Who’s part of Alexandria’s future?
MyView | Lucero Beebe-Giudice
Friday, JUNE 25 2010
By Lucero Beebe-Giudice
The Alexandria City Council recently released a draft of the city’s strategic plan. The seven broad goals and many of the objectives outlined in the plan to improve public health, well-being, environment, diversity and transportation, etc. show forethought and insight as City Council seeks systemic solutions.
One example is the approach to enhancing community health, which incorporates expanded services — preventative care and investment in the environment, public space and education. As noted in the Plan, all of these things are linked and imperative to making Alexandria a better place to live and work.
Whereas most of the goals intersect and build on each other, the document’s “Goal #1” is strikingly singular and insular in its objective of “quality development and redevelopment, support for local businesses and a strong, diverse and growing local economy.”
Success for Goal #1 is achieved through enhanced competitiveness, recruitment and a balanced commercial tax base, which hints at the further erosion of business contributions to public infrastructure through taxes and fees. In other words, business is welcome to profit off of Alexandrians with little responsibility for the community’s well being.
Another interesting note is that the plan’s success is partly measured by median household income, the percentage of the population below the poverty level and the number of residents with an advanced degree. These are noble measures of progress. However, truly shifting the trajectory of entire communities and registering increases to overall household income, education levels, etc., through systemic changes in public institutions, will take generations.
It can not be measured within the timeframe set by the plan of the next three to five years, unless it is achieved by the removing less educated, low income folks out of town and replacing them with affluent educated people — begging the question, “Who is this vibrant, diverse and beautiful city for?”
A walk from Old Town to the historically black neighborhood surrounding the newly built Charles Houston Recreation Center suggests that Alexandria’s future does not include low-income people or communities of color. Earlier this year the city began to evict families and dismantle their homes with the goal of replacing many of them with $600,000 townhouses. In truth, this pattern has been going on for the past thirty years.
In addition, public institutions responsible for the education, health and safety of communities like these are increasingly underfunded and continue to offer second-class services.
Last week was the 145th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day the news arrived in Galveston, Texas that “all slaves are free.” More than a century later, I wonder how far we have come. Our city’s strategic plan sets good goals, but falls short of mentioning who is going to be part of the plan. It is easy to gloss over the weight of history that defines Alexandria today with quaint language about well-being, diversity, and respect.
The shortfall of this plan is its omission of explicit goals around improving opportunities for communities of color and low-income communities. As we continue through this strategic planning process, we must decide whether our path to progress is one that displaces certain Alexandrians and replaces them with outsiders or one that nurtures the nascent potential of all people Alexandrian. The choices City Council and Alexandrians make will reflect our integrity and the kind of world we’re building for our kids.
The writer is director of communications for Tenants and Workers United in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood of Alexandria.