It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green

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“It’s not that easy bein’ green

Having to spend each day

The color of the leaves

When I think it could be nicer

Bein’ red or yellow or gold

Or something much more colorful like that”


Kermit the Frog had nothing on the Arlington County government.

The Arlington County government is having a helluva time being green.

This is the tortured tale of Arlington’s NOT becoming a Biophilic City.

Background.

In September 2016, Arlington County government, led by and , sponsored a meeting about Biophilic Cities.

The meeting was heavily promoted in advance via a special flyer , and that promotion fell on very receptive ears.

I attended that meeting, along with about 150 others, including Arlington County government leaders like member Katie Cristol. We all left the meeting inspired by the remarks of Timothy Beatley, founder of the Biophilic Cities organization, and by the green potential of Arlington’s formally becoming a Biophilic City.

A major reason why community members who attended this meeting were so enthusiastic about becoming a Biophilic City was that doing so held out the promise of putting into practice major community priorities for natural areas, wildlife habitats, and hiking trails, as reflected in a statistically valid survey (p. 11) of Arlington residents published only a few months before.

What is the vision of a Biophilic City?

Here is the vision of a Biophilic City:

Biophilic Cities partners with cities, scholars and advocates from across the globe to build an understanding of the value and contribution of nature in cities to the lives of urban residents. As a central element of its work, Biophilic Cities facilitates a global network of partner cities working collectively to pursue the vision of a natureful city within their unique and diverse environments and cultures.  These partner cities are working in concert to conserve and celebrate nature in all its forms and the many important ways in which cities and their inhabitants benefit from the biodiversity and wild urban spaces present in cities. Biophilic Cities acknowledges the importance of daily contact with nature as an element of a meaningful urban life, as well as the ethical responsibility that cities have to conserve global nature as shared habitat for non-human life and people.”

Three years later, the promise and potential of Arlington’s formally becoming a Biophilic City remain unfulfilled.

Why hasn’t Arlington formally become a Biophilic City?

Many cities have joined the growing Biophilic Cities partner network :

“It is our belief that every city is biophilic to some degree, and has the potential to become a more biophilic city, and that realizing that potential will require intentional changes in some municipal and urban and design policies and practices to produce richer, more vibrant nature-filled cities of the 21st century. The Biophilic Cities Network is comprised of cities from around the globe dedicated to improving the connection between residents and urban nature.”

Reston is a Biophilic City. Norfolk is a Biophilic City. DC is a Biophilic City.

Why isn’t Arlington a Biophilic City?

County government may know, but it’s not telling.

What has Arlington County government been doing over the last 3 years?

If Arlington County government hasn’t formally signed up to be a Biophilic City, what has it been doing? Well, it has adopted an approximately 300-page Public Spaces Master Plan (“PSMP”) . And, the PSMP does pay lip service to wanting Arlington to develop according to “biophilic principles.”

What’s the difference between formally becoming a Biophilic City and following the PSMP’s “biophilic principles”?

Formally becoming a Biophilic City brings with it a specific set of nitty gritty requirements to which all partner members in the network must agree. An external organization with international experience and expertise verifies that each Biophilic City has met the requirements for formal membership. That seemed a very desirable prospect when it was first presented to the Arlington community in 2016; it is even more desirable today.

Unfortunately, the formal nitty gritty Biophilic City requirements are not spelled out on the organization’s website, and neither are the nitty gritty requirements of the PSMP’s “biophilic principles” spelled out on the County’s website. This absence of information and lack of leaves Arlington residents in the lurch because we have not been given a straight answer to this important question:

WHY HASN’T ARLINGTON FORMALLY BECOME A BIOPHILIC CITY?

Arlington residents are entitled to an open, clear, and transparent answer to this question, followed by community input regarding whether formal status as a Biophilic City would be preferable to the vague “biophilic principles” currently enshrined in the PSMP.

Conclusion

Arlington is having more and more trouble being green and staying green. We’re losing our mature tree canopy; new construction is gobbling up more and more of our existing green space, and there is no money in our current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to acquire new green space.

And, on top of all these brown developments, the promise and potential of becoming a Biophilic City apparently has evaporated, replaced by a 300-page report containing vague promises that Arlington should develop according to “biophilic principles.”

No wonder Kermit is sad:

We can and should do much better than this!

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