Notes on A Driving Tour of Alexandria

Re-Posted here with permission by Lamar White, Jr.

To see the original post, click here.

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been discussing Alexandria on a personal level and the potential and opportunities presented by the community’s renewed spirit and by the nearly $100 million infrastructural project known as SPARC.

Last week, Daniel Smith, Melinda Anderson, and I took a tour of Alexandria. We were scoping out provisional historical districts and properties, in preparation for a visit by the State Historic Preservation Office (which was covered in today’s newspaper). Just as an aside, a designation on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent a structure from being demolished. However, it is an incredibly important distinction, paving the way for various tax credits (when applicable) and demonstrating the importance of a place’s history and local significance.

Our tour was instructive.

We began in Lower Third. There’s a neighborhood near Augusta Street that is approaching the 50 year threshold, and though it probably does not possess the “wow factor” needed for inclusion in the National Register, it appears to be a stable and healthy working class neighborhood, a place in which pride of ownership shows.

We then dipped down to Samtown/Woodside, an area in obvious need of attention, to check out a small area that we had initially believed to be nearing 50 years old (but have subsequently determined otherwise). As I mentioned in a previous post on walkability, Samtown/Woodside has some obvious obstacles– in large part, this is because the area was developed and subsequently annexed into the City of Alexandria, which means that site development requirements were practically non-existent. There are very few sidewalks, and in many places, the roads are entirely too narrow.

I know many, many people who have lived in Alexandria for the entire lives and have not yet been to Samtown or Woodside. And I am personally ashamed that it took me nearly twenty years before I had ever visited this important area of our City.

Which leads me to a broader point: When discussing the needs of our community, we must be objective. Our needs should be discussed collectively– as a community; they should not be steered by the wants and demands of a small group of individuals. The table should have enough seats for all of us.

If you have no notion of the needs of Lower Third, Samtown/Woodside, and South Alexandria– tangible and obvious needs- then you likely have a distorted view of our most pressing priorities.

Much of Alexandria is blighted and in need of immediate attention– both programmatic and infrastructural.

That said, there is a reason I personally believe preservation is particularly important– not just in the area around the Alexandria Garden District but throughout our fair City. To be sure, I think it is foolish to be stubborn on this issue– sometimes, quite simply, some things are beyond saving. But when we can, we must preserve.

After Daniel, Melinda, and I left Samtown/Woodside, we toured an area near South Lee Street– remarkably similar to the character of Samtown/Woodside, and then on to an area known as Sunken Village, which, believe it or not, is technically outside of the city limits. Sunken Village is, in my opinion, a unique urban problem. As its name implies, the neighborhood has a tendency to flood, and although it appears to be primarily occupied by young families, its infrastructure is ancient. Children crowded the streets due to a lack of sidewalks. Something needs to happen there. It’s outside of the City. There’s no homeowner’s association.  Much of the neighborhood is rental property. It’s prone to flooding.

When you tour Alexandria in this way, you have a notion of the scale of blight. It is not isolated to a single area; it exists throughout the City, and therefore, it is a City-wide problem.

Working together means acknowledging our shared challenges.

I implore you: If you haven’t seen your City, go out and see it.

Lamar White, Jr.

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