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July 11, 2011 Published in Arts & Style, Top Stories

Arlandria: A Community United

The recent CIVIC award presentation at Alexandria’s annual birthday celebration was really just icing on the cake for the Arlandria and Del Ray residents being recognized. For the past 25 years, the CIVIC awards have sought to acknowledge citizens and organizations providing a valuable service in meeting recreation, park, or cultural needs.

Arlandria residents receive recognition at Alexandria's birthday celebration. (Photo: Wayne Hulehan)

“This award is such an honor,” said Kevin Beekman, who received the award, with Nick Partee, Travis Hester and Melissa Garcia “So many things have begun happening to make Arlandria a great place for residents and neighbors – this really just tops it off!”

The accomplishments Beekman refered to are cleaner and safer streets and parks, a park building and a Sunday farmers market, plus the upcoming restoration of Four Mile Run. “This isn’t something a small group could have done alone,” said Partee, “But it seemed to inspire neighbors, civic groups, service providers, and even city staff to get involved.”

The civic efforts started with the idea of bringing together a community with diverse means and backgrounds. The hope was that the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market would showcase the talents and crafts of local vendors, in addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle.  Neighbors can walk or bike from down the road or across the way in Arlington to shop for veggies, meats and cheeses and chat with the vendors and managers at the market café over a coffee from St. Elmo’s and some baked goods or a crepe.

Fresh fruit and vegetables at the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market. (Photo: James Cullum)

Hester, a Del Ray resident, volunteered his time to pull together the market, and to take the lead in making Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds available – a first in all of Northern Virginia. “We are very proud of the diversity we have in Arlandria,” Hester said, “we thought this would be the perfect location to implement something inclusive that benefits the entire community and the city.”

The small seed of hope that led to the Alexandria CIVIC Award sparked interest beyond what they imagined. The success may have had something to do with the Four Mile Run, which is being restored beginning at this site - a separate, serendipitous project that makes the park more of a focal point for the city. Or it may have been because a benevolent group of architects decided to take on a pro-bono project. But whatever the catalyst, this group ran with every opportunity. The small group banded together with local civic associations and service providers up and down Mt. Vernon Avenue and at the local pocket parks, cleaning up trash and replanting cast away shrubs and unwanted flowers.

“None of what we did cost the city any money,” said Partee. “And somehow, it was enough to get folks to take a second look.”

Arlandria has had its troubles.  “To be quite honest, this area has been kind of forgotten in a lot of ways,” said Thurston McLean, a captain with Alexandria Fire Department who has worked in the area for 15 years. McLean was part of the crew participating in the recent Spring for Alexandria at Four Mile Run Park and was convinced the improvements would have a positive impact. “I’m a product of this community – this will most definitely make a difference.”

Visitors are greeted by this painted sign at the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market. (Photo: James Cullum)

“Spring for Alexandria” was a bit of a turning point for us,” said Beekman. “To see the city beside us, painting the park building really made us feel like we had this great cooperative effort and investment by the city staff and the neighborhood. We have so many children in this community, and anything we can do to encourage them to take advantage of a healthy environment is great for the community, plus it also promotes the city’s initiatives.”

Culture and the arts have also been a big part of Arlandria. “We have some great ethnic restaurants and we’re home to the Birchmere,” said Garcia. “Plus, the Foo Fighters are clearly big fans of Arlandria!”

“Whether the common goal is working towards a cleaner environment, a healthier lifestyle or showcasing culture and the arts, it all comes down to bootstraps civic activism,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka, “Just regular citizens taking responsibility for their own community. It’s especially great to see all of those things happen in Arlandria, where it will have such a positive impact on the families who live there.”

Now, much of the hard work seems to have paid off - uncovering what  Brandi Collins, a staff member at Planning and Zoning, calls a jewel in the city . “I don’t know if it was the chicken or the egg, which came first, but it’s just great how it all happened,” said Collins “What other neighborhood has this amount of park space? That’s incredible. This is a unique asset right in the heart of Alexandria.”

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