The stated purpose for these elements is largely to lower impacts on surrounding properties, though it is unclear (1) whether the impacts exist to the degree anticipated and (2) whether the required design requirements effectively prevent or reduce impacts. Given the housing pressures on an increasing number of Arlington residents, our entire community needs to come together on a platform of “what works” rather than expansive code written to anticipate and regulate every “what if.”
Fortunately, other cities have adopted — and fine-tuned — programs that offer ideas for shaping policies, programs and design elements for neighborhood-friendly accessory units. Here is a snapshot of how programs are shaping up:
Portland, Oregon: In general, Portland has the most ambitious AD program with lower parking requirements and permit fee reductions. While most cities with ADs require owner occupancy either in the main or accessory unit, Portland eliminated this rule in 1998. Three years ago, the state surveyed homeowners to determine (1) how ADs are used and (2) information on concerns such as parking.
The results? By and large, ADs are rented for out for extra income, typically to a single occupant. For parking, one-third of units report using the street (for the other units, 20% of dwellers do not own a car or homeowners provide off-street parking). Portland also places a high value on design and quality.
Seattle, Washington: Seattle has taken a more incremental and targeted approach to rolling out its AD program. Like Arlington, Seattle manages parking (though based on proximity to transit instead of on-street parking capacity), minimum lot sizes and design standards. Also like Arlington, Seattle’s housing crisis is driving a renewed effort for promoting accessory units through regulatory reform and incentives.
Novato, California: Novato created a new class of units: Junior Accessory Dwelling Units. These units are modified interiors within existing homes to create a separate living space. The city waives requirements for parking and fire codes while making special provisions for building small-scale kitchen facilities.
As it responds to escalating housing costs, Arlington should consider other trends affecting housing. New mobility options, notably bike share, car share such as Car2Go and on-demand ride hailing — such as Uber — are helping drive down car ownership rates and the related need for parking.
Also, an increasing number of retiring baby boomers are finding decreasing options for “aging in place” and “aging in neighborhood.” Yet there are few downsizing options other than apartments, and restrictive rules prevent the use of space in existing homes to provide a downsizing option while giving homeowners income to cover taxes and maintenance.
A big wild card is the availability of short term rentals — like Airbnb — that were barely on the radar in 2008, but are now reshaping parts of the real estate and hospitality industry. Here in Arlington, our County Board is considering the legal and tax framework for short term rentals. The Virginia General Assembly is also expected to revisit statewide legislation that could restrict local governments’ ability to regulate short-term rentals.
Currently, Arlington’s code makes building guest houses for temporary guests easier than building accessory units for long-term, stable renters. Without new rules, the County may be in a position where economic incentives favor “Airbnb cottages” over new, stable housing units.
As Arlington implements the Affordable Housing Master Plan and rules for accessory dwellings, look for discussions on allowing detached dwelling units (as opposed to attached or in-house units currently allowed), fire code requirements, site requirements such as lot coverage and enforcement.
If you are new to the topic of ADs, the website Accesorydwellings.org is an exhaustive resource, with links to a design gallery, research, policies and case studies.
Lisa Nisenson is Founder of the urban planning startup GreaterPlaces, named a “Top 10” resource by the planning authority Planetizen. She holds positions on the American Planning Association’s Sustainable Communities Division and Smart City Task Force. She is a long time Arlington civic advocate from Lyon Park.
Image: Raleigh, N.C.
By: Mary Margaret Whipple
Arlington has been making many “best of” lists lately: The Best City to Live in America, the second Best City for Millennials, fourth Best City Parks in the country. We can be proud of these notable achievements.
But Arlington also finds itself on lists that tell another side of the story: we have some of the highest home prices and rents in the D.C. area, and the D.C. area is among the least affordable metro areas in the country. The median price of single-family homes in Arlington increased 140 percent between 2000 and 2013, while the average rent increased by 91 percent.
Rising prices have resulted in a great loss of economic and other types of diversity for our community. Over the last few decades, Arlington’s demographics have become less diverse as many lower and middle-income households either decided to move or were forced to move out of the county. Arlington County was the only place in the D.C. area that lost Hispanic population between the year 2000 and 2012. And although the overall number of households in Arlington grew by only 10 percent during that time, the number of households earning more than $200,000 increased by almost 60 percent.
In the County’s work on housing affordability and in the Affordable Housing Master Plan adopted last year, a lot of attention has been placed on providing affordable housing for low-income families.
For example, most government housing subsidies are focused on meeting the housing needs of those earning below 60 percent of the Washington area’s median income. In the Washington area, this means housing programs serve those making less than around $65,000 per year, and the greatest subsidies are reserved for those earning much less. This makes sense, because the lowest income households are the most burdened by high housing costs and tend to live in the most vulnerable situations. Especially when subsidy dollars are scarce, most of us would agree that they should be focused on those most in need.
But the county’s three-year Affordable Housing Study Working Group process also pointed out that housing affordability concerns have reached the point where households higher and higher on the income scale are affected, particularly when it comes to purchasing a home.
In Arlington, this means that even those earning $80,000-$100,000 or more can find it difficult to buy homes in the County that meet their needs. Due to a lack of diversity in our housing stock, empty nesters and seniors with modest incomes who would like to downsize have limited choices if they want to stay in our area.
Employees of Arlington County government and businesses also struggle with housing costs. Many end up moving farther and farther away from their jobs. The longer commutes mean sacrificing time with their families in order to find an affordable place to live. Extended commutes also affect our area’s employers as well — making it more difficult to attract and retain talent willing to make the commute. And all of us are affected by the traffic and environmental impact caused by increasing numbers of long distance commutes.
Is there anything that can be done to help middle income households find suitable living situations in Arlington?
That’s the question that the Alliance for Housing Solutions is trying to answer in this year’s Thomas P. Leckey Forum addressing the concept of “Missing Middle Housing.” We’ll be talking about how to create housing options that could better meet the needs of middle-income households, including families and seniors.
Could duplexes, four-plexes and stacked townhomes be more affordable for middle income households than what’s currently available to them? Could backyard cottages provide a place for recent college graduates or aging grandparents to live near their family? At present, many of these possibilities are either not allowed in Arlington or become infeasible after layering on current zoning and related requirements.
We recognize that long-time Arlingtonians may be concerned about how well this kind of housing would fit into our community. To help provide some concrete examples and create a community conversation on this issue, AHS is holding two “Missing Middle” Design Galleries on October 15th and October 25th to showcase some examples of this kind of housing. Are you curious? If so, come take a look at the examples and let us know what you think.
Columnist Note: October is Affordable Housing Month in Arlington. Learn more about Affordable Housing Month activities on the County’s website: https://housing.arlingtonva.us/affordable-housing/month/.
Mary Margaret Whipple is president of the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Housing Solutions. She represented the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate from 1996 to 2012, served as a member of the Arlington County Board from 1983-1995, and was appointed to the Arlington County School Board in 1976. AHS is a nonprofit organization founded in 2003 that works to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington County through public education, facilitation and action.
By: Ty Forman
Clean energy is an avenue of development that the world cannot afford to neglect. The issues that surround the need for a change in energy generation and use are fundamental to the wellbeing of citizens of every nation.
We are at a point in history where we as a human race possess the technology and knowledge to accomplish wide scale development and deployment of renewable energy resources. Leaving that potential untapped due to political disputes or arguments over climate change will only result in further strife among nations and needless loss of life concomitant with the overreliance on fossil fuels. No matter one’s views on climate change, the importance of increased reliance on renewable energy is a source of good jobs and an important part of our economic future.
Renewable energy is defined as carbon and pollution free energy sustainably collected from renewable sources, including wind, solar, hydro, tidal, and geothermal. Development of renewables is very much an existential matter that is facing humanity at present and will continue to affect humanity well into the future.
There are many routes that can be taken to promote the development of clean energy and those pathways must be actively pursued. Prevailing currents deterring the development of renewable energy solutions have to be seen as what they are — fabrications of the truth.
Arguments against renewable energy come from outdated institutions and outdated mindsets, severely limiting the progress that we can and should accomplish toward a more hospitable global environment for this and future generations. These perspectives ensure the continuation of the use of fuel sources that directly and adversely influence living conditions and health in negative and unproductive ways.
Many of the consequences of inaction are immediate and yet easiest to ignore. Pollution of resources vital to life such as air, drinking and bathing water, and the food we consume contribute to lowered expectations about our health and our living standards.
When our silence gives tacit permission for drinking water to become polluted to the point where consuming water can cause bodily harm, we need to take a look at why that is being allowed to happen.
The health of the people who live in our communities should be the very top priority in a highly bureaucratic government. When the good health of people is put on a back burner, many of the minute and abstract concerns of government departments should be reconsidered and given a lesser priority.
Development of clean energy has the potential to provide a lush economic and social landscape that will be a crucial component of our progress in the 21st century. Making the transition to clean energy will lay the groundwork for society to make the most appropriate recoveries from economic and environmental shocks experienced in the past decade.
This will require the undoing and re-creation of policies and practices that led to environmental catastrophes the world experienced during the early 2000s. The world is still dealing with devastation and pollution from the Fukushima disaster in 2011 – problems that could have been prevented if the quick gains from nuclear energy were weighed fairly against the benefits of more sustainable and safer renewable energy development.
Continuation of unbalanced decisions that result in perpetual loss of life, whether through wars driven by energy needs, climate disasters, or disruptions of food supplies caused by climate change, are unacceptable when there is a clear alternative.
As a race, we humans have not arrived at the epitome of equitable and sustainable energy policies. It remains up to us to create a world that is better than what we have experienced in the past. Accepting harmful consequences of energy generation and use leads the way to more harm and negative consequences.
We must stand up and push successfully for energy generation and use that guides us into paths that will move us forward in sustainable ways. Making the development of clean energy a top priority can mean the flourishing of life and heading off escalating destruction of lives and life as we know it. Renewable energy can dramatically improve the health of nations, living standards, and wellbeing of the inhabitants of our community and our world.
Ty de Porres Forman was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1995, and is a student at Northern Virginia Community College studying Political Science. Ty’s home state of Louisiana has experienced significant ecological changes in the past decade, making environmentalism an issue close to his heart.
By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz
As previously expressed in this column, my wife and I are proud to call ourselves Arlingtonians. One reason for this pride is that we believe our community recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for all to succeed. Ours is a community that gets involved proactively and effects positive change.
Understanding and celebrating the many benefits diversity has brought to Arlington is a core element of what makes Arlington unique in the commonwealth.
On Sept. 23, you are invited to attend a multifaceted program — combining performing and visual arts, history, and public dialogue — that will explore the past, present and future of immigration in Arlington. This event will place a special focus on immigrant experiences and milestones of the past 40 years.
Arlington’s reputation as a welcoming environment is owed to years of immigration policy and outreach, but the cultural fabric of Arlington is complex and in its making are immigration stories of freedom, pain, and opportunity.
We Are All Arlington! seeks understanding and appreciation of the diverse narratives that connect our past to the present and to our common future. We hope you will join us at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for an engaging program that will explore the legacy of immigration in Arlington — and what opportunities and challenges it presents for individuals and as a community today.
Over the past five decades Arlington has been transformed from a suburban, largely racially segregated environment to a mixed urban and suburban one with racial and ethnic diversity.
According to a late 2015 urban studies report from the Wilson Center, Arlington “is at the forefront of demographic processes changing the face of American communities as well as the United States in its entirety.” Furthermore, the recent “The Changing Face of America” report describes Arlington as “being at the leading edge of a diversity explosion sweeping the USA.”
However, this rapid growth of diversity has come with consequences, such as at the economic, educational and housing levels.
The overall economic well-being of Arlington is very strong. At 6 percent, we have one of the lowest income poverty rates in the nation — less than half of the nationwide income poverty rate for families.
Yet African Americans and Latinos face a different income situation in Arlington. Their poverty rates are 14.7 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively.
Another indicator of the socio-economic well-being of a community is its residents’ ability to deal with adverse personal financial events. According to a new data analysis from the Family Assets Count Project, 23 percent of Arlingtonians are financially vulnerable.
Communities of color in Arlington fare even worse: 50 percent of African American families and 58 percent of Latino families are poor in terms of liquid assets. This means that one in every two African American and Latino families does not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for just three months if they face loss of a job, a medical crisis or a similar substantial income disruption.
Because we understand and celebrate diversity, we can recognize that as a community there is much we can do to create conditions whereby success is achieved more broadly. The success of today’s diverse communities will fuel the future growth and strength of our county and our country — much as what we consider American success and cultural achievement today comes directly from earlier immigration experiences.
One significant step in building equity in Arlington is how for the past 40 years, Arlington has been a gateway community for thousands of immigrants settling not only to the commonwealth but across the United States. Immigrants from nearly 120 countries have settled in Arlington, creating vibrancy, opportunity and a multicultural legacy that has changed what it means to be an Arlingtonian.
The Sept. 23 event is organized by the We Are All Arlington! Committee and is sponsored by Dream Project Inc. and Arlington Public Schools in partnership with Arlington Libraries, Arlington Historical Society, StudioPAUSE, REEP, ECDC, Comité ProBolivia, John Marshall Bank and The Urban Alternatives Foundation.
We can be a stronger community and a more stable and equitable community by recognizing vulnerability and sharing more broadly the tools for success for all Arlingtonians, regardless of race, ethnicity and/or country of origin.
I look forward to having our community further build bridges and tear down walls among the multiple racial, ethnic and national groups that make up Arlington. How about you?
Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz works for an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Project.