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Arlington, VA

Building community engagement capacity for Green Streets initiative in Arlington County

In Arlington County, green infrastructure strategies for stormwater and watershed retrofits are most often implemented at the neighborhood or site-scale.  With a commitment to and a valued tradition of community engagement known as “the Arlington Way,” the county has established the Office of Neighborhood Services to assist and coordinate preservation and improvement projects for building healthy, vibrant neighborhoods.  Through the Neighborhood Conservation Program the county builds organizational capacity and civic engagement for its’ Green Streets initiative.

With staff guidance and the Office’s assessment tool residents participate through a neighborhood conservation organization, typically a local civic/citizen association, in developing a neighborhood plan for county approval.  This plan includes an infrastructure inventory identifying existing and potential street improvements, curb/gutter, sidewalks, park upgrades and other enhancements on public land or in public rights-of-way.  Through neighborhood-initiated planning, stormwater and watershed issues are identified and capital improvement priorities set.  Often the priority enhancement is a Green Street retrofit coordinated as part of a neighborhood conservation project.

As the installation of a Green Street retrofit, exemplified by a median or curbside rain garden may have undesirable impacts such as the narrowing of a neighborhood road or the taking of on-street parking, it’s important that residents have buy-in to a green infrastructure solution.  This neighborhood engagement and plan process allows for greater resident ownership of both problem and solution with improved capacity for successful stormwater and watershed infrastructure outcomes.

Complementing the Neighborhood Conservation Program, the Office of Neighborhood Services also administers the Neighborhood College for building leadership capacity.  Specifically targeting minority residents who are under-represented in the governing process, this free 8-week bilingual training equips participants with skills and confidence to engage with the various county departments and programs and encourages their development as effective community leaders.  Through both individual and organizational capacity building, Arlington County has placed a priority on institutionalizing community engagement.

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