This past year, I have attended several meetings arranged by the City of Alexandria on the Beauregard small area plan. Supposedly, the meetings were meant to foster a dialogue between city planners and residents, to learn about residents’ needs and concerns and then improve the plan.
Unfortunately, the city and JBG already had decided exactly what they intended to do. City employees rattled off incomprehensible statistics in a bored monotone; residents were allowed to speak, but no one was listening.
The plan, after all, already exists. It’s all up there, in bureaucratic doublespeak, on the city’s website.
What it comes down to is the city is giving JBG the go-ahead to destroy an entire neighborhood, driving out as many as 10,000 people in the process.
Oh, and they all claim this is a Good Thing. I heard a city employee say that the 2,500 apartments scheduled for demolition have outlived their usefulness, that they are too old and not worth fixing up. But is that really true?
The buildings in Old Town are much older than those in the West End. And right on the Beauregard Small Area Plan website, it says that it would cost considerably less to fix up one of these old buildings, than it would to tear it down and build a new one.
But JBG would rather pretend these buildings have outlived their usefulness because it can charge a lot more for new apartments.
To JBG and city council, I have this to say: You seem to have decided this neighborhood is somehow undesirable and not worth keeping. Apparently, you believe throwing as many as 10,000 people out of their homes, tearing children out of their schools and forcing them to leave the area is a good thing. You don’t really want affordable housing because you can make more money if this neighborhood goes away.
And so you are using trickery — and deceit — to get rid of it. You pretend you are going to improve the transit system, when in fact you are only going to increase the residential population, create more traffic and make everything worse.
You pretend you are providing new affordable housing when you are destroying 2,500 units and might — there is no legal guarantee — replace 800 of them. You pretend you care about the residents even as you are driving them out with rapidly increasing rents and utility fees. You pretend you are providing green space when the plan is to bulldoze almost all of the property and put in tidy little lawns and tidy little private courtyards, where the wind can’t blow and there will be no children to play.
What a terrible, stupid, greedy and inhuman mistake you are making. These people are not undesirable; they are not dangerous or troublesome. I moved into Brookdale in June, and before I came here, I wondered if it would be safe because I’d never lived in a city before. And because there are terrible things that have been said about these places on the Mark Center apartments website. You’d think it was the worst ghetto in the world, with shootings and stabbings every night.
But you know what? This place is nothing like that.
When I walk around this neighborhood, I am never afraid. I see lots of people, and many of them come from countries and speak other languages. But when I smile at them, they smile back. They are kinder than the people I see in Old Town, who are afraid to meet my eyes.
The people I see here are hard working. They are admirable. But more than that, they are the beating heart of this city, and Alexandria will wither without them.
If you and JBG really want to improve this neighborhood, I suggest you actually improve THIS neighbor- hood. Why not make changes that will actually help the people who live here now, so that they will become more successful? Why not help them to become wealthier people, rather than throwing them all out?
There are many places where wealthy people can live. Wealthy people have lots of choices. But there are very few places in this area where poor people can live — and where their children can go to a good school. Let it not be said of this mayor, and this city council, that they consistently chose profit over people, and destroyed an entire community.