Our View: We the people

Our View: We the people
Photo/Alexandria Drive-In

It’s easy to conflate a location with its government, implying that the government actually is the place.

For example, the City of Alexandria is a legally defined geographic entity and we do have a local government that approves ordinances providing for public safety and regulating commerce and conduct under the larger umbrella of state and federal law.

But our local government is not Alexandria. Instead, we the people of Alexandria are the city. Our local ordinances emanate from our elected City Council, the members of which are, in turn, answerable to the people of this city. Not the other way around.

It is important to remember, particularly in an election year, who is ultimately in charge. Each of us helps to form the whole. E pluribus unum.

Two refreshing stories on the front page of this week’s Alexandria Times are prime examples of individuals and non-governmental entities making a huge difference in our city. “A West End oasis” tells the story of the Winkler Botanical Preserve, which was the brainchild of environmentalist and developer Mark Winkler and his family. They formed a foundation which made the still-privately owned Winkler Preserve possible.

A generation of children throughout Alexandria grew up attending summer camp at Winkler. Indeed, competition was so fierce for slots in the sought-after program that, in the pre-internet era, parents would impatiently await the camp brochure in the mail, then send back a deposit registering that same day. To wait was to lose out.

School children from Alexandria’s public and private schools also visited Winkler for one-day programs that enabled our urban/suburban youth to spend a day in the forest – and sometimes included an opportunity to taste an insect.

It was sad to learn that these programs have been discontinued with the retirement of longtime Executive Director Jodie Smolik. Here’s hoping that they’re reinstated soon.

Meanwhile, “Life finds a way” describes how residents innovated to provide a COVID-19-safe entertainment venue for their fellow residents during last year’s pandemic lockdowns.

Residents Kelly Grant and Allen Brooks, like many people, lamented the socialization opportunities that vanished during the pandemic. They decided to do something about it by opening a drive-in movie theatre within the city.

As a result of the Alexandria Drive-In, families were able to get out of the house and view a movie together; children had a venue where socially distanced birthday parties could be held; neighbors could gather – outside and masked – then watch the flick in their own vehicles.

It was a creative solution that met a community need, and it took considerable hard work and coordination to bring about. Although the duo worked with the city, as permits were required, the endeavor was a ground-up, citizen-led initiative rather than a taxpayer-funded, topdown program.

The drive-in is now shutting down, having served its pandemic-era purpose. That, somehow, seems only natural, and is another key difference between private and government-led initiatives. While a private initiative will wither when demand ebbs, government programs tend to be immortal.

So, an Alexandria “huzzah” for the Winkler family, who had the generosity and foresight to create an urban oasis like the Winkler Botanical Preserve, as well as Grant and Brooks, whose determination and community spirit led them to open the Alexandria Drive-In.

It’s nice to be reminded of the positive impact that individual Alexandrians can have on life in our city.