Your Views: Old Town is for everyone

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(Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/Visit Alexandria)
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To the editor:

The Jan. 30 Alexandria Times editorial “Double down on our strengths” recommends that city leaders view decisions affecting Old Town “through the prism of whether it enhances or diminishes that neighborhood’s ambiance for both visitors and residents,” stating that “city leaders should accept, rather than fight, the fact that visitors to and residents in Old Town are, well, older.” Setting aside the insinuation that older people wouldn’t enjoy visiting someplace with a “hip vibe,” let’s examine the data and implications of this perspective on our community.

While the visitor survey data cited in the editorial may point to older out-of-town tourists visiting Old Town – an average age of 53 years old – it’s important to distinguish between the average age of adults who were surveyed and the population of our community.

American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2017 shows that Old Town residents are significantly younger. At 39.4 years old, the median age of residents of zip code 22314, which includes Old Town, is only three years older than the citywide median age of 36.4, and only 2.3 years older than the 37.1 median age of zip code 22301, which includes Del Ray.

Probably owing to the nature of its housing stock, the proportion of children in Old Town is 4.9 percentage points lower than citywide, and the share of senior citizens is 3.5 percentage points higher. But there are 14,614 people between 20 and 44 living in Old Town – approximately half of Old Town’s population – compared to 4,630 senior citizens. This is a margin of greater than three-to-one.

Is the typical Old Town resident older than the citywide average? Yes, slightly. But older people aren’t the only residents of Old Town.

Beyond the demographics, Old Town is the central business district for our entire city. We should not let the demographics, or our perception of the demographics, of the surrounding neighborhood dictate the form and features of its cityscape or define the people we wish to attract. Urban centers work best when they are attractive to everyone, young and old alike.

That means providing a balanced mix of retail, restaurants and activities and many options to facilitate the movement of our residents and visitors. Recent developments like the renovated Waterfront Park, new restaurants, new mobility options and more frequent events have been welcomed by most Alexandria residents and helped draw many to Old Town last year. These are the features Visit Alexandria should continue to highlight.

Rather than a narrow focus on attracting “older, national tourists” to Old Town, as the Times editorial suggests, let’s continue to make our downtown vibrant and attractive to people of all ages – city residents, regional visitors and national tourists alike.

-Nathan Macek, chair, Alexandria Planning Commission

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