At this week’s Falls Church City Council work session, the Council mulled two moves that promise to shape a significant change in the City’s self image and presentation to the big outside world. It may not have seemed as such in the context of another dreary overly long session, but insofar as things are what you make of them, the subjects of this session contained within them the kernels of innovation and promise.
To sum them up, one dealt with the ways in which the City will be reconsidering in the next period significant changes in the relative importance of retail parking versus outdoor dining and related activities, on the one hand, and the way it embraces and promotes a variety of diversity options represented by the Vietnamese community’s centerpiece Eden Center. Both remain open to public input at this stage and won’t be finally acted upon for another month or more.
But one of the hidden blessings of the pandemic has been the way local businesses have entered into considerable creativity to survive and even prosper, and for Falls Church, this has had a lot to do with the ways, with critical support from City Hall, that local restaurants, in particular, have used the considerable parking availabilities put there from another era, when the emphasis was far more on making sure ample surface parking was available.
There are 13 such businesses in the wake of the pandemic that have already applied for permanent access to outdoor dining that they originally utilized in an emergency way to keep their doors open. They’ve found that in the wake of that situation, the loss of traditional parking did not hurt them. So now, we’re looking at ways to adjust the relevant City’s codes to permanently enhance the outdoor dining experiences at spots all around town, and to do so in a way that will not cause a huge dust up from the traditional vehicle driving community.
The second move, built around the City’s East End Small Area Plan proposal, takes the interests of the commercial entities, predominantly Vietnamese-American owned, into serious account for future planning in that area.
Hitherto studies of that area, including one conducted in the City by a team from the Urban Land Institute three years ago, proved highly disappointing when it envisioned the eventual absorption of the Eden Center into an unimaginative grid of commercialization.
Now, the City’s Planning Division is touting a plan that is far more appreciative of the unique parameters of the Eden Center and its “Little Saigon” ambiance as something to be valued, enhanced and preserved.
If only the City could now figure a way to make access to that center easier for City residents, thousands here still have yet to discover the wondrous world that holds forth up there and that we should be striving to integrate better into the life of the Little City. There appear no simple answers to that one, but it is the $64 Dollar Question.