“Vision” is a fascinating word. Literally, it means to see, but true vision is the ability to see broadly, as is the cliché of seeing the trees quite well without being aware of the forest.
Columnist Peggy Noonan once described a politician, based on policies they advocated, as visualizing an America of “tiny cars and wind farms.” She thought it a small vision. Former President George H.W. Bush struggled with “the vision thing” – in unfortunate contrast to his predecessor.
What overarching vision does the leadership of our local government have for Alexandria?
It’s an important question that urgently needs answering. Based on recent policy decisions and those in the works, we have a lot of trees in Alexandria that don’t add up to a stand, let alone a forest.
Our current pieces of a vision seem to be:
A disdain for cars
This is evidenced by widespread elimination of parking spaces for bike lanes, bikeshare and development. Parking and traffic studies are done after development projects are approved, not before, when they could actually be useful as part of the decision-making process. Dubious data is cited as justification for parking elimination.
A preference for development over environment
What other conclusion can possibly be drawn after the Karig Estates episode and the Potomac Yard Metro saga, where environmentally destructive decisions were made when better alternatives were available?
A preference for development over livability
This mindset is proven time and time again on the city council dais. Saturday’s public hearing provided instances of three more businesses being granted variances that will inconvenience their neighborhoods in Del Ray and Old Town, including amplified outdoor music until 9 p.m. and a carry-out window open until 2 a.m.
A determination to push through initiatives rather than work toward compromise
First, the Iron Ladies sued the city over waterfront redevelopment, then ongoing lawsuits were filed involving the city and Karig Estates neighbors and the city and T.C. Williams High School neighbors. Now comes the new bombshell that the city intends to take a step toward granting permission to light all playing fields in the city at next month’s planning commission meeting. Our city leaders would do well to remember that wise, confident wielders of power operate with a softer touch.
These policy preferences seem to be the epitome of short sightedness – the very opposite of true vision. Development dollars appear to trump other considerations. Decisions driven by the goal of creating more vibrancy in Old Town and Del Ray seem to be informed by a perceived need to compete with National Harbor and The Wharf.
This cannot be stated strongly enough: Old Town and Del Ray are not National Harbor or the Wharf. If we try to be like them, if our goal is to lure regional visitors to Alexandria and then encourage them to roam our streets at 2 a.m., then we have utterly lost sight of what makes us special.
Alexandria attracts thousands of visitors from around the world each year because of our history, our cobblestone streets and old houses and our link to George Washington. When we pursue policies that make our historic neighborhoods unlivable, we endanger that rarest of species: the golden goose.
Fortunately for Alexandria, there are non-governmental leaders like Scott Shaw of Alexandria Restaurant Partners who are working to provide that mission vision. From backing the King Street Corridor initiative to raising funds to bring the tall ship Providence to Alexandria, Shaw is working from a vision of building on our history to create an enhanced art community.
Our goal should be to emulate Charleston or Annapolis, not National Harbor or the Wharf. Our history has to be at the core of Alexandria’s future. Important decisions must be made through the prism of our historic significance.
The destruction of Alexandria’s livability is not a vision. Increasingly, it’s a reality.