- “A fundamental questioning of ourselves”
- Opportunity to be leading edge of 2nd generation Smart Growth
- Must honor the values that have guided us for decades
After decades of enjoying phenomenal benefits from its Smart Growth policies, Arlington is in the midst of a major transition, Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said Wednesday.
“This is a moment unlike many…it maybe will be comparable in some ways to what happened on September 11 (2001), in terms of being a fundamental questioning of ourselves and a stepping into the space,” Hynes said during her State of the County speech before the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
The County is facing challenges that include a historically high office vacancy rate, the strain of increased school enrollment, the physical limits imposed by its 26-square-mile size, increased regional competition and a decreased federal government footprint in what has long been “a company town,” Hynes noted. At the same time, a new political leadership is taking the reins, with Hynes and Vice Chairman Walter Tejada retiring from the Board in November, and two new Board members, Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, elected in recent years.
“This is a moment when we start to chart a new course,” said Hynes. “I challenge each of you to be part of the solution…to ask yourselves what are you willing to do — personally — to make this transition as smooth, as strong, as committed to the future as we can possibly have it be.”
Big economic boosts from Smart Growth behind us
Arlington has benefitted enormously, Hynes said, from the Smart Growth policies that the County has followed since the 1970s. The careful planning by elected officials, County staff and the community, she said, resulted in an “incredible boost in our economy” and “opportunities that were unprecedented.”
But, with the County nearly built out, rising regional competition and a shrinking federal government footprint, “those incredible ups that we had are not going to come Arlington’s way again,” Hynes said. “There’s not going to be this huge boost in our economy.”
The County’s challenge now, she said, is to be the leading edge of “what the second generation of Smart Growth is.” She expressed confidence that Arlingtonians are still trailblazers, “people who can learn from what we did before,” to meet that challenge.
In doing so, Hynes said, the community must “honor the values that have guided us for decades — diversity, inclusiveness, strategic investments and community-developed plans,” and collaborate to build consensus across sectors. “To be successful, we have to build on those assets, continue planning, use our talented community members, and make commitments and leverage resources,” she said.
Arlington has good bones
What Hynes called the County’s “bones” — its location on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, its airport, the Pentagon, its excellent public schools, its “smart, thoughtful, strategic-thinking residents,” and its transportation networks “continue to be incredibly strong,” she said. “We have decades of strategic investment to build on.”
Hynes noted that the Board has taken a number of steps in the past year to build on those assets and meet the new demographic and economic challenges. Through the ongoing Community Facilities Study — a year-long effort to reach community consensus on the criterion for siting public facilities — the County is bringing hundreds of people into the process of public planning and helping them learn “what it takes to make Arlington work,” Hynes said.
The Board voted earlier this year to add $1 million to economic development, and is taking a new look at what sorts of incentives the County should offer to companies and ways to encourage policy flexibility to attract new businesses to Arlington, Hynes said. In addition, the County is working to improve relations with the Arlington business community, through regular meetings with business leaders and by streamlining County business practices. She noted that those investments are beginning to produce successes, such as the recent announcement that Lidl, a leading European retailer, will build its U.S. headquarters in Arlington, a $77 million investment that will bring 500 new jobs into the County.
Such developments, Hynes said, boost her confidence that the County will continue to find its way.
“When we walk into challenges like this with good will, and a belief in the future and a belief in our ability to solve problems, we can do it,” Hynes said. “I have great confidence that we can do it, and I look forward to watching it all on TV.”
To hear the speech, and the questions and answers that followed it, visit the County website.