It’s a metaphor of sorts for Penrose, the South Arlington neighborhood that covers that section of the pike and runs several blocks to the north. Filled with affordable apartments, duplexes, a few condos and a bunch of medium-size single-family houses, the community is a tight one that has long prided itself on its economic and ethnic diversity. But in the past few years, the area has become popular among young families impressed with its convenient location and services within walking distance, a phenomenon that will probably accelerate, if planners’ hopes for Columbia Pike materialize.
For now, most Penrose residents seem happy that the community is finally being recognized as a great place to live. The possibility that it could be the next Clarendon — that is, much more expensive and far less diverse — seems years into the future.
To an outside observer wandering around the neighborhood, the area is a cute one, but not particularly remarkable. Some of the streets are shaded by large trees and lined with garden apartments, bungalows, Cape Cods and Colonials. But other streets reveal basic ranch houses surrounded by little vegetation.
Still, it’s hard to find a resident who doesn’t sing the neighborhood’s praises: its close-knit community vibe, good (and ethnically mixed) schools and, above all, convenient setting. “It’s an unbelievable location,” said Susan Minnick, an agent with McEnearney Associates and a six-year neighborhood resident. “Route 50 has what, one stoplight into the city from Penrose? And I can bike to the Kennedy Center in about 15 minutes.”
It’s easy to underestimate the location, given the lack of a Metro station, but the Columbia Pike corridor is well served by buses, with lines running directly into the District and to the Clarendon and Pentagon Metro stations.
And when it comes to goods and services, everything’s nearby. Columbia Pike may not be the hallowed Rosslyn-Ballston corridor to the north, whose bustling pedestrian-oriented development has earned it national acclaim, but residents say Penrose has a lot to offer, including restaurants such as Bangkok 54 and
P. Brennan’s, as well as the Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse.
And it’s growing. Two large, glossy apartment buildings, Penrose Square and Siena Park, were recently erected along the pike; both include street-level space for restaurants and shops, including a new Giant supermarket that opened in June. That’s just the start: The road has been the target of several county-level planning efforts to encourage the rapid growth of transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and a streetcar connecting the area with Pentagon City may be coming around 2016.