Our incredible city has so much going for it, and with the spotlight on Amazon HQ2 and the Innovation Campus, the whole world has become more aware of Alexandria’s historic charm, prime location and world-class workforce. That spotlight will become more intense as we evolve into the old and historic version of Silicon Valley on the East Coast.
Our prized historic districts require careful tinkering to keep old things pristine while a modern world settles in and around them. That effort falls not only to city officials and staff who set policies and make tough choices; it also requires extra effort from residents and business owners to follow sometimes complex and expensive processes. While we may complain about the extra steps, we also appreciate the protected aesthetic of our historic character.
Alexandria is tightly packed, and the proximity of residential to commercial districts also requires special consideration. Other cities mimic Alexandria with their mixed-use town centers. Many of us have the ability to live, work, shop and play within a short stroll. At the same time, Alexandria’s density puts enormous pressure on zoning and land use decisions to try to ensure that neighboring uses are compatible and do not intrude on one another’s quality of life.
The integrated nature of our community often brings together stakeholders with differing viewpoints. Residents may fear that nearby businesses will bring noise and traffic, while retailers worry about attracting more customers to remain profitable. Sometimes, even business owners don’t want other business types near theirs. Long time residents might worry that the pace of change is too fast, while newcomers wonder why certain changes weren’t made long ago.
The passion surrounding all these issues, from historic preservation to neighborhood planning, stems from the fact that we, as a community, care deeply about and have so much invested in our city. But we will never achieve our potential if we insist on pitting ourselves against one another and ostracizing those who disagree with us. We can choose to reject either-or thinking and embrace the shades of gray that naturally occur with these kinds of issues. We each have a role to play in ensuring that Alexandria continues to be distinguished by its attributes and amenities.
City staff and elected officials work to balance sometimes-competing priorities, and the entire community should appreciate what a challenge it is to find the best solution in each situation. The most effective way that we, as citizens, play our important role is by staying engaged and presenting our cases logically and factually. We can do this while still respecting and carefully listening to our neighbors and business owners on the other side of an issue. While we might not always get the exact outcome we were hoping for, our conscientious and thoughtful efforts make Alexandria a better place for its diversity of ideas and opinions.
The city is special because we are special, and we must work very hard to keep it that way. Together.
The writer is executive director of Alexandria’s Small Business Development Center. The SBDC can be reached at www.alexandriasbdc.org.