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Hello Washington

A little over a year ago I moved to Arlington, Virginia. My job was in Arlington and I was lucky to find a good house with good people. I appreciated having a relatively short commute to my job without being overly far away from the city. In the past year I've switched jobs, and effectively doubled my commute. When you throw in the fact that I've always wanted to live in the city, you'll understand that it was hard not to grab an opportunity that presented itself. I'll soon be a resident of the ever-changing U Street neighborhood.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

I really think that Arlington has done a tremendous job creating walkable, bikeable and livable areas. It's a progressive town where the people and the leadership seem to really understand the value of good urbanism. Yet, at the same time, Arlington doesn't always feel very urban from a design sense; and I think that no matter how well-intentioned Arlington is, it will always feel like retro-fitted suburbia, rather than a city that developed organically.

Take my neighborhood, Ballston, for example. It has plenty of towering office and residential buildings. But peppered in between are a few short and seemingly out-of-place buildings with swaths of surface parking lots on prime real-estate.

I imagine that these buildings are holdovers from before the area was redeveloped around the Orange Line into what it is today. Perhaps one day they will get torn down or move to the ground floor of denser developments. But for now, they just seem out of place.

Then there's the Ballston Mall, which is certainly leftover from suburbia's glory days; and like many American shopping malls, it's really struggling to find and keep good tenants. In the year since I moved to Ballston, I think the only store I ever shopped at in the mall was CVS (though I did visit some of the mall's restaurants).

(from timkelley on Flickr)

I don't want this post to turn into a criticism, so I'll end by saying that I completely understand why Arlington is so popular. It's relatively safe, the government seems fairly competent, the police act respectable and professional, and many of the public services are top-notch. Those are the things that I'll surely miss. At the same time, Arlington is something of a victim of its own success, and I've found that rents are just as high as they are in Washington. In any case, thinking about all the places I've lived, I know I'm yet to find one single perfect place, and no matter where I go, I know there will always be trade-offs. This time, I think it will be worth it.


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