Thursday, December 20, 2018
"I'm President of the Douglas Park Civic Association. I'm also Chair of Pike Presidents Group. I've been President five years in February, and for three years I've been Chair at the PPG.
I've lived here for a little over twenty years. We moved back to Arlington in 1998. I really got involved through a combination of things, but primarily my interest in the community in general.
I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania on a farm, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles north of the West Virginia line. When I got out of the college in the mid '80's there just wasn't a lot of economic opportunity in western Pennsylvania. I liked this area. I had visited it a couple of times as a teenager, and why not? It was busy, it was growing.
When I moved to Virginia in 1985, I originally worked in the wholesale end of the nursery industry, for a company out in Manassas. I worked there for about five years. We relocated to Connecticut because I got promoted and I was a VP at that company for a number of years. We moved back here in 1998 because of my husband’s father’s failing health, to help take care of him. I've run my own consulting business since then; two nursery companies doing customer relations, marketing, advertising, and employee development.
I met my husband here in the DC area, thirty years ago this December. We've been together thirty years. We officially got married seven or eight years ago on our anniversary, just because I wasn't going to remember another date. It's nice to have it official but it doesn't really change thirty years.
When I first moved here, I really liked Arlington, especially for the convenience. At that point I was in my early to mid twenties. It was great. The night life in DC was convenient and everything. When we moved back here in 1998, we knew we did not want to live outside the Beltway. My husband’s the director of membership for a non-profit downtown. The first thought was Arlington, and we went exploring houses. We looked at 17 or 18 houses at least. We saw this one, it wasn't even on the market yet. The realtor said, "Well, they're going to put this on the market in about two days. It's not ready yet." But we saw it and it's like, "Yep. That's the house."
We’ve seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood. It's really quite amazing that when we moved here in 1998. We were in our mid thirties at that time and were by far the youngest homeowners on the block. When my husband and I moved in there weren’t any issues for us as a couple. I've been out since I was fourteen. To be very honest, I really don't give a damn what somebody thinks of me in that regard. It's like that's their problem, not my problem.
At the time we moved in the residents were almost exclusively older, if not elderly. There were a lot of people who owned homes who lived here who were in their 70's, 80's, and older. Almost exclusively white. And here twenty years later, even this block is much more multi-ethnic. The home ownership, it's much, much younger. Now we're amongst the oldest people in this section.
And it’s been an interesting transformation to watch because it’s bringing in younger people. The diversity has kind of helped spruce up the neighborhood, for lack of a better term. We have gotten younger people in here who have new ideas, want their house to look good, want it to look nice if they're having friends and family over, things like that. So, it’s made a difference in the appearance of the neighborhood. I would also say the congeniality of the neighborhood has increased. People are much more likely to say “hi” to the neighbors than they were say twenty years ago, in my observation. I think just because it's a younger crowd, and especially with so many kids here now, there's more threads interweaving through the community to allow people to know each other a little bit better.
The neighborhood is a big mix. We have a lot of people who originated in Central America, but we also have a fairly small but a growing number of Asians in the neighborhood. We have African Americans in the neighborhood. We have actually quite a few people of East African immigrants, Ethiopia, et cetera, who have bought homes in the neighborhood and live here now. I can't say that there's any group that particularly dominates. Caucasians are probably still the largest group, but it's certainly not anything like it was twenty years ago. It's much more of a melting pot.
Elementary school redistricting is the hot topic right now with the Civic Association. There's a lot of people up in arms, concerned, questioning. That process is kind of fumbling through to an end at this point. It’s been through a number of iterations. We are all in communication with the school board on this, though. Reid Goldstein, who is the School Board Chair, is a former president of our civic association. He's well aware of it as a neighborhood resident, but the School Board is kind of between a rock and a hard place with the ever-growing population in general and the school age population in Arlington.
We have other issues, of course. There's always the concern with parking issues and with utility projects. Virginia Power wants to underground a bunch of cable lines. Over on Pollard Street there's concerns with traffic, and commuting, and what's going on with the reconstruction of the Pike. It seems to be dragging on forever. The streetcar project went away and all of the promised rapid bus service hasn’t arrived yet. The Pike has still really not been reconstructed yet… it's an ongoing effort.
There's a lot of things that people talk about all of the time, but it’s generally a pretty quiet place, especially compared to a few years ago when all of the fuss was going on with the streetcar versus the bus service. That became a very polarizing debate and people were getting quite adamant about it on either side of the issue.
The whole discussion over elementary school redistricting is a perfect example of how complicated things are. I've had numerous parents reach out to me saying that, " We don't like proposal X and we want you as a Civic Association to take a stand on this particular thing." But the problem is that some other group of parents may be affected in a different way, and may actually like the changes. So, I can have my personal opinions, but those have to be different from what the opinion of the official Civic Association is, because this neighborhood is huge. It's the largest neighborhood geographically in the county. Right now it's divided up amongst five elementary schools. The latest proposal has it being divided up amongst three, but it would be impossible no matter what they did to fit all of the children who live in this neighborhood in one elementary school. I haven't seen any recent updated population figures from the county, but in the early to mid teens it was around 11,000 people. That's a lot of folks in a single neighborhood.
My guess is that the coming of Amazon to south Arlington will probably affect the neighborhood. I don't think it will occur nearly as quickly as people expect. One of the initial effects is likely that with a lot of office space getting booked in the next couple of years, is that it will help revitalize the tax base in Arlington, so that we won't be so fiscally constrained as we have been the last few years. As far as housing prices, who knows? Obviously if you have more people coming into an area and there aren't changes in the housing policy to allow more multi-family structures, or higher density, it's probably going to end up escalating prices. Just gauging by my own experience as a home owner, house prices have quadrupled, almost quintupled in twenty years. It's already to the point where I find it difficult to figure out how knowing where I was when I bought my first home, how I would afford to buy something in the current market.
The Pike Presidents Group originated about twenty or twenty-five years ago. It was then called the Pike President's Breakfast. It was kind of an informal thing that started as an offshoot of CPRO (Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization) to get various civic association presidents together. I'm a pretty outspoken person, I'm not a wallflower by any stretch of the imagination. We reorganized the group and made it more separate from CPRO, more of our own entity. We in the PPG look at CPRO as representing the Pike overarching regarding its redevelopment, especially focused on business. We try to keep focused on neighborhood concerns, the actual people who live here, the infrastructure of the area, and how that all interrelates.
Three things have occupied a lot of our time over the last couple of years. One is how we can move forward more quickly on getting the Pike infrastructure upgraded to its ultimate state. We hope to spread the economic opportunity that has spread through the eastern and central Pike, and bring more of it to the west end of the Pike, because the west end of the Pike has still really not participated in a lot of the benefits of the economic redevelopment that has been occuring. Part of that effort was getting the Arlington Farmers Market back up and running after two or three years. It was initially opened and then went on hiatus for a couple of years. Now it’s going again.
The other big thing we've been involved with a lot the last couple of years is what happens to the large Career Center site off Walter Reed and the Pike. That's kind of downtown Columbia Pike. Much of it is owned by the school system, but the opportunities are there to unify it into the actual façade of the Pike and make it more connected to the Pike. The decisions that are made over the next ten years about that huge parcel will have enormous ramifications for what the Pike is for the next half century. The PPG is very much of the opinion that we need to take our time and get it right. It has to work for the schools and also work for the community at large, whether it's community resources, or moving the library down onto the Pike so it's more of a focal point. We want to help energize the whole Pike.
The biggest challenge honestly, and it's something I'm glad that we have the PPG to work through it, is understanding and working together, rather than working at cross purposes. That's something I've tried to foster by working interactively, not just between various Civic Associations, but between other community groups and communities in general on the Pike. We all need to pull together. I think the general gist of wanting this to remain a hugely diverse community, and also bringing it upwards economically are two broad goals that I think most communities along the Pike and most of the Civic Association Presidents are for. A lot of our efforts are in working with County staff, and working with County officials to help better understand what makes the whole Pike community special. There are always challenges, but I think we've made a lot of progress in that over the years.
The way I describe the Pike to people who don't know it beyond the diversity and the multicultural aspect, the “world in a zip code,” is that it's a place that is on the cusp of becoming great. It's just how do we get that little push to do it. There's always just a little bit more of a hill ahead of us to kind of get us over the top to where it's going to be self-sustaining, growing, keeping all of the things like diversity and affordability that we value, but also bringing those economic benefits that hopefully can lift us all up.
I certainly don't get emails or phone calls talking about, "We want to keep diversity on the Pike." I think that is because people who live here just take it as a given, that diversity is something they value. I'll give you a couple of examples. We've run a holiday fund drive here in Douglas Park for our 35th year. We work with Randolph Elementary, and they identify students who aren't going to get a lot for Christmas. We raise money, we have people who volunteer to shop to get things for the kids and their families. It’s been a very successful effort we've done for decades. Another event we hold is a community Fourth of July parade and picnic, up in Douglas Park proper. All you need to do is walk around that picnic after the parade. Everybody from around the planet is there. I'm usually grilling hotdogs, I'm sweating my ass off. The typical attendance is three, four, five hundred people. Everyone from seniors, to kids in diapers, and everywhere in between, a really fantastic cross-section of the neighborhood economically and culturally, in any way you can imagine. When I send out reminders in June for volunteers, many people talk about "we look forward to this so much every year, because its what makes living in Douglas Park and the Pike area great." The only thing we provide is the hotdogs and the water, then everybody else brings something. I love it because there's food from all over the world there every year. Pupusas, curry, spices… Everybody from everywhere is here, and everybody generally just gets along and enjoys what Arlington and the neighborhood has to offer.
I've been very proud for the last five years to work with a bunch of people who really are interested in the future of their community, I think there's not a lot of places anymore where you can really say that. The people who make up the Pike, whether it's Douglas Park or the community at large, are concerned about this place. People want to see things improve, to preserve the great things that we have. This area seems to attract people who actually want to be hands on and want to be involved with shaping their community. There's a lot of smart people in the Pike Corridor who have a lot of great ideas, and we're working together. Together I don't think there's anything we can't achieve for the future."
Interview and photography by Lloyd Wolf.