Letter to the Editor: Density Does Not Automatically Protect Urban Environments
Alexandrian Michael Peck disagrees with the Mount Vernon branch of the Sierra Club's explanations for its Council candidate selection.
To the Editor:
As someone who has ongoing, active advocacy board relationships with organizations like the Blue-Green Alliance, former Apollo Alliance, Penn State Center for Sustainability, and the American Sustainable Business Council, and who has worked with many Sierra Club members of the Blue Green and Apollo Alliances and the Virginia Sierra Club, whom I count as friends starting with Carl Pope, former Sierra Club iconic chair; I would like to make the following points in response to the Letter to the Editor by local Sierra Club chapter President Dean Amel.
Mr. Amel confuses the need to control sprawl (his stated main concern) with well-managed and well-planned development. The simple answer is that density does not automatically protect urban environments. Instead, rooted communities and neighborhoods such as Alexandria’s Old Town are under the gun to create intelligent ecosystems that can provide balanced sustainability. For example, the above-ground metro line on Route Seven at Tysons Corner while supporting a more sustainable form of public transportation is an affront against neighborhood nature in its ugliness and permanent destruction of any civic use of that street by the people and businesses populations who live and operate closest to it.
Mr. Amel's letter reads, “The City Council made the decision that negotiating with the local landowners to gain some benefits for the City, such as the removal of older buildings from a flood plain and conversion of the flood plain to park land, was better than having owners pursue by-right development," but doesn’t explain how Mr. Amel concluded how the flood plain Old Town waterfront residents live in is to be converted to park land? Do more run-off hotels instead of absorbing parks achieve this goal because, if so, that’s what the City waterfront plan imposes?
Additionally, Mr. Amel buys into the false premise that the City is justified in resorting to legal shenanigans and back-room maneuvers (which are the subject of a number of ongoing legal suits by enraged citizens like me) to seal special interest land development deals before integrating and including actual waterfront resident taxpaying stakeholders, those who really do live at the proposed and imposed redevelopment ground zero, into any transparent, let’s start from the beginning dialogue and open civic process. One can only ask why? Is this how you conduct Mount Vernon Sierra Club business?
With Mr. Amel's recommendations, he tacitly supports the imposed City Council architectural and land-use metaphors that make a mockery out of the current densely uncomfortable conditions (sewage, traffic, flooding, rising crime) those who live on the waterfront endure. For the record, there are no Metro stations involved in the Waterfront, BRAC or Beauregard cases. It is Alexandria’s historical legacy and the colonial space around that legacy that drives Old Town commerce, not any second coming of National Harbor II hotels and restaurants redux.
Mr. Amel characterizes the Mount Vernon Sierra Club through the implication of arguments and endorsements as a force for displacing low-income tenants. Why would Amel presume that the Sierra Club charter would presume to take a moral position in Alexandria, Virginia so different from what it espouses in other “developing” regions? Extending Mr. Amel's logic, people, residents and neighbors in Alexandria are commodities for others to manipulate as they see fit.
Mr. Amel tags the local Mount Vernon Sierra Club as buying into the bait and switch that developers can be trusted. Since when and where? In Alexandria, we have elected politicians who can’t decide from one day to the next whether they are the peoples’ representatives or really well plugged-in facilitators dedicated to supremely representing themselves, self-naming streets and having their cake both ways.
Perhaps the Sierra Club defines high density as something that does not include choking traffic congestion, extreme water run-off and building more underground parking lots beneath uncontrolled and unresolved flood plains when scientific predictions show we can expect much more of the same due to the kind of extreme climate change the Sierra Club supposedly believes and I believe is coming our collective way?
I believe Mr. Amel and his organization has mutilated the Sierra Club brand by signing off on this ongoing City Council farce that uses high density as an excuse for special interest high profits and high accountability on behalf of private bank accounts but not on behalf of sacred historical places where we sold more slaves down the Potomac River than any other local pre Civil War locale at the time.
Instead of protecting our still ecologically-challenged river, the Mount Vernon Sierra Club’s endorsements and arguments pour fuel on this fire. This new civil war we are fighting in Alexandria between those who directly and indirectly want to employ their version of eminent domain to further their own special interests against those of us fighting to defend our neighborhoods from the prejudice of others who don’t live where we live but believe they can tell us how to live.
Michael Peck, waterfront resident