Urban living next to the nation's capital

Posted on Wednesday, Jun 24, 2015

I live in Arlington County, Virginia, not Washington, DC, as some would call the area.  Although it falls within the greater DC metropolitan area, this is a separate local government, separated from Washington by the Potomac River.  Originally, it formed the diamond shape of Washington, DC, as per the envisioned by father of the nation George Washington.  However, pre-Civil War turbulence led Virginia to take back its donated land from the District, and therefore we have Arlington County today. 

Today, the approximately 26-square-mile is the nation’s smallest self-governing county.  It holds the colossal US military headquarters, the Pentagon, and Reagan National Airport.  This county is considered a world-class residential/commercial location, due to its proximity to the nation’s capital, and having a unique growth plan that can be the envy of any local government.  Its land use program earned recognition through the Environmental Protection Agency’s top award for Smart Growth back in 2002.

Due to a Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision in 1922, Arlington has no incorporated towns/cities.  Sure, there are names such as Crystal City, where I live, and Pentagon City, but these can be considered neighborhoods, such they have no governing authority.  Governance exists only at the county level. America’s colonial history is heavily manifested in this region.  The county’s name come from the Earl of Arlington. 

This land parcel, west of Potomac River has been carefully developed.  High-density development is designated in specific areas next to train stations, lining up with the transit corridors.  This policy promotes public transit, and less reliance on motor vehicles. For someone like me, who left his heart and his vehicle in Texas, public transit is my only option.  It is interesting, this urban living.  I never thought of purchasing a mini-shopping cart for myself, so I don’t have to carry 50 pounds of groceries and go through a punishing workout, all in the name of food. 

The county has allowed mixed-use development near train stations, to balance out commercial and residential needs.  The idea is to have varying, continuous activities that promote employment.  If an area carries businesses and housing, surely there will be grocery stores.  And shoeshine men, can’t forget the shoeshine men who polish shoes early in the morning, for busy commuters on their way to work.  Interesting point for urban dwellers and enthusiasts, Arlington’s Rosslyn Metro Station has the longest continuous escalators on Earth.  Reaching 194 feet, this is a marvel, for those who care.  For others, we just trek along to the next station.  

According to the County Planning Division, an estimated 216,700 people populate this region.  This makes the jurisdiction one of the most densely-populated ones in the nation, with 8,399 persons per square mile. This is one of the reasons the local government focuses on transit-oriented development.  This also may be one of the reasons for the multitude of diverse restaurants in this place.  I went from Tex-Mex to Afghan kebabs, not a bad transition if I do say so myself.  Kabab Place is one of those places that has a nondescript exterior, but inside waits aromatic, succulent grilled beef, chicken, and lamb that anyone craving meat will like. 

The urban infrastructure has not neglected greenery.  There are enough parks and green spaces for outdoors types.  With quality residences, large-scale firms, and a vibrant recreational scene, this place grows on you.  Bottom line, this is a nice place to spend a summer for Texas A&M University interns, or perhaps even a lifetime for residents.   

Tamim Choudhury
BAE Systems
Washignton, D.C. - Summer 2015

Tags: Intern, Life, Living, Potomac, River, Washington