Your View: How dense can Alexandria be?

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By Tom Walczykowski, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
If you have cable, you have seen her — Kate Upton in the Game of War commercial. She struts behind two competing players in a plush forested background encouraging them: “Plan quickly. Build quickly or be destroyed quickly.” When I first saw it, I thought it was a Saturday Night Live parody of Alexandria’s political environment. Why would I think so? Let’s look at the data.

The 2011 census lists 15 cities with a population between 136,401 and 145,638 people. Alexandria was listed in that group with a population of 144,301 residents. Alexandria stood out among those cities as the city with the densest population — 9,370 residents per square mile. The average density for the other cities in that group is only 4,435 residents per square mile. Alexandria’s population density is 111 percent greater than the average city in the group.

So why have our leaders and city staff pressed for a constant program of build, build and build? They have claimed that the objective is to diversify the tax base and ease the burden on homeowners. They fixate on plans to build large mixed-use buildings near Metro stations. But the business environment has changed dramatically. Even large federal contractors are migrating to virtual teams with employees telecommuting from home in low cost areas, rather than housing large project teams in consolidated office space.

We already have lots of vacant office space and we will likely add to the vacant inventory. We also will end up with more compressed residents and more unfunded infrastructure needs like schools and sewers along with increased traffic gridlock.

We claim the title of “Eco City” but our leaders condone the ongoing construction of a citywide thermal mass of bricks, concrete and asphalt devoid of open green space. It is as if they never heard that irrational exuberance in real estate played a major role in the last economic downturn. Who benefits from all this construction? The developers, the contractors, the investors and the bankers all do, but certainly not the citizens.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Quite a bit more dense. I live in the West End, and I’m waiting for the day that the City stops relegating our neighborhoods to be commuter routes (to Mark Center and as alternates to 395 in the form of Beauregard and Van Dorn). Narrow those roads, make them local roads, and encourage more local business in the West End.

    Don’t forget that most residents live in the West End, despite the perpetual obsession with all things Old Town on this website.

    If the letter-writer prefers a bucolic setting with large parking lots around Metro stations (as opposed to offices and residences), I suggest he move to western Fairfax County.

    • Also, Walczykowski lives near Quaker+Janney’s lane. If there’s anywhere in Alexandria which is “too dense”, it’s definitely not that humdrum neighborhood. I don’t hear any complaints about “too much density” from the people who, you know, are actually living in the dense neighborhoods.

      My guess? His drives down to Old Town have gotten slightly longer and he’s stamping his feet so that No More People show up.

  2. Unlike most cities of this size, Alexandria is part of a major metropolitan area. How many of those small cities have metro rail stations? More relevant comparisons would be to Arlington and DC.

    Rather than make top down comparisons, it is better to look at the impacts of specific projects.

    As for the office market, yes that is weak now, but most of the new development is not offices. Offices near metro though are still in demand – the weakness is mostly in non metro served areas.

    Dense development pays enough in RE taxes to cover sewers and related infra, and generally generates few school children. If anything, we need more dense development to better fund our schools. And the best way to deal with traffic in a city is with mass transit and more walking and biking – which dense transit oriented development makes possible. Dense development is much more eco friendly than sprawl, and the more people who choose to, and are enabled to, live densely, the better it is for the planet.

    • @NW

      You’re never going to convince some people. Again, the letter writer lives at Seminary and Quaker, so what does he care?

      Most of the time, when people call for “open green space”, they also don’t want people to use the space (as in active parks or waterfronts). They just want vacant land near where they live so that they can pretend they’re not in the city. I’ve seen it a million times around here.

      It’s a never-ending cycle of the City passing up on the lowest-hanging fruit possible, which is adding density in the central business district.

  3. Only using population to compare cities is not a useful tool. Many cities that fall into the population bracket that the author is referring to have little else in common with Alexandria. One would need economic data, i.e. expanding, stagnant or contracting, proximity to major metropolitan area (as noted above), location on the East or West coastal areas which are more densely populated, etc. Personally, with all the restaurants, stores and even my office within walking distance, I prefer the density of Alexandria.