Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Despite decades as an Arlingtonian, I still get lost in the glass-tower maze of Crystal City.


So I was drawn to the Dec. 8 Arlington Committee of 100 presentations, via Zoom, on the dynamic development doings at National Landing. Its multi-hued banner is omnipresent in the on-the-ground campaign to unite the neighborhoods of Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Alexandria-enclave of Potomac Yards.


The spurt of construction and new planning fertilized by Amazon (its new HQ is actually in Pentagon City) has prompted remarkable cooperation among business, government and residents. All are pursuing the holy grail of balance among the demands of office space, housing, transportation, parks, education and culture. And the accelerated change comes just as the state came through this month with $134 million for redesigning Route 1.


Tracy Gabriel, the National Landing BID president who bills herself at the “storyteller in chief” for the area’s “radical transformation,” oozes pride that Crystal City has become Virginia’s largest walkable urban center, rivaling downtown Austin and Oakland and approaching Miami’s. There’s a correction underway to offset the 1970s “vehicle-oriented planning” with exciting new construction for “on the ground experience” offering “storefront walkability, an attractive multi-model experience, and inviting retail.”


Though many retain a “mental image” of Crystal City as offices, it has “one of the most balanced housing to business” ratios, she said. The $8 billion in private investment being added to state and county funding that could attract 70,000 new housing units will also include a “game changing investment” in “inclusive and equitable growth.” That’s exemplified by the 1,300 affordable housing units being created by the Washington Housing Conservancy’s project at Crystal House and plans for more open-space parks for a “biophilic experience.”


Michael Dowell, representing Livability 22202 (the zip code shared by Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge and Crystal City residents), talked up “holistic” planning for all aspects. “Young people today are raising the bar on quality-of-life expectations and are not willing to do the commute,” he said. What they want “can’t just be a great place to work, can’t just generate tax revenue, but has to be a great place to live.” He’s pleased the county responded to his group’s “codified” requests for “housing affordability, day care and essential services” such as a walkable library, a site for a new elementary school, dog parks, an urgent care center, and short-distance transport focused on pedestrians and bicycles.


Citing this “decade of climate change” and decline of tree canopy, Dowell also pressed for sustainable parks, which could include “connectivity” walks between parks and perhaps a new “escape” at Roaches Run. He is seeking ideas to repurpose the “brutalist” but valuable Crystal City Underground and implement pedestrian safety measures to make it easier to traverse Route 1 to patronize restaurants on both sides.


Matt Matthauszek, the county development master who is planner for Crystal City, promised several key reports for early 2022. “You drive by and you see a lot of cranes and concrete being poured for dozens of floors, and construction fencing,” he noted. The planning requires a lot of staff time for public consultation, visual drafting and engineering, made easier by the help from neighborhood volunteers.


Arlington has made “a lot of progress,” he said. “But we will see painful moments initially to reach the ultimate result, which will allow us to be proud.”


Some heavy-hitter employers in government cybersecurity gathered in Crystal City Dec. 9 to celebrate the Melwood nonprofit’s successes at placing special-needs computer enthusiasts onto career paths.


Executives from Mitre and General Dynamics Information Technology described how they orient their staffs on the need for “neurodiversity” to overcome skills shortages in jobs focused on thwarting cyber-attacks. Graduates of the donor-funded organization (founded in 1963 by parents at Andrews Air Force Base) who register on the autism spectrum explained how they are trained and coached in interviewing skills.


Patrick Gorman and his mother Karen expressed gratitude for their referral to Melwood from the Arlington Employment Center.