Our View – Dismal forecast a chance to plan

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No matter who does the figuring, the regions economic outlook for 2008 is sobering, almost depressing.

Modest gains of between two and three percent are predicted for the gross domestic product. The Bush Administration lowered its prediction to 2.7 percent a few months that is one of the more optimistic figures. Other groups, citing more trouble in the housing and mortgage markets offer predictions in the 2.4 percent range.

Only a few things are keeping the predictions that positive. Crude oil continues to flirt with record prices. Where crude oil goes oil products such as gasoline and kerosene will follow. The result has been tremendous growth in that energy sector.

Other significant increases have been posted in food, health care, and education.

The truly dismal aspect of the 2008 forecast is the housing market. It spent 2007 in a full-blown retreat. Foreclosures were out-pacing sales in many parts of the country. New home construction ground to a virtual stand-still throughout the U.S.

And forecasters expect 2008 to be of the same. David Selders, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders doesnt expect the housing market to hit bottom until late this year. The market turn-around will begin in early 2009, he predicted.

The biggest market downturn in the state has been in the Northern Virginia area. Whether or not that area includes Alexandria depends on who is doing the forecasting.

Not that it matters. Flat … slumping … retreating … all terms that can be applied to the Alexandria market. None of it, however, has to be despairing news.

During the building boom housing projects and retail market centers popped up like mushrooms on the forest floor. Developers gobbled the land and raced to be first to get their houses finished and onto the market.

The pace was so frantic it outstripped the countys ability to provide vital infrastructure such as sewer and water and improved roads.

With that pace now stalled, the city has the opportunity to ask itself one very important question: What should Alexandria look like in 10 years or 25 years or 50 years?

Should it be that great American mish-mash of outlet malls, dense population apartment complexes and cookie-cutter houses? Should it be traffic snarls and never-ending plans to widen streets and roads? Should it become another of the wonders travelers want to avoid?

Of course not. It should be Alexandria, as individual and unique as its history, as friendly and inviting as its people and rolling hills. It should offer myriad parks and outdoor recreational opportunities. Its housing should be well planned and environmentally friendly.

This market lull is providing county supervisors with a perfect opportunity to take a long, hard look at the countys comprehensive plan. If the plan is found wanting, now is the time to fix it.

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