Our View: Wards balance decisions


Few people know a place better than their neighborhood. Its the common denominator of life, a rock of familiarity in a fluid world. So when neighborhoods face change, its inhabitants should have a major voice in the transformation.
Its time to implement a ward system for the Alexandria Planning Commission. For too long the West End of Alexandria has been the neglected stepsister of the east side, despite being home to more taxpayers. 
The West End is the epicenter of future and current development in the city: the BRAC buildings at Mark Center will fuel high-density development amid some of the worst traffic congestion in the country; the Beauregard corridor is in the intermediate planning stages of a complete makeover; For several years City Hall has salivated at the chance to transform Landmark into a pedestrian friendly area despite snags along the way; The Mark Center Hilton was recently sold for $121 million with the areas redevelopment in mind; the Virginia Department of Transportation recently announced plans to build a ramp from I-395 to the BRAC structures.
All these developments represent change on the west side, change affecting human lives. The seven-member council-appointed planning commission, which vets such change and makes recommendations to the city council, has just two citizen members living west of Quaker Lane one just moved there which divides the city in two. The commissions decisions cannot be well-rounded with such a lopsided raitio.
While civic experience is necessary for the job, so is the unique trait of being a homer. No one knows the plight of the West End better than West Enders, just as no one knows the plight of the Redskins better than Washington-area residents.
Voters elect the school board by ward to capitalize on each members innate knowledge of the area they represent, thus improving educational decisions affecting students. City council members should follow suit by balancing the commission geographically.
Old Town will always be the citys center, but the future lies in the frontier of the west. The decisions made should be reflective of the residents living there.