Local Commentary

Editorial: Blurred Vision

Members of the Falls Church City Council all agreed that they were duly proud of a two-page “vision statement” they crafted over the last month and a half, and formally adopted by a unanimous vote Monday night. The idea for the statement was to fashion an image of an ideal Falls Church in 2025 that the Council would like to bring to pass.

Such vision statements are usually punching bags for citizens who think they do not emphasize one thing or another well enough. For that reason, it appears the Council spent many long hours making sure this wish list include something for everybody.

We question the merit of such an exercise, in general, especially when it does not address specific tasks, such as to a shift a focus or change an undesirable trend. This document manifests the same kind of static, inward-directed please-all policy logjam that stifles real progress in the City’s governance today. It pictures a Falls Church in 2025 almost exactly like what its leaders fashion it to be right now, except a little further along. In this vision statement, Falls Church in 2025 has the same economic development concerns, good schools, neighborhood preservation, diversity (where’s that?), focus on the environment, appeal to innovative business ventures, good government and, finally, arrogant claim to being a “special place” that it does today. Especially telling, there is no mention of the word, “affordable,” in the statement. It envisions the City as “a place where people of all means and backgrounds are welcomed,” but no mention of how they could afford to stay there. Instead, it wants the City to “reflect attention to historic preservation, environmental sensitivity and long-term sustainability.”

The greatest fear that many have about Falls Church’s future is that it will wind up a veritable gated community of wealthy elites. There is nothing in the vision statement to dispel this. Suggesting that outside dollars be encouraged into a boutique retail center, or that the City be a “magnet for the arts” certainly does not, and some may consider the phrase, “a special place,” as tantamount to code for all the trappings of just such an effectively gated community.

If the City wants a future different from this, then it needs to say so explicitly. That would be a good reason to have a vision statement, saying, in so many words, “We will fight against any and all tendencies for our City to end up that way.” But that would also mean it’d have to commit some real political muscle to back up that promise. The vow would be to go beyond mere lip service to racial, ethnic and economic diversity to specific measures consciously aimed to cause it to flourish.

Moreover, the current statement fails to locate the role of the City in the context of the currents sweeping the entire region around it. What about the shape of Tysons Corner or the East Falls Church Metro in 20 years? What about the region’s profound racial and ethnic shifts? How will the City position itself with respect to these?