The other day, my good friend Poul Hertel was reading a speech that George Washington gave to a very skeptical House of Representatives. Instead of getting angry (as had been expected), Mr. Washington called on everyone to “Unite our efforts to improve our immense advantage”.
Applying that adage to the City Council’s direct assault on our Historic District’s waterfront, Poul went on to say that “Alexandria (having been endowed with significant natural and historic advantages) should endeavor to build on those advantages, and build them into the entire community, instead of seeking to marginalize them – or worse, destroy them. Instead of building on the walkability, human scale and the sense of place that makes people want to go there, Alexandria has instead tried to emulate areas with no such advantage who have pursued a dense, suburban model totally alien to the advantages that are there”. His remarks are indeed a very cogent description of the redevelopment of our historic waterfront.
It’s almost as if the Council has attempted to transpose a National Harbor-like scenario into our historic backyard, since they have now approved four of the five redevelopment projects on the waterfront. Two of those developments (the Carr hotel and EYA’s Robinson Terminal South) reflect buildings that are far too large in mass and scale for the waterfront, and do not in any way connect or fit into the adjoining community’s historic fabric.
Those individuals on the City’s planning staff, Planning Commission and City Council who have subscribed to this modernization of the waterfront need to find other employment, since they are killing the goose that laid the golden egg!! It is now evident that the Old and Historic District and other historical landmarks throughout the city are under siege by individuals who have no sense of place, or an appreciation of history.
This will ultimately result in fewer people wanting to come to a place that could be anywhere. Even National Harbor has a sense of place, a uniqueness about it that is in keeping with its own place on the river.
However, Old Town is losing its own uniqueness incrementally, and before we know it, the Old and Historic District (which is the economic engine of the entire city) will dry up. This will most likely result in an increase to our current 18% commercial vacancy rate, add to our current half billion dollar debt, and eventually place our triple A bond rating in jeopardy. That’s the sad commentary facing us today.
Are we going to lose OUR immense advantage to the inappropriate and/or unworthy nature of impending projects, or will we unite in our efforts to keep the historic nature of our beloved city?
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet