If Arlington County hopes to revitalize sagging commercial districts, it must first address its identity crisis, according to a volunteer subcommittee of the county's Economic Development Commission.
"We don't see a pattern for the community," architect Hugh Johnson, a member of the American Institute of Architects, and committee member. "We don't have a community identity. There's probably no other (county) in the country where the whole focal point is a cemetery."
Johnson, in addressing a dinner meeting of Arlington's Committee of 100, unveiled a plan designed to attack the identity problem and revitalize a several of the Arlington's depressed commercial areas.
The proposal suggests linking various depressed areas like Clarendon, Parkington and Columbia Pike through a roadway loop, approximately one mile in diameter, with continuous minibus service.
The theory, Johnson explained, is that revitalization of one area would benefit all. Joining Johnson in his presentation were George Relyea of the Economic Development Commission and county planner Hal Gidden.
Johnson said that the group's year-long showed that Arlington must develop some sort of identity to combat "economic obsolescence."
Johnson said that a transportation ring linking Ballston, Clarendon, Columbia Pike and Parkington, would encourage people to drive to one shopping center, park their cars and ride the buses.
Other aesthetic improvements are necessary to encourage Arlington residents to shop in these areas, Johnson said. These include planting trees along the barren, unattractive stretches of Glebe Road, putting utility wires underground and identifying the loop through improved signs, a distinctive logo. Committee members said they didn't know how much the proposed loop and other improvements would cost, but that funds would be needed for market and transportation studies to develop the proposal further.
Qeustions from the audience following the hour-long presentation reflected a widespread skepticism.
"There's no discussion of business tax policies or incentives to bring business here," said Edmond Kanwit, a retired transportation specialist. "Why have these areas deteriorated? Why have we had this decentralization and dispersal? What you are trying to do is reverse a national trend" toward large shopping centers like Tysons Corner, he said.
County board chairman John W. Purdy, who attended the meeting, said later, "I think the concept is worth pursuing. It has a lot of details to be worked out, but I don't know that they're realistic in thinking that this is going to make a difference."
Board vice chairman Ellen M. Bozman echoed Purdy's remarks and noted the mixed reaction of the audience. "(The concept) needs more exploration," she said.