I am a also a strong historic preservationist, which is what attracted me to Alexandria in 1988. The rich African-American history Parker-Gray and our city, and the bravery of the residents who fought for freedom and equality resonates deeply with me and should continue to be documented, promoted and honored — as is done so well by the Alexandria Black History Museum.
One recent afternoon, Hye No and his wife were wheeling a shopping cart to their car at New Grand Mart in Midlothian, a Richmond suburb. They had just finished buying groceries at an international food supermarket that opened May 8, featuring aisles stocked with Asian and Hispanic specialties. “They have any type of fish there, and it’s fresh,” says No, who emigrated from South Korea to the town of Chester in 1984.
The Nos may represent a quiet but crucial change underway in Virginia. Over time, richer, better-educated minorities are emerging as economic opportunities have spread from Northern Virginia to other areas, mostly metropolitan suburbs. As lucrative jobs attract them, the political nature of the state will change as well.
A recent study shows just how opportunity is improving in Virginia for diverse groups. The Center for Opportunity Urbanism surveyed 52 cities and ranked people of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent in such categories as income, homeownership and population and income growth.
The Washington area, including Northern Virginia, comes out fairly well in the tally. The surprise is that Richmond and Virginia Beach-Norfolk consistently come in with strong rankings. Overall, in best-city ratings for African Americans, the District came in No. 3 and Virginia Beach-Norfolk was No. 6. For Asians, Richmond was No. 2 and the District was No. 3. For Hispanics, the District came in No. 5 and Virginia Beach-Norfolk was No. 6.
Richmond and Virginia Beach-Norfolk also scored well for minorities in homeownership rates, income and population growth. Other big winners were Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C.
This is not to say that the problems of minority poverty are over — far from it. Inner-city and mostly African American parts of Richmond have poverty rates of 26 percent, among the highest in the state. Inner suburbs are drawing poorer families.
Report authors Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox do have a distinct point of view. Houston developers fund their center, which pushes a view that Houston’s limited zoning and affordability have built a minority-friendly job oasis that should be emulated elsewhere.
Author and demographer Kotkin told me that economic growth in the South and parts of the West has long outpaced that in the Far West and Northeast. News coverage of racially tinged police shootings clouds economic progress made by minorities who are leaving high-expense cities such as New York for the South and Southwest. “Many of the places that worry about racial inequality are the places where it is the worst,” he says.
I don’t buy the argument that easy-zoning suburbs are the way to go, but I have to admit that parts of the report ring true. In suburban and mostly white Chesterfield County, Va., where I live, a recent report shows that Asian families were only $1,000 short of matching the Caucasian median annual household income of about $75,000. African Americans were not far behind at about $60,000. Hispanics made the lowest at about $46,000.
What’s driving the growth? Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, says federal spending in Northern Virginia is fueling much of it. “You are going to see economic advantages expand as jobs move out to other parts of the state,” he says.
The spread is uneven. Hamilton Lombard, a research specialist at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, says he hasn’t seen much data suggesting big income gains for African Americans and Hispanics. Stewart Schwartz, head of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, faults Kotkin for ignoring problems of public transit and walkability. “Who wants to drive miles to a suburban office park?” he says.
However they play out, better job opportunities for minorities will affect traditional state politics. Challenged will be older ideas held mostly by whites about Virginia’s exceptionalism and pecking order. Diverse groups might recharge their sense of identity and push back against xenophobia.
Farnsworth says he’s already seeing a new form of estrangement. Older, rural and mostly white areas are becoming increasingly Republican as other, more urban areas enjoy the strong economic growth that’s attracting “more educated and more driven” diverse groups, he says.
New Grand Mart is a prime example of the business bustle. Scott Kim, a manager, told me that his company, which has stores in Alexandria, Falls Church and Langley Park, studied the Richmond market thoroughly. Foreign food outlets had been mostly mom-and-pop stores in strip malls despite growing pent-up demand. As his cash registers jingle, he says he is “amazed” at the diversity of the Richmond area.
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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) took the Potomac Yard Metro Station discussion outside of City Hall and into the affected neighborhood for the April 30 public hearing at the Corra Kelly Recreation Center. The project had as many detractors in the crowd of local citizens as it did supporters.
WASHINGTON– After more than six hours of debate, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a plan to add bike lanes on King Street on Saturday.
The plan adds lanes west of the King Street Metro Station between West Cedar Street and Highland Place. The decision culminates months of hotly contested debates between bicyclist advocates, city planners, and local residents concerned about the impact on parking and access to their homes.
“It’s unfortunate that a topic of this sort has become so divisive. As Alexandria has committed itself to become an eco-city, we’ve always been attempting to identify opportunities to be more multi-modal, whether that means walking, biking, pushing strollers, jogging, cars, buses, light rail or all of the above,” says Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille.
The key issue that both sides debate was safety. Do bicycle-only lanes increase or decrease safety on King Street in this residential neighborhood? Should bicyclists ride on busy King Street, or use The George Washington Masonic National Memorial?
“Everybody agrees that there is a speeding problem. What we’ve heard is that the traffic is moving too fast. No one moves into Alexandria expecting to live on a street where we have speeding and we don’t address that issue,” says Rich Baier, Alexandria transportation director.
Transportation officials say the average speed on King Street between Cedar Street and Highland Place is 33 to 35 miles per hour, even though the speed limit is only 25 miles per hour. Baier says adding bicycle lanes will slow down drivers and add a buffer to keep pedestrians safe on the sidewalk.
“Bicycle lanes will go a long way towards making this more of a residential-based street than an arterial road,” he says.
Alexandria resident Sue Gunter agrees with the bike lanes because she thinks it will make pedestrians safer.
“Because there’s no bike lane on King Street right now, some bicyclists who ride down to the Metro station regularly use the sidewalk. While walking, I’ve frequently been startled by a bicyclists being behind me. A bike lane will solve this because bicyclists will no longer need to use the sidewalk,” she says.
Resident Scott Binde says he’s a bicyclist, but does not currently ride on King Street.
“This plan would change that. Bicycles, pedestrians and cars would each have their own space, making movement for all predictable and safe,” he says.
Patrick Earl, who teaches at T.C. Williams High School, says he drives and bikes to work from Takoma Park, Md.
“I see both perspectives and by far the safest situation for me as a biker is to have a dedicated bike lane. But also, I feel much more confident passing a biker who is in a bike lane than when there is a blurred area,” he says.
But Lisa Beyer Scanlon of the Taylor Run Citizens Association believes that bike lanes are a bad idea. She thinks only expert bicyclists should use King Street, and adding bicycle-only lanes could lead to more crashes.
“To use bikers as a buffer is just wrong. They’re people, they’re human beings. Having a car hit them first, so they don’t hit a pedestrian is not our idea of a buffer. Let’s say there’s a 100 bikes an hour. If we build these lanes and they do come, there’s never going to be a full lane of bikes going through there. So there will never be a complete buffer,” she says.
“Complete streets for our neighborhood include sharrows, they do not include dedicated bike lanes,” adds Scanlon.
Sharrows stand for shared arrows placed in the roadway to let drivers know that they need to share the road with bicyclists. Sharrows are popular in the District of Columbia, as well as Arlington. Montgomery County is also looking to add sharrows to help with their launch of Capital Bikeshare last fall.
Scanlon also opposes the plan because it would mean parking spaces would go away. Originally, about 27 spaces would have been removed, but a compromise to add sharrows between Highland Place and Janneys Lane mean that 10 of those spots can be saved.
“Instead of getting rid of the parking, we think that parking is the safest part of the street and provides a better buffer for people riding on the sidewalk,” she says.
Baier says on average, only three out of the 27 spots are filled at a time on the street. He says the spots are underutilized and thus do not create a buffer. He adds that removing the parking spots should not create a parking problem for residents in the area. Scanlon agrees parking is underutilized, but recommends throwing out the resident-only parking rules and opening the spots to the general public.
Other residents like Amy Lehmkuhler and Lynn Lawrence, are also worried that it will be more dangerous to pull in and out of their driveways with bicycle lanes, especially with fewer parking spots.
“In order to safely access our home on the hill, we must back into the driveway, so that we can face the speeding traffic when entering onto King Street. If this is passed, we the people, when we pull out, we will be in both of these lanes,” says Lehmkuhler.
“I’ve watched as neighbors have tried to negotiate getting in and out of their driveways in heavy traffic. I just cannot imagine how bike lanes would be an improvement at this location. These lanes will make an already difficult stretch of road even more hazardous to navigate, resulting in potential injuries to bicyclists and residents alike,” says Lawrence.
Resident Louise Welch says the bicycle lanes will make life more difficult for her and her husband.
“My husband is disabled and on oxygen. Taking away this 7 foot lane and replacing it with a 5 foot bike lane means he cannot even picked up in front of our own home, where we have lived for 35 years,” says Welch.
Others like Jake Jakubek believe the bicycle lanes are important for attracting new business and younger residents. Jakubek is the Vice Chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
“If people are demanding better pedestrian infrastructure, better bike lanes and better transit, then we need to cater to those demands. If we don’t provide for the amenities that this generation of people feels is important, we will be left behind. Public transit use is at the highest level it’s been since 1956,” says Jakubek.
Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, also testified in favor of the plan, calling it a sensible way to promote commuters not to use their cars.
“The consensus among elected officials and the business leaders is one of transit- oriented, walkable and bikeable communities. It is the most feasible and effective means for managing our region’s growth and traffic that is only getting worse. Certainly this is really key to Alexandria’s competitiveness in the future,” says Schwartz.
In the end, the Council unanimously approved the bike lanes proposal. Transportation officials will update the Council on the progress of the project in 2015.
Thank you. My name is Stewart Schwartz, and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. We are a 17-year-old non-profit and the leading voice for smart growth in the DC region, with expertise in transportation, land use and affordable housing. As a professional, and as a full-time resident of Alexandria for over 20 years and part-time for a few more, I have participated extensively in Alexandria planning including Potomac Yard, the Wilson Bridge, Beauregard, Braddock Metro, and more. I am very familiar with the stretch of King Street in question.
Mayor Euille and Members of Council: I have been quite surprised and concerned that opponents to safe, connected bike lanes on King Street between the Metro and Janneys Lane have elevated the issue to make it a national cause célèbre in conservative circles with extremely hostile OpEds in the Wall Street Journal and the American Spectator. They are bringing negative publicity upon Alexandria and threaten the ability of our city to attract young, well-educated, creative, entrepreneurial workers that are so critical to the future of our economy and tax base. Alexandria has been making great progress in bringing sustainable new development, investing in new transit, setting up bike-sharing, and more, but this particular debate is casting a shadow on that progress and will chase away the creative economy workforce and the businesses they attract…
In the most recent version of the King Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements proposal, we are concerned by the removal of a continuous bicycle lane from Cedar Street to Janneys Lane. Alexandria adopted a Complete Streets policy almost three years ago to ensure balance in planning for the transportation needs of its residents. A key part of this should be a King Street that allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel through the neighborhood more safely.
Good afternoon. I am Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth closely tracked the planning for the redevelopment of the Beauregard corridor and testified in support of the new plan. We have studied the staff report for the new Coordinated Development Districts in great detail.
Our review of the staff report, community advisory committee reports and other supporting documentation indicates a very high degree of due diligence and analysis. The city has invested significant resources in ensuring all the pieces fit together in this complex rezoning, including the design standards, the staging related to transportation improvements, and the developer commitments to financing public infrastructure and affordable housing. The city also established community advisory committees to collect ongoing input and provide independent recommendations to the staff, Planning Commission and Council.
Mixed-use, mixed-income development in walkable, transit-oriented development offers the best way for our region to grow while managing traffic, increasing access to jobs for all incomes, and reducing energy use and pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions.
Understandably, the key area of ongoing concern has been affordable housing and we understand the concern of existing residents who depend on affordable rents. Entendemos. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has included affordable housing policy as a core component of our work including support for housing trust funds, inclusionary zoning, use of public land, zoning and other tools.
Market rate affordable housing is under pressure and at risk due to the region’s continued population growth and the traffic that is encouraging residents to live closer to jobs and transit. It is this demand to live close to jobs, transit and the core, that has developers like JBG seeking out larger parcels of land with the potential for significant redevelopment, such as the garden apartments within the Beauregard community.
Most of the garden apartments are found in an area that the city included in CDD #4 a number of years ago, which created an incentive for purchase and redevelopment, but without a set-aside or other affordable housing preservation strategies for the area. Given the current situation, CDD #21/#22 offers the best opportunity to secure long-term committed affordable housing and a range of other community benefits.
We are glad that the city conducted a tenant survey to better understand the needs, and that as a result, the city has made adjustments to the affordable housing plan, tenant transition, and associated financing plan, including increasing the number of units for households with incomes at 40% of Area Median Income and below.
The plan’s housing goal and an effective strategy to create 800 long-term committed affordable units are essential. It includes the largest developer contribution ever made to affordable housing in our region – $66 million, and the city’s substantial commitment using tax increment financing. It appears to now be better tailored to the needs identified in the tenant survey with a focus on people earning $15,000 to $65,000 per year, depending on family size. Over 50% of the 800 units will be at 40% AMI and below.
Redevelopment of the garden apartments will happen over many years, providing time for creative affordable housing deals, especially with non-profit housing developers, and other strategies to offer additional committed affordable housing units. Espero que; creo que la Ciudad va a hacer lo que es necesario para ayudar a la communidad con este cambio.
The city has drafted an Affordable Housing Master Plan, which is much needed. We’ve lost too much because of not doing enough in the past. The plan should also be improved with clear numerical goals, dedicated funding, and the city’s priority attention to adopting the policies and programs necessary to more effectively preserve and expand affordable housing. At the same time, the city also needs the tax base from well-planned, competitive transit-oriented redevelopment to create the taxpayer resources necessary for this affordable housing strategy.
In conclusion and weighing the information before you today, we recommend that you support the rezoning to Coordinated Development Districts 21 and 22. Thank you.
The plan has benefitted from very extensive community involvement and input, particularly regarding the need to preserve and add affordable housing. We commend the community, and our affordable housing partners in particular, for helping to shape this plan and increase the number of committed affordable units. The plan has also benefited from the developer’s early inclusion of the nation’s top new urbanist architecture, town planning and transportation experts.