Elements of Urbanism: Arlington, VA

September 29, 2009 32 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores a transit corridor in community well known for its smart growth development strategies: Arlington, VA.

Tale of the Tape:

Arlington Population 2008: 209,969 (City); 5,358,130 (Metro - Washington, DC) - (founded in 1846)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Arlington (135,449)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Arlington: +11.72%%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Arlington: 3,933,920 (ranked 8 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Arlington: 3,400.8
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Arlington: 20,516
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Arlington:  Arlington High Technology Conference Center - 50,000 square feet (proposed)
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Arlington: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Arlington: Rosslyn Twin Towers - 381 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Arlington: AES (158)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Arlington: N/A
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Arlington: Courthouse, Clarendon
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:

N/A.  Arlington has a series of urban villages instead of a centralized downtown.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Arlington: N/A
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Arlington: 26 square miles
Jacksonville: 767 square miles

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Arlington County's limits (highlighted in red).

About Arlington's Smart Growth Strategies

Arlington has won awards for its smart growth development strategies. For over 30 years, the government has had a policy of concentrating much of its new development near transit facilities, such as Metrorail stations and the high-volume bus lines of Columbia Pike. Within the transit areas, the government has a policy of encouraging mixed-use and pedestrian- and transit-oriented development. Outside of those areas, the government usually limits density increases, but makes exceptions for larger projects that are near major highways, such as in Shirlington, near I-395 (the Shirley Highway). A recent Highway project on I-395 has become the subject of some degree of controversy.

Much of Arlington's development in the last generation has been concentrated around 7 of the County's 11 Metrorail stations. However, infill development elsewhere in the County has recently replaced many undeveloped lots and small single-family dwellings with row houses and larger homes.

Increasing land values and re-development (most of which is by-right development) has diminished Arlington's tree canopy and reduced the supply of existing affordable housing. To address x coverage and the construction of larger homes the County has recently limited the allowable coverage on some single-family lots.

In addition, the County implemented in 2005 an affordable housing ordinance that requires most developers to contribute significant affordable housing resources, either in units or through a cash contribution, in order to obtain the highest allowable amounts of increased building density in new development projects, most of which are planned near Metrorail station areas. The County also permits greater heights and densities through zoning ordinance bonuses in exchange for the creation of additional on-site affordable housing units, at a target level of 1:1 (i.e. one committed affordable unit for every market-rate unit; since 2004, and including condominium projects, actual average production has been closer to 2:3.).

The County focuses its efforts to preserve, create and maintain for-sale and rental affordable housing units to households whose income is not greater than 80% of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area Median Income (AMI); rental units are committed for no fewer than 30 years at no greater than 60% AMI. AMI tables are published annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Arlington County Planning Research and Analysis Team (PRAT) maintains detailed data about current and historical development in Arlington County.


About the Orange Line

The Orange Line of the Washington Metro consists of 26 rapid transit stations from Vienna/Fairfax-GMU to New Carrollton. It has stations in Fairfax County and Arlington, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Prince George's County, Maryland. Half of the line's stations are shared with the Blue Line, and over two thirds will be shared with Silver Line.

The Orange Line needs 30 trains (9 eight-car trains and 21 six-car trains, consisting of 198 rail cars) to run at peak capacity.

Service on the Orange Line began on November 20, 1978 between National Airport and New Carrollton, with five new stations being added to the existing network from Stadium-Armory. When the line from Rosslyn to Ballston–MU was completed on December 11, 1979, Orange Line trains began following this route rather than going to National Airport station. The line was completed on June 7, 1986 when it was extended by four stations to Vienna/Fairfax-GMU.

On January 13, 1982, an Orange Line train derailed as it was being backed-up from an improperly closed rail switch between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations, resulting in the deaths of three passengers. It was the first incident within the Metro system that caused a fatality, and the deadliest incident occurring in the system until the 2009 collision that resulted in nine fatalities.



Rosslyn is an unincorporated area in Northern Virginia located in the northeastern corner of Arlington County, Virginia, north of Arlington National Cemetery and directly across the Potomac River from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Rosslyn encompasses the Arlington neighborhoods of North Rosslyn and Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights.

Characterized as one of several "urban villages" by the County, the numerous skyscrapers in the dense business section of Rosslyn make its appearance in some ways more urban than nearby Washington.


In 1964, the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge opened to carry Interstate 66 (I-66) between Washington, D.C., and Rosslyn. Soon afterwards, a development boom in the 1960s began to "revitalize" Rosslyn with the construction of a large number of high-rise office buildings and hotels in its center and a smaller number of residential buildings on its outskirts. Arlington County widened Rosslyn's major streets to accommodate the increased motor vehicle traffic that this new development would bring.

A skywalk system carried pedestrian traffic over these widened streets. While planners expected retail establishments to develop along the skywalks, few such establishments actually opened. As a result, the skywalk system attracted few pedestrians. The Arlington County government now plans to dismantle some or all of the bridges that carry the skywalks over Rosslyn's broad streets.

In 1977, Metrorail's Blue Line reached Rosslyn. In subsequent years, the Blue Line and the Orange Line were extended from an underground junction near the Rosslyn station to serve Northern Virginia's suburbs.

In the early 1980s, I-66 was extended through Rosslyn to reach the Capital Beltway. The extensions of Metrorail and I-66 attracted additional high-rise development to Rosslyn.

Rosslyn currently has 8,100,000 square feet of office space and 6,365 housing units, expected to increase by 2011 to 10,000,000 square feet of office space and 7,906 housing units.

Rosslyn is home to the tallest and most expensive condominium towers in the Washington metropolitan area, such as the recently completed Waterview tower and the soon to be completed Turnberry tower.


An example of a bus stop that does not leave the passenger in confusion.


An aerial of the Courthouse Station urban village and surrounding suburban area.

Courthouse is a transit-oriented neighborhood in Arlington County, Virginia. It is home to a stop on the Orange Line of the Washington Metro.

Although Arlington is so geographically small that it does not have component towns or cities, the Courthouse neighborhood is sometimes referred to as county seat, as it is home to the primary county government administrative complex as well as a justice center consisting of a jail, courthouse and police HQ. Indeed, the neighborhood gets its name from the governmental uses that call it home.


Pedestrian promenades break up mega block infill development.

Proof that rail-based transit attracts private development.

Between the Rosslyn and Courthouse metrorail stations, infill walkable development is well on it's way to linking these two transit-based urban villages.

As new development comes, sidewalks are redesigned as a part of the projects.

Transit corridors are supported by an extensive network of bicycle lanes and multi-use paths.

Unique Arlington

- Arlington County is the smallest self-governing county in the United States

- In 2005, Arlington was ranked first among walkable cities in the United States by the American Podiatric Medical Association.

- CNN Money ranked Arlington as the most educated city in 2006 with 35.7% of residents having held graduate degrees.

- In 2008, BusinessWeek ranked Arlington as the safest city in which to weather a recession.

- Arlington is the home of Arlington National Cemetery, Reagan National Airport, the Pentagon, the Pentagon Memorial, the USMC War Memorial and the Air Force Memorial.

- At 4.2%, as of August 2009, Arlington has the lowest unemployment rate of any jurisdiction in Virginia.

- Arlington has 86 miles of on-street and paved off-road bicycle trails.


Arlington, VA has been able to accomodate walkable development along a transit spine in an area dominated by single family housing.


Clarendon is a neighborhood in Arlington County, Virginia, USA, located between the Rosslyn area and the Ballston area. The main thoroughfares are Wilson Boulevard (one-way westbound) and Clarendon Boulevard (one-way eastbound). Since the opening of the Clarendon Metro station in the early 1980s, Clarendon has become well-known for its eclectic mix of unique shops, trendy bars, and small restaurants. More recently, luxury apartments, office buildings and upscale chain stores have been constructed and gentrified the area, although some of the original businesses do remain.

Some people claim that Clarendon is an excellent example of smart growth and transit-oriented development. It has been speculated that the term "urban village" was coined in reference to the plans for modern Clarendon. Yet some residents argue that these terms conceal part of the story, as businesses serving residents' needs (hardware store, drug store, dry cleaner, ice cream parlor, etc.) have been faced with displacement by high-rises and businesses luring people from outside the neighborhood.



Ballston is a neighborhood in Arlington County, Virginia and is home to the Ballston-MU station on the Orange Line of the Metrorail subway system.  Ballston entered a period of decline in the 1960s and 1970s, but grew and changed considerably after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority opened the Ballston Metrorail station on December 1st, 1979. Today, Ballston is home to tall modern apartment complexes and condominiums, the Ballston Common Mall, and many restaurants and bars. Ballston also boasts a number of parks, trails and open outdoor spaces and a number of people can be seen engaged in some sport on any given evening. These features as well as its proximity to Metro have led to many young adults calling Ballston home and have made the neighborhood a model of transit-oriented development and smart growth.


A Lesson for Jacksonville

The Orange Line's transit oriented development districts of Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon and Ballston should serve as an example of what can take place in suburban communities when smart growth principles are applied to support mass transit.

Article by Ennis Davis