A Room With a View, for a Toddler

Harry, almost 2, is one resident pleased by the parking lot taking shape.
Harry, almost 2, is one resident pleased by the parking lot taking shape. (By Alec Macgillis -- The Washington Post)
Monday, November 20, 2006

Where we live shapes us, and we shape where we live. Here's what area residents have to say about where they live. An occasional Page Three feature.

The news came this summer in a notice slipped under our door: The owners of our Arlington garden apartment building were turning the steep wooded hillside behind us, just outside our son's bedroom window, into a parking lot.

Some in the building cheered; no longer would they have to park on the street a block away when the two small existing lots were full. We and other residents despaired, in an unusual variation on NIMBY, since this project was being undertaken on our behalf.

Was it so hard, we wondered, to walk a hundred yards to your car? Was the burden of having to do so worth knocking down one of the neighborhood's few patches of green, one that served as a buffer between leafy Lyon Village and Lee Highway? This was Arlington, which prides itself on walkability and transit usage -- since when did its denizens expect exurban-style convenience?

The last-minute protests from the homeowners at the top of the hillside, who had been fighting the parking lot for years, went nowhere. One day, a truck pulled up with a big, groping claw that started pulling up weed trees and tossing them into a shredder's maw, as easy as an elephant at a salad bar. Not long afterward, the few mature trees that had towered over the scruffier ones vanished as well in a wail of chain saws. The dense, green wall that had provided shade in the summer and given our third-floor apartment a nice treehouse feel was gone, replaced by an expanse of sky and rutted, sun-baked earth.

Predictably, the quick work of destruction gave way to a mysterious pause. Bulldozers sat empty for weeks. The wall of barren earth turned a deep orangish, almost ocher, shade that made us feel as if we were living beneath the Sedona cliffs. Eventually, workers returned and, ever so slowly, the lot's plateau has emerged, and a retaining wall has grown up. Soon, the first cars will pull in, their headlights pointing straight into our apartment.

For now, the activity has brought with it one small upside: entertainment for a young connoisseur of construction equipment. Our 22-month-old, normally a human electron, stands for 10, 15 minutes at a time on his stool at the window to observe the work. Sometimes he calls out the names of the machinery, distinguishing between "dup trucks" and "ho-hos."

Mostly, though, he just stands and watches, providing stretches of stillness that his parents, aggrieved as they are by the project, can't help but appreciate.

-- Alec MacGillis, staff writer

© 2006 The Washington Post Company