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From the Director: Placemaking Beyond the Parking Lot - Celebrate National Community Planning Month

Who hasn’t heard Joni Mitchell’s lament that we as a nation have “paved paradise and put up a parking lot?”  October is National Community Planning Month, and Arlington Economic Development is celebrating by pairing a challenging exhibit of photos and paintings entitled Beyond the Parking Lot: The Change and Re-assessment of our Modern Landscape with an open discussion of the future of distressed places with Professor Joe Schilling, head of the Metropolitan Institute’s Sustainable Communities Initiative at Virginia Tech. The event will take place at Artisphere on October 3rd.

Cynthia Connolly’s Artisphere exhibit has won critical acclaim from the Washington Post for a number of haunting photographs by Frank Hallam Day of an abandoned urban landscape beneath the I-95 ramps in central Baltimore, along with Richard Crozier’s painted vignettes of soon-to-be-lost places in transition in the Charlottesville area. One of the most fascinating installations is “Cyclorama,” by Philadelphia-based artist Alex Lukas, featuring a curved canvas surrounding the viewer with a detailed painting of a thrown away place, partially reclaimed by nature with only vestiges of its prior urban uses. There are a number of other equally intriguing elements to the show, but all are focused on places that have lost their purpose or soon will; they are places in transition.

APA has recently released a report by Joe Schilling, Cities in Transition, to aid planners in revitalizing these lost landscapes. Most urban planning tools are designed to manage growth, but what happens when the process runs in reverse? How can cities deal effectively with job and population loss, property vacancies, and economic retrenchment? Cities in Transition suggests workable, scalable strategies for revitalizing cities and inner-ring suburbs.

So, how does Arlington fit into an event focused on the transition of lost places? Well, until recently we were one of them. In my office I have pictures of Clarendon as a desert of overgrown parking lots. The R-B Corridor was once known as Carlington for the 30 used car lots strewn throughout when I came to work for the County not so long ago. A recent publication by Morgan Stanley, How Transit-Oriented Development Can Help Get America Back to Work, uses Arlington as the primary example of high quality planning and development, describing how transitions can be accomplished while meeting a variety of economic and social equity goals. We can use the exhibit as the before, and Arlington as the after example of how sound planning practices can be transformative. As Arlington moves Beyond Smart Growth, let us not forget what got us here.

The event begins at 6:00 p.m. on October 3rd with Cynthia providing a tour with commentary on the exhibit followed by Joe reflecting on the future of these thrown away places. A reception with food and beverages will be provided and the event is free although registration is required.

Come join us on October 3rd to celebrate National Community Planning Month!  Also, the American Planning Association has a great bibliography for those who want to learn more about shrinking cities.

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