Greater Greater Washington

Arlandria vision comes together

After a decade of planning, a proposal for mixed-use development in Arlandria will finally go before the Alexandria City Council this Saturday. The dedicated Arlandria community has spent years fighting the perception that new development there was unfeasible.


Alandria development vision from the 1998 plan.

The Arlandria community has been planning for change longer than any other neighborhood in Alexandria. It is now a decade into the implementation period of the Arlandria Revitalization Plan, which was the result of a long planning effort from 1998 to 2003.

The goal of the plan was to build on the strength of an existing pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use place by redeveloping underutilized sites nearby.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been easy.

In the decade since the plan, shops have closed and turned over at an alarming rate. Others have barely been able to hold on. Absent a large outside investment, the community pursued modest improvements on its own. But without a developer to put buildings in the ground, the opportunities to make significant impacts were limited.

A marketing strategy was adopted to advertise Arlandria businesses, and guidelines for storefront facade improvement were established. Despite these efforts, many businesses were barely breaking even.

A 2008 follow-up feasibility study determined that conditions in Arlandria made development unfeasible. The study pointed to an on-going perception of crime, a poorly built environment, and lack of economic diversity as the three major impediments to economic development.

Study inspires grassroots efforts

The city attributed the stagnation to a lack of community involvement. That comment combined with the negativity of the feasibility study inspired a community led, grassroots economic development effort.

The overarching goal of the new effort was to achieve economic sustainability, while maintaining the ethnic and economic diversity that define Arlandria. Without outside investment, a group of volunteers took on this challenge.

Working hand-in-hand with neighbors and social service providers, residents created the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market, which works as a small business incubator and is the only market in Northern Virginia to accept food stamps.

The community improved streetscapes and parks, and participated in service provider and quality of life meetings.

Working in coordination with the city, Arlandria established relationship with third party organizations to preserve and enhance conditions in the neighborhood. These included Community Oriented Police (COPS), ARHA, Community Lodgings, Wesley Housing, the Community Services Board, the Chirilagua Coop, and most recently Arlington Housing Corporation.

According to Census figures, Arlandria's population is highly transient. It has a 30% turnover annually, and 90% rate for every 5 years. A big reason is the limited diversity of housing in Arlandria, which results in residents leaving the neighborhood whenever they move into a different type of home.

The city and grassroots organizations have aimed to provide a wider range of housing. To do so will require something more than very low rent and very high cost properties. Broad economic diversity and livability are key to a sustainable community.

In part 2, we will look at the realization of the plan.

Kevin Beekman, Melissa Garcia and Nick Partee contributed to this article.

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Kevin Beekman is an economist living in Alexandria, Virginia whose work focuses on travel and transportation forecasting. Long of advocate of environmental issues, smart growth, and social justice, Kevin had been involved in community building projects for a decade, in Arlandria, standing up for the neighborhood that Alexandria almost forgot. A member of the Four Mile Run Restoration Task Force and co-founder of the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market, he is also the editor of the Arlandrian a blog about the long neglected cluster of neighborhoods between Del Ray, Arlington Ridge, Shirlington and Crystal City. Bounded by Glebe & Glebe, Rt 1 & Four Mile Run, Arlandria is where Arlington and Alexandria meet (and try to get acquainted).  

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Wait . . . can you give casual readers some indication of the location and history---facts---of this neighborhood before launching into the underdog story?

by xmal on Dec 15, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

An ex-girlfriend of mine used to live in what she thought was Arlandia, on the other side of the Four-Mile Run stream. Visiting her was a hassle, but she was walkable from Crystal City Metro, if I was willing to blaze my own trail up a steep hill in Virginia Highlands Park. For those closer to the stream, and especially those on the south side of Four Mile Run, the biggest hurdle is the absence of good mass transit. Of course, 90% of the people move when they get the chance. These are working-class folks who need Metro access.

What the neighborhood needs most fundamentally is a Potomac Yards Metro stop, and a connecting streetcar line along Glebe Rd. Alternatively, a streetcar down Mt. Vernon Ave to the Braddock Rd. stop would be a second-best choice but a vast improvement over the current set-up.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 15, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

I'm with xmal. Please don't assume that we know what Arlandria is--I'm pretty sure very few area residents actually do. At least, I have no idea where it is.

Care to let me in on this secret place?

by Gray on Dec 15, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

Don't know where Arlandria is? Use the search feature. There are over 120 articles that mention Arlandira.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/search/?cx=016106633186969982627%3Ag-4raj3cmea&cof=FORID%3A11&q=Arlandria+&sa=Search+GGW

by RJ on Dec 15, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Roughly, Arlandria is that section of Alexandria that backs up against the Arlington line - hence the name. It abuts Crystal City; I always think of it as that piece of Alexandria bounded by Del Ray, Crystal City, Potomac Yards, and the edge of Old Town (Montgomery and Madison Sts.) It's sometimes also called "Chirilagua" because of the preponderance of Central American immigrants there - in fact, it was last in the news because of a series of ICE raids, as I recall. Personally, I've always preferred the latter name - it has more character, and harkens back to the days of neighborhoods such as "Little Italy", "Chinatown", or "Little Havana".

It's changing with the fortunes of Potomac Yards - I doubt it'll be recognizable in a decade.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 15, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

Fischy (Ed F.),
Transit access is not as bad as you make it out to be, there are two WMATA busses and 2 DASH buses that operate either on Mt. Vernon Ave, or on the edges of Arlandria. These are good connections to the Pentagon, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Braddock Road, or Old Town Alexandria. One of the decent things about Arlandria, Del Ray, and the surrounding neighborhoods is decent connectivity, but yes its not for the bus-phobic.

I've lived in the area for 15 years, and I'm still not convinced a Potomac Yard metro stop will have that much of an impact except for the neighborhoods closest to Rt 1. This neighborhood has been and will evolve with or without the metro.

by spookiness on Dec 15, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

Ser Amantio,
"Roughly" is right. I think you're confusing Del Ray and Arlandria. Montgomery & Madison?? and abutting Crystal City? No. Arlandria is the north end of Del Ray, and most people tend to lump it with Del Ray. My boundaries would be:
North- Four Mile Run
South- West Glebe Road
East- JD Highway/Rt 1
West- This is tricky, but lets say West Glebe Rd also.

It is basically the triangle formed by Rt 1 and the South Glebe/West Glebe split.

by spookiness on Dec 15, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

@spookiness -- On the borders of Arlandia,...I think there's some room for different opinions. As I wrote, my ex lived off Arlington Ridge Rd., north of Four Mile Run, and she thought she was in or on the edge of Arlandia...and, like I said, about a ten or fifteen minute hike from the Crystal City Metro. I think the idea of Arlandia to most people is that it encompasses more than just the northern end of Alexandria, but also the southern end of Arlington.

As for transit -- it's an old debate about trains vs. buses. The latter category are useful for folks who live there, but they don't invite others to live there or businesses to locate there in the same way as a train line. They aren't seen as dependable...though the Metro now suffers from a poor reputation on reliability (which, in my mind, is why ridership is down).

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 15, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

@spookiness:

Er...yes...well, at least I got "Route 1" right... :-)

Seriously - that may be part of the problem; Arlandria can't be redefined until it's been defined in the first place. Regardless - I do think that a Metro station at Potomac Yards is going to be a tremendous boon for those places fronting onto Route 1. Funnily enough, I'm actually eating dinner down there tonight...

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 15, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

In case anybody is interested, one of the local rags has a typical article and op-ed with familiar keywords: gentrification, towering, massive, feeling marginalized, disenfranchised, neighborhood culture, preserve diversity. I think they only left out "traffic" but an online commenter caught it.

http://alextimes.com/2011/12/gentrification-fears-fuel-debate-in-arlandria/

by spookiness on Dec 15, 2011 6:43 pm • linkreport

@spookiness -- O heard a piece on the radio a few days ago about the gentrification issue. I think you're wrong to dismiss it. There are two sides here. Feeling marginalized is the least of it. Rent hikes are a serious concern.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 15, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

@RJ:

Somehow, I had thought of the search feature before. But while it's good for finding GGW entries about the neighborhood, it's not exactly useful for finding the definition of a neighborhood--since most if not all of them seem to take the approach here of mentioning Arlandria without actually saying where it is.

And then we see that commenters have their own conflicting ideas of what it is, which may or may not match up with the authors' conceptions.

by Gray on Dec 15, 2011 8:08 pm • linkreport

@Fischy (Ed F.):

The good thing about rent increases is that you get to demonstrate your own preferences. If you don't want to pay the higher rent, you can move, but if it's worth it to you, you can stay.

by Gray on Dec 15, 2011 8:10 pm • linkreport

Gray,

It isn't a matter of "wanting" to pay higher rents. Either cough up the dough each month or get the hell out and don't come back is the issue with rent increases. Welcome to Earth. "Preferences" are limited to those who can afford to have them. Also note that moving is an expensive pain in the ass for most people.

by James on Dec 15, 2011 9:09 pm • linkreport

No, preferences aren't limited to those who can afford to have them. The set of things you can buy is limited by what you can afford, sure, but if it's worth it to you to live somewhere, you can pay the going rate. If you're unwilling to pay the rent, then it's not worth it to you...and you have to live somewhere else.

Though yes, moving is an expensive and unpleasant experience. But so it goes for us renters.

by Gray on Dec 15, 2011 9:42 pm • linkreport

Not being able to pay the rent is very different from being unwilling to pay the going rate. Having to move someplace cheaper (and all too often further from mass transit) is not a matter of preference or choice, but rather a grim necessity. Even more so these days as rents continue to rise (especially so near mass transit) and the economy still stinks. We need much more in the way of decent, affordable housing stock near mass transit and/or business districts. The rising costs of both housing and transport leaves few, if any, pleasant choices. Being poor tends to limit one's options. Even renters with a good income should be concerned.

by James on Dec 16, 2011 12:27 am • linkreport

I've lived three blocks south of Arlandria for 19 years. It's a neighborhood, and boundaries are traditional. I would call it the commercial district along Mt. Vernon Avenue between East/West Glebe and Four Mile Run, plus the residential (almost all rental apartments) areas bounded by W. Glebe where it crosses Four Mile Run (at the west end), and Commonwealth Avenue (east end). It's heavily Hispanic, populated by immigrants from El Salvador and Guatamala.

Crime, from what I've read over the years, has been minimal. The residents are polite and good neighbors.

I do not have the impression that businesses have been turning over at a rapid rate. A few have failed, but far more seem to have "stuck."

I suspect the rentals are affordable, which is perfect for families trying to establish themselves. What Arlandria does not need is developers and "gentrification."

I've read that Arlandria got its start (or at least a boost) when the Pentagon was being built (ca. 1942), during which time the area housed many of the military people. To this day some of the apartment buildings still carry grand-sounding names like "The George Washington."

More at http://gwslepthere.com/2009/04/09/arlandria-is-an-alexandria-neighborhood-to-watch/

by John on Dec 16, 2011 9:10 am • linkreport

The current plan to redevelope the shopping center is well intentioned but a disaster. More density of residential developement will mean more cars and people jammed into a confined space with no increase in road capacity to accomodate the traffic. Forget trolley cars anywhere in the City of Alexandria such as the Councilman want to be Lovain wants as it would be a huge and expensive infrastructure investment and considering the people that want to use bikes and motorcycle transportation would be put at great risk due to the tracks. Perhaps there are few people around here that remember trolleys in DC and the problems driving over the tracks and loss of braking. Different sized busses to accomodate travelers depending on the time of day are a much more logical solution. I have lived in Alexandria all my life (62 years) and we used to shop in Arlandria when it had a Giant Food store and many other stores. The area changed and went down hill as retailers moved out because of the repeated flooding of Four Mile Run which now has been remedied. Bring back the retail but stop cramming more and more residential into such confined spaces where the road system cannot be expanded to accomodate the increased traffic. People must have cars in the Virginia area as the metro has sparse coverage and was designed to move people in and out of DC to limited stops. Finally I wish that all the come downers that have moved to the area and will move on would stop weighing in on topics that they have had little historical chance to observe over the long run say 40 years +/- and would move somewhere else as the quality of life in Alexandria has declined due to City Council members pandering to residential developement in order to generate more votes. Alexandria for Alexandrians not temporary residents and transient voters. Most of the comments I read on this page are ill conceived lacking insight, intelligence, and historical knowledge.

by R U Serious on Dec 16, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

w?

by spookiness on Dec 16, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

What the neighborhood needs most fundamentally is a Potomac Yards Metro stop

Yes. Someone else upthread said they don't think it would help much except for those around Rt.1, but honestly, I think it would alleviate Rt 1. traffic tremendously!

And it also shouldn't be expensive at all to build as there already is an existing line that goes right by the area, there would be no need to build any extra track or dig at all (as it's already above ground).

The only cost would be to construct the station itself, which could be one of those above ground style ones that is mostly open air. It makes no sense NOT to build it.

Also, I'd think all the businesses located in the strip mall along Rt. 1 in that area (Target, Pier 1, Sleepy's, Best Buy, the movie theatre, and restaurants) would be willing to chip in on the funding for the station, as it would increase customer access and revenue for sure.

This is one of those "easy fixes" that I can't believe has never been done.

by LuvDusty on Dec 20, 2011 2:22 pm • linkreport

LuvDusty said: "Also, I'd think all the businesses located in the strip mall along Rt. 1 in that area (Target, Pier 1, Sleepy's, Best Buy, the movie theatre, and restaurants) would be willing to chip in on the funding for the station, as it would increase customer access and revenue for sure."

The Potomac Yard big-box shopping mall is scheduled to be demolished when its 20-year lease ends in 2017. It will be replaced by still more "high-density, mixed-use" structures. Hard to believe, given the mall's success, but true--unless something changes. The About.com Website for DC currently says, "The area has been slated for development to include residential units, office space, a 625-room hotel, a 25-acre park, and retail space."

by John on Dec 20, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

"The Potomac Yard big-box shopping mall is scheduled to be demolished when its 20-year lease ends in 2017. It will be replaced by still more "high-density, mixed-use" structures. Hard to believe, given the mall's success, but true--unless something changes."

not hard to believe at all. The area is much more valuable as high density mixed use (which will include retail btw) than even successful big box stores. More housing, still lots of retail space, continuity for walkers and cyclists between crystal city and old town/del ray, more tax revenue for city of alex, and more people who have an alternative to living in the distant suburbs. And not one resident displaced! Whats not to love?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 20, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

"I suspect the rentals are affordable, which is perfect for families trying to establish themselves. What Arlandria does not need is developers and "gentrification.""

how will building units on a commercial property lead to gentrification of the residential areas? Surely you arent suggesting that decrepit commercial areas are a good tool to keep rents down, are you?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 20, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

"The Potomac Yard big-box shopping mall is scheduled to be demolished when its 20-year lease ends in 2017. It will be replaced by still more "high-density, mixed-use" structures. Hard to believe, given the mall's success, but true--unless something changes."

@John: If that is true, then even MORE reason to have a Metro stop built just for that area. Again the rail already exists--and once high density mixed-use bldgs go in that corridor, it'll be like Ballston x10--and there DEF will be a need for a dedicated Metro stop.

This information actually makes my point even more valid than it was before. Of course WMATA won't "think ahead"..they'll wait until the area is overwhelmed and then start building the station in 2020 or something like that.

Of course, by then the Metro will be shut down from overcrowding.

by LuvDusty on Dec 21, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

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