Arlington County is a great place to live and work. We owe much to the visionaries who crafted the smart growth plan for the County along our major corridors. Their plan brought us the Metro, vibrant urban village hubs throughout Arlington, green leafy parks, full-service recreation facilities, excellent schools, and neighborhoods with a wide variety of housing options.
This prosperity and growth have resulted in growing pains – which are also occurring in other communities across the country. And, while we cannot rewrite history, our goal must be to ensure that Arlington is welcoming to all, and that we embrace diversity in every neighborhood.
We need more affordable housing for the most vulnerable members of our community. We also need homes that our Arlington teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and nurses can afford. We need ways to support young and older adults who wish to remain in the community. And we need to do this while protecting our precious green space, tree cover, the environment and current amenities. We can do this by engaging all stakeholders in the community.
Arlington has worked hard to build an excellent public school system that benefits not just families with school-age children, but all county residents. Arlington Public Schools (APS) is consistently ranked one of the top school systems in the U.S.
Yet, there are persistent challenges in meeting the needs of all students, particularly the most vulnerable. The most pressing challenges include retaining and recruiting school staff, providing support services to students who are struggling, and ensuring historically marginalized students — students of color, second language learners, and students with disabilities — have the support and services needed to succeed. The County must support APS in tackling these ongoing issues, all of which were exacerbated during the pandemic.
It is also critically important that the County Board, School Board and APS collaborate closely together to ensure that our schools are safe and that our youth have the requisite resources to deal with mental health needs and substance use and addiction.
The County’s alarming vacant commercial space is equal to every square foot of office space built in Arlington since 1999 (10 million square feet). Arlington needs to take steps to address this serious issue, including exploring converting suitable parts of our vast and record-high empty commercial space into new uses including housing. We need to do this before we allow private developers to randomly densify the County.
In consultation with her County Board colleagues, one of Natalie’s first steps in the first 30 days as a County Board Member will be to start the process of convening a group of experts from the community to form a high level Commercial Office Vacancy Task Force. The mission of this community-driven group would be to develop an effective short-term response as well as a long-term strategic plan for the County. As part of the overall effort, Natalie will also organize a public summit on the vacancy rate to get public summit on the vacancy rate to get public input.