By Chris Teale (File photo)
What should Alexandria be like as a city in which to live, work and visit in the year 2022?
That is the question city staff, with input from residents and city councilors, looks to answer with its update to the city’s strategic plan, a process that began in February and is slated for adoption in the fall.
The city’s previous strategic plan ran from 2004 until last year, with the community and city council updating the document in 2006 and 2010. Since that plan’s implementation, the city introduced Results Alexandria, a system to manage and track performance of staff and its efforts to achieve targets.
City planning director Karl Moritz said the strategic plan helps guide how staff carry out work plans, and also figures into the annual discussions around the city’s budget. He said staff is in the midst of the community engagement process for the document, and that discussions are continuing on what people want the city’s future to look like as well as challenges it must address.
The updated plan, discussed at council’s June 28 meeting, the last before the summer recess, features a broad vision statement that looks to emphasize a number of themes, all with a view to improving life for residents and visitors alike.
“In 2022, Alexandria is a safe, healthy, economically vibrant, well-managed, inclusive and green city with multi-modal transportation, a unique identity, and where children and youth thrive,” a draft of the vision statement reads.
To those nine broad themes, city councilors added a 10th: “resilient.” Several on the dais agreed that a city’s resiliency is often tested by a variety of situations, and how it bounces back from those challenges helps define its character.
“I think [resiliency] is important that a city situated like we are, near the national capital area that could have any number of issues pop up, and then weather-related ones as well,” said City Councilor John Chapman. “If we start to move in that direction, I think it’s beneficial for our economic stability.”
“[Resiliency] gives hope to everyone, and reminds people that whatever is confronting you today is not necessarily the end-all, and that life goes on and we do the best we can and we will heal,” agreed City Councilor Del Pepper.
Contained within each thematic area are several indicators and targets of how each will be achieved by 2022, with the community survey that captures residents’ views on a variety of city services and conditions used as one such indicator in a number of themes.
For example, chief performance officer Greg Useem said public safety goals would include reducing violent crime and response times for emergency services as well as having first-responders be professional and courteous when dealing with the public.
One theme where councilors looked to make additions was in making Alexandria a green city, a theme Useem said was arrived at after community outreach and focuses on sustainability, a healthy environment and other factors.
Mayor Allison Silberberg repeated a call she made upon being sworn into office in January that the city’s tree canopy should be at 40 percent, which is the national goal. A commitment to increasing the tree canopy is included in the draft strategic plan, but with no specific target. She said including that stated goal would give city leaders a firm target to aim for, especially since the city currently falls short of that.
“The national goal is at 40 percent, we’re at 34 percent,” she said. “We can do better.”
Useem said continued discussions with the community will bring more specific targets for all themes and goals, including the tree canopy. Pepper and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said that goal was perhaps too specific for what is intended to be a general statement of intent.
“This is the aspirational goal of a strategic goal,” Wilson said. “Just like we don’t say, ‘We want this much carbon pollution, we want this much renewable energy,’ we don’t do any of that stuff at this place. We translate this to goals elsewhere. This is the aspirational part.”
Wilson said he was “shocked” about a lack of discussion in the draft plan on recreational or open spaces in the city, and how those active and passive spaces are expanded or maintained. Moritz said staff would add a section on that issue.
Silberberg said that under the theme of the city having a unique identity, she wished to see a stronger commitment to historic preservation, beyond simply marking the city’s history within its identity. There was broad agreement on council, but Chapman said he was wary of the phrasing, as he said he wished to give sufficient leeway to an area like the Eisenhower Valley to be itself and be different from other areas.
Staff will continue to work on the strategic plan over the summer using a series of community workshops as well as the city’s online feedback tool AlexEngage. According to the presentation given to council, a final draft is expected in August, with council slated to hold a public hearing on the document in September. Official adoption is expected later in the fall.