In what is being hailed as among the more momentous political developments in the City of Falls Church in decades, a new citizen volunteer group of activists has been formed. Called Falls Church Forward, it is going public with its first public event this Sunday afternoon.
According to Falls Church Vice Mayor Letty Hardi, one among the five key founding figures, “While publicly launching now, Falls Church Forward grew out of a backyard effort among neighbors during the summer of 2020 to continue civic dialogue during the pandemic” has over two years has been “coalescing around a shared goal of a more equitable, diverse and livable community.”
Joining Hardi, the small circle of co-founders includes former City Councilman and current Economic Development Authority board member Ross Litkenhous, locally-reared author Pete Davis, Planning Commissioner Andrea Caumont and Housing Commissioner Justine Underhill.
This Sunday’s event at the Community Center at 4 p.m. will feature a spokesman from AARP who will bring recommendations on “What Will Make for a Livable Community.” It will be co-hosted by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the F.C. Human Services Advisory Council. According to Hardi, it will be about “how communities can better help citizens 55+ age in place, from the standpoint of transportation, housing, human services and the non-surprising message of what makes a community ‘livable’ for seniors also makes it more livable for everyone.”
In an commentary published elsewhere in this edition of the News-Press, the four as co-authors write that Falls Church Forward identifies itself as “a big tent and our doors are open…committed to welcoming a broad cross section of members who have a stake in the future of Falls Church.” It adds, “Affordable and diverse housing, community businesses, people-first streets and spaces, climate resilience and a welcoming culture are the pillars of a vibrant city…Falls Church is known for its world class schools, little city charm, and high quality of life. Underpinning it all is our people. We envision a future that puts people first.”
Litkenhous, in a note to the News-Press sent Tuesday night, said, “During my time on Council, I recognized that as citizens we need to examine policy decisions through a more holistic lens. Whether it be housing, economic development, sustainability or transportation, each of the challenges we grapple with individually impacts the collective, but if done right will feed a virtuous cycle that benefits all of us for generations to come.”
Underhill, an award-winning journalist, in an interview at the News-Press office Tuesday, revealed that she will be a candidate for the Falls Church City Council this fall, though that is not a factor in her involvement with Falls Church Forward.
Caumont, who works with the Pew Research Center as her day job, is a member of the City’s Planning Commission.
Davis, who graduated from Falls Church’s Meridian High School (when it was called George Mason) and Harvard University, is known for his thoughtful book, “Dedicated: the Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing.” He and his wife recently had their first child here.
Underhill is a lifelong resident of the region, a graduate of Georgetown University who moved to the City two years ago with the priorities of “an ideal place to have a family and be near the bike trail.” She was appointed to the Falls Church Housing Commission shortly after moving here.
On its website, Falls Church Forward lists five key areas of emphasis: 1. Housing for all, where neighbors of all ages, incomes and family sizes and live, learn, return and retire, 2. Community businesses, lively and legendary community businesses where neighbors eat, meet, celebrate, create and make memories, 3. People First Places, connected by beautiful streets and plazas serving multiple modes of moving and gathering, 4. Climate Resilience inviting green spaces, shaded by mature trees and powered by sustainable energy and infrastructure, and 5. Welcoming Culture, a community that is co-created by and for everybody, not just a privileged few.
The group is the first citywide citizen activist group in Falls Church formed since internal frictions caused a major downsizing of the Citizens for a Better City 15 years ago. The CBC still functions effectively, and it will be collaborating with Falls Church Forward, according to both Hardi and the CBC’s current chair, former F.C. Vice Mayor Hal Lippman.