By Amy Reinink
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 15, 2010; 8:13 PM
It was the middle of winter. Snow was falling, cabs were running late, and Chick Walter had a plane to catch at Reagan National Airport.
So Walter took advantage of one of his favorite things about his neighborhood, Arlington Ridge: He walked to the airport, one of a plethora of services and attractions within a mile of his front door.
Walter, who moved to Arlington Ridge with his wife, Alexandra, in 1990, is among many residents who said close proximity to major attractions such as the airport, two Metro stations, and shopping and restaurants in Crystal City and Pentagon City, along with a distinctly residential vibe, define their neighborhood. Also within walking distance: multiple parks, Aurora Hills Library, and the Four Mile Run park and bike trail.
"There are four or five food stores, hundreds of restaurants, a mall and just about everything else you can imagine within easy walking distance," said Walter, 65, a retired Government Accountability Office employee and president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association. "As long as you're willing to walk a mile, you can find anything you need. It's an easy, convenient place to live."
When Kit Whitely moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago, she was attracted not only to its central location but also to its hilly, narrow streets lined with mature trees and eclectic houses.
"We loved that you could have this old-town feel right next to the big city," said Whitely, a retired engineer who is secretary of the civic association.
Her husband, Jack Whitely, is retired from the military, and Kit Whitely said having Fort Myer, with a commissary, a PX and other services, nearby is also a plus. The neighborhood is within walking distance of the Pentagon, making it attractive to many military families.
"A lot of people move here because they're stationed here, buy homes and then decide this is where they want to come back to," Kit Whitely said.
Arlington Ridge's housing stock is widely varied, with condominiums and million-dollar houses within blocks of each other. Residents said that diversity of housing options helps foster a friendly, laid-back atmosphere.
"It is not a snooty place to live," said Louis Andors, an agent with Keller Williams who lives in adjacent Aurora Hills. "It's a great neighborhood, but it's not an 'address' - and I say 'address' with my nose stuck firmly in the air. And yet we have many accomplished and high-profile people who enjoy the neighborhood for just that reason."
Residents are also diverse in age and ethnicity, said Elizabeth Mailander, 46, who lives in Arlington Ridge with her husband, Chris, and two sons.
"My children's play dates are with kids from every country under the sun," said Mailander, vice president of corporate and marketing communications for Iridium Communications. "Diversity was very important to us, and we found what we were looking for here."
Mailander said local public schools are "exceptional," with lots of parent involvement in fundraising efforts and parent-teacher associations.
The Arlington Ridge Civic Association is also highly active. Recent neighborhood projects include sprucing up the grounds of the Hume School, an 1891 building that houses the Arlington Historical Museum; landscaping the neighborhood's entrance from Interstate 395 at Arlington Ridge Road; and working closely with the county to minimize the effect of a water-treatment plant within sniffing distance of some houses in the neighborhood, Walter said.
Membership coffees in residents' homes draw dozens of attendees, as do potluck dinners and the neighborhood's annual Halloween parade. Whitely said the association is active without being overbearing.
"You can be involved if you want to be, but you're not a pariah if you don't," Whitely said.
The association is especially active in continual efforts to minimize the effect of what many residents said is the neighborhood's worst feature - traffic from Interstate 395, which exits directly into the neighborhood on Arlington Ridge Road.
Neighborhood lobbying has led to a reduced speed limit on South Arlington Ridge Road and 23rd Street South, from 30 to 25 mph, along with installation of more crosswalks.
"It's the only place I know of where 395 literally drops into a residential neighborhood," said Bonnie Flynn, a retired deputy commander for corporate communications for the Naval Sea Systems Command. "Traffic is bad. The changes have been very positive in terms of calming it and slowing it down, but we'll never get rid of it."
Residents said the upside is that the neighborhood's best features - its central location and residential character - counteract its worst.
"I grew up in inner-city New Orleans and my husband grew up in a rural town in Iowa, and we get a taste of both here," Mailander said. "You can walk to hundreds of restaurants, and have such easy access to museums and cultural attractions in downtown D.C. But when you're home, it really feels like a small town."