Local Commentary

Editorial: Falls Church’s Advantage

With the Washington, D.C. region now impacted by one of the highest foreclosure rates in the U.S., questions abound about the future of its prospects for development and economic growth. Among the big ones is this: Will banks and other financial institutions that normally fund new developments be willing and/or able to cough up the resources even for projects already approved to be built, and in some cases, with shovels all but in the ground?

For Falls Church and environs, a compelling case can be made that the outlook for successful growth continues strong. The general “line of demarcation” between more severely-troubled areas and healthier ones is roughly the Beltway. Areas inside the Beltway are relatively more insulated from foreclosure, gas price and other recessionary pressures than those outside of it. That includes Falls Church, with its highly desirable proximity to major transportation arteries binding the entire region together, including the Beltway, Interstate 66, the Metro and physical proximity to the District, Tysons and two major airports.

As the consequence of the “crisis trifecta” (housing, fuel and stagflation), the trend will quickly become for populations to collapse in from more outlying areas toward regional commercial centers. That means closer-in housing and retail will tend to benefit, and again, that includes Falls Church. Falls Church, also, has the distinct advantage of having approved many of its new housing development projects prior to Tysons Corner, which remains years away from the residential real estate boom it anticipates. As development in Merrifield and Tysons gets underway, those areas will become more difficult to navigate for shoppers and residents than Springfield’s Mixing Bowl mess ever was.

There is no glory in gaining from others’ pain, but in fact, that is precisely what Falls Church is positioned to do. However, it will succeed only if the City’s leaders are wise enough to realize that a rich mix of affordable housing options is essential for success, options that provide new housing opportunities for families moving in from the hinterlands and looking for jobs in the City’s emerging retail market.

This is not to suggest that there will not be serious fiscal challenges facing Falls Church, regardless. Though perhaps relatively insulated, we’ve already witnessed that Falls Church is, of course, not immune to wider regional, national and global economic trends. But the impact, as it has been in recent years, can be mitigated by smart decisions on development, and by a continued arduous effort to market the Falls Church “brand,” which is as a small, intimate but dynamic City on the cultural and educational cutting edge of, simultaneously, excellence and diversity, characterized by smart and innovative government.

If Falls Church more clearly defines and foists that “brand” out front, this troubled region will become its oyster.