Nearly two years after neighborhood groups and county staffers rolled up their sleeves and set to work updating the Virginia Square Sector Plan, the basic blueprint for growth in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor neighborhood has been completed. The plan, last renewed in 1983 and adopted by the board Saturday, lays the framework for future growth for the next 15 years or so.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D) praised the new plan, singling out its provisions for expanding affordable housing and enhancing pedestrian-friendly initiatives in line with the county's "WALKArlington" report.

Benjamin Axleroad, president of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, lauded the plan's commitment to preserving open space and its attention on alleviating the worsening shortage of parking. Axleroad also said the process had enhanced cooperative planning efforts between George Mason University and the community.

"We approve it very enthusiastically," Axleroad said. "We like the emphasis on pedestrian safety."

So, amid the cheering, forgive Jim Pebley, former president of the Arlington County Civic Federation, for a more jaundiced view of sector plans. Heralded at birth, sector plans are all but ignored forever after as the board renders case-by-case decisions on development projects, Pebley said.

"They never follow their own plans. They're completely unfaithful to them," Pebley said. "It turns out to be a sop for the neighborhoods."

Just next door to Virginia Square, for example, neighbors in Clarendon have been grumbling about glass-and-steel towers crowding out their sky in defiance of sector plans drawn up over the years, even as the county appointed a 17-member task force to review the Clarendon Sector Plan and Master Transportation Plan.

Pebley acknowledged that the plans do offer the board leverage to squeeze some site-plan concessions out of developers -- say, by persuading developers to add new affordable housing apartments in exchange for building five more stories higher than envisioned in the sector plan. But, Pebley said, what neighbors have to live with is seldom what they envisioned in their sector plan, thanks to the board.

"They break it every stinking time," he said.

The Beauty of African Currency

A free exhibit, "Artistry of African Currency," a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition, opens today at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center, 638 N. Alfred St.

Giving money could be as fanciful as any gift if it meant handing out currency used in Africa over the centuries. Strips of cloth, weights sculpted from precious metals into animals and human figurines, neck rings and, of course, cowrie shells -- those pearly white shells with the shark-like mouths -- all have been used in commerce in various regions of Africa. For just 25 cowrie shells, for example, you could walk away with a chicken. A cow would set you back 2,500 shells.

What's striking is the way that African cultures then transformed tools of exchange into objects of beauty themselves, curator Audrey Davis said.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; and closed Mondays. The exhibit runs through Jan. 26.