Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

The road to the Silicon Swamp is paved with gold.

1-The Future. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The eight years since Andreessen’s essay was published have served to vindicate, validate and verify the accuracy of his thesis. Yet while software eats the world, it doesn’t necessarily dine in the same old restaurants.  Car making used to be centered in Detroit. Now Silicon Valley is the new Detroit. Not only are upstarts like Tesla centered in The Valley but traditional car manufacturers are heading west too. As Andreessen noted, traditional non-technology companies all need to become software companies in order to survive. Metropolitan areas with strong software skills will attract not only technology companies but non-technology companies as well. Embrace software or be eaten by it. The future belongs to those who code.

2-Ecosystem. Silicon Valley isn’t Bentonville, Arkansas. No one company dominates Silicon valley and therein lies its enduring strength. The Valley is an economic growth machine fueled by start-ups, spin-outs, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and oceans of venture capital. The idea that NoVa’s benefits from the Amazon deal start and stop with Amazon is myopic. Talented employees will come to National Landing, work for Amazon, and then leave to start new ventures. The 25,000 Amazon jobs should be seen as a starting point rather than a final outcome. In fact, startups founded by Amazon veterans like Fugue are already operating in the area.

3-Mo’ Money. Our state and local politicians seem to find an unending stream of programs and projects that cost Virginia taxpayers more money, more money, more money. Medicaid expansion, fixing Metro, pension shortfalls, rural broadband, underfunded schools and a myriad of other “needs” will be hard to fund given Virginia’s sputtering economic growth. If the Old Dominion is going to become the progressive nirvana envisioned by some we’d better find a way to generate more economic momentum. Amazon’s 25,000 jobs and the ecosystem those jobs create will be one hell of a catalyst for NoVa being the centerpiece of the Silicon Swamp.

4-Forced cooperation. Virginia’s political elite have a well deserved reputation for incompetence and intransigence. The state’s history reads like a cautionary tale of squandered opportunities. In November 1926 Virginius Dabney wrote an article for the American Mercury entitled simply, “Virginia.”  One section of that article deals with boosterism in Richmond and includes the sentence, “In their hearts rankles the crushing realization that Atlanta’s population is 30,000 greater than Richmond’s.” In the century since the 1920 census Richmond’s population has grown by 30% while Atlanta has grown by 142%. One wonders how the River City boosters of Dabney’s day would feel if they knew the two southern cities are no longer comparable in any meaningful way. The Amazon deal is forcing the state to make long overdue changes. Virginia Tech’s decision to build a serious campus in the population center of Northern Virginia is 50 years overdue but it finally has been made.

5-Density. Northern Virginia is stuck in its awkward teenage years from a human settlement perspective. Caught between boy and man, suburb and city NoVa petulantly yearns for the good old days while simultaneously wondering how to improve its quality of life. There is only one answer – a rapid escalation of population density. The time in an area’s maturation between Mayberry and Gotham is painful. In NoVa the die is cast. The sooner Northern Virginia gets to Gotham the better.  The Amazon deal should serve as a catalyst for that flowering of urban, mixed use, walkable living.

Don Rippert 

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32 responses to “Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

  1. Excellent commentary especially on the heels that GM is closing factories for the Cruz.

    Nothing hits harder at the fate of manufacturing that these closures.

    Virginia should not want any of them except for the ones that are high tech medical, drones, weapon systems, etc.. but not auto manufacturing.

    I have a low opinion of Tesla. It’s going to bomb. Consumers R doesn’t like it and the SEC thinks it is a scam also.

    But there is one stark irony and that is most GM/Ford/Chrysler factory towns had affordable housing for their workers.

    And not so much with Amazon and other high tech.

    How did that happen? How did Lordstown provide affordable housing for it’s workers and Seattle and San Francisco and now Arlington – not?

    inquiring minds and all that rot…….

    • Detroit is a pretty big city (138 sq mi). In 1890 it had about 200,000 people.
      By 1930 it was 1.6m. From 1890 to 1930 Detroit’s population grew eight fold! My guess is that there was a lot of available space in Detroit before the car boom. Many of the people who came to Detroit had good jobs and could afford decent housing. However, very few were really rich so “decent housing” meant a small house on a small lot.

      I guess affordable housing is an easy problem to solve when there is plenty of space available, nothing to tear down and relative income equality.

  2. I am not convinced that “a rapid escalation of population density” automatically leads to an improvement in the quality of life. There is a lot to be said for the quality of life in small towns and rural areas. The problem is that there is a scarcity of good jobs and, thus, many young people go away to college and don’t come back (including yours truly).

    • I don’t think a rapid escalation of population density automatically leads to an improvement in quality of life either. I do think that suburbs get to a point where there is no turning back. At 500 people per square mile a county can maintain a pleasant car-centric suburban look and feel. At 750 per square mile (Chesterfield County today) you start seeing areas of significant congestion. At 1,500 per square mile (roughly Henrico today) you get broad based livability issues. At 3,000 per square mile (Fairfax County today) it’s chaos. On ce you grow to 3,000 per sq mile you really are in the middle of the human settlement pattern “dead zone”. Perhaps really enlightened zoning and planning could help alleviate the problems but I’ve never seen anywhere in the United States that seems to have been able to pull off enlightened zoning and planning. So, when you hit that 3,000 to 4,000 per square mile mark the only real choice is enough more density to become a real city. Between 1980 and today Arlington County made the transition. It was a mess in 1980 – too dense to be a leafy suburb but not dense enough to be urban. Today, it is definitely urban. Loudoun County is entering those awkward teen years. To their credit Loudoun bisected the county along RT 15 and is concentrating development in the eastern side of the county. If they can attract serious businesses (to hire their residents) they might get to a workable density sooner than most.

  3. Wonderfully prescient, wise, and highly informed article, Don.

    Indeed, Virginia is now cocked and loaded for a new era, unlike any other – an explosive, exciting, and wonderfully creative era that will spin off benefits for all who embrace it. Don’t hold back, Virginia. Don’t blow it, Virginia. Think big and creatively, grab hold of this potent future simmering before you now, at last an opportunity like none other in this century and unlikely to return, it’s now within your grasp, and if you do grab it, then the future will repay you thousands of times over, again and again, beyond your wildest imaginings.

  4. re: ” So, when you hit that 3,000 to 4,000 per square mile mark the only real choice is enough more density to become a real city.”

    is it magic or what?

    serious question.

    Take NYC, or Boston or LA or Seattle… Chicago… all cities with density that at one point in the past – looked more like Fairfax, Loudoun, Henrico…Chesterfield.

    Jim B seems to think it’s restrictive zoning at issue.

    I’m wondering exactly what it is that transform a Fairfax into an Arlington … what “enlightened” policies and are those the same ones Jim B is talking about or something else?

    Finally – affordability. Is that not a central issue – it’s just inevitable collateral damage to becoming a city?

    • It’s less about magic and more about economic reality. Arlington County is 26 square miles. That’s fixed. In 1980 it had a population density of about 5,800. Today it’s closing on 10,000. In the early 1980s I lived in Arlington near Seven Corners and the Fairfax County line. When I wanted to go to a restaurant I’d drive down Wilson Blvd, park and go to the restaurant. Everybody drove. Wilson Blvd was very congested. Now, if I want to eat in Arlington I take an uber. Why? Nowhere to park near the restaurant. My son lives close enough to a Metro to walk to the Metro and ride the subway to the stop closest to the restaurant. Why? Nowhere to park near the restaurant. At a certain density it’s just not viable to have the massive open air parking lots you see in Tysons. What parking that exists is in multi-story garages or underground and very expensive. The added density also pushes multi-use living patterns. Retail on the street level of a multi-story building is far more valuable than residential once there is a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk. Then, more stores means more choice and more people going to the high density area instead of a specific place. Nobody went bar hopping down Wilson Blvd in the early 80s. They do it all the time now. And guess what? That density attracts the young people who fill the offices of the high tech and financial service companies which hire them.

      Affordability is a casualty of density. Hopefully, the demand generated by the increasing population is in response to economic opportunity (as well as the mixed use, walkable neighborhoods). So, more people making increasing wages = more taxes. Government needs to use those additional tax dollars to build out affordable housing. I don’t see any other way.

  5. re: ” At 750 per square mile (Chesterfield County today) you start seeing areas of significant congestion. At 1,500 per square mile (roughly Henrico today) you get broad based livability issues. At 3,000 per square mile (Fairfax County today) it’s chaos. On ce you grow to 3,000 per sq mile you really are in the middle of the human settlement pattern “dead zone”. ”
    Perhaps, but I just don’t see Henrico or Chesterfield becoming cities anytime soon. Are they doomed as “dead zones” for decades now?

    How about Fairfax? how long will it take them to escape “dead zone” hell?

    I’m not making fun of you – these are honest questions. I wonder about these same things but Henrico/Chesterfield are not Fairfax. They are essentially white-flight counties…. they’re all the folks that do not want to live in Richmond….

    • Henrico and Chesterfield are doomed to go through the “dead zone” phase that Fairfax is in unless they do something smart. As Ed Risse used to always say about urbanside, countryside, clear edges, New Urban Areas, etc … you have to force density and force a lack of density. Some NoVa counties do that today. Loudoun forces low density west of Rt 15. As Loudoun’s population increases that accelerates density east of Rt 15. Prince William has the low density rural crescent. Reston has planned mid and high density areas. Overall, it is 15.3 sq mi (not much smaller than Arlington) and has an overall density of 3,800 per sq mi. However, in the center of Reston I have to believe that the density is much higher.

      In every other state except Virginia a city would be defined within a county. That city might have very high density zoning while the surrounding parts of the county would be zoned for low density. As population increased, first the area within the defined city would be filled and then parts of the county next to the city would be annexed. In Virginia, Henrico and Chesterfield would lose all rights and taxes from any city that sprang up within their borders. So, they would fight the incorporation of a city tooth and nail and they would fight annexation by a city tooth and nail. The best they can do is plan lightweight cities like Reston – really just census designated places with pretty strict zoning restrictions. Fight development outside of these planned communities and encourage development within the planned communities.

  6. re: ” Affordability is a casualty of density. ”

    first honest non-partisan answer I’ve heard. Thank you!

  7. re: ” Henrico and Chesterfield are doomed to go through the “dead zone” phase that Fairfax is in unless they do something smart. ”

    like? ……..

    now, you’re getting into Jim B’s knickers!

    So Henrico is “sprawl” and will never become a “city” unless it … gets rid of it’s zoning restrictions that favor low-density development?

    keep going – you’re doing good so far!

    😉

  8. Amazon’s role in building Northern Virginia’s innovation/entrepreneurial ecosystem has been vastly underplayed. Thanks for giving it the attention it deserves. Trouble is, there is no way to measure additional economic growth and income gains that will be generated, so it’s impossible to count on the “benefits” side of the cost/benefit equation.

    As for Don “getting in my knickers” talking about the density dead zone, Larry, far from it. I agree with Don, and I’ve consistently taken Henrico to task for its failure to implement zoning policies that would enable the county to increase density and mixed-use development (other than in isolated, meaningless patches here and there).

  9. so – to the issue of density.

    People who live in subdivisions in Henrico do NOT want “density” and especially so near their subdivision.

    Why, I bet Jim Bacon himself would not want “housing”near him with a city-type density.

    I bet, Jim Bacon and family would NEVER choose to live in a typical dense city.

    I bet certain folks who live in Great Falls on a large lot would ALSO not want to live in Arlington-type density.

    No?

    My point here is that “affordable” housing and “density” are not precise terms that have universal meaning to everyone.

    “affordable” means different things to different people.

    An “affordable” apartment in Arlington is NOT what a Jim Bacon or a DJ would CHOOSE to live – no?

    and DJ aptly describes the car-centric chaos that comes from Henrico-type “density”. Full disclosure -we have that same hell in the Fredericksburg region these days. It’s just plain awful. Everyone says that “something” has to be done about it – and the “something” is more roads and more lanes including on I-95!

  10. Affordability (of housing) does not have to be a casualty of dense development, but for it to be otherwise, government needs Smart Growth planning and development strategies that consciously build a range of options and also have jobs that are not just for the high tech, high income positions. In the communities I have lived in recently (In Md, Montgomery County and Baltimore City), teachers, fire and police do not live there because they can not afford to. All localities should desire to have its workers live near where they work (ideally around mass transit). https://www.curbed.com/2017/7/25/16020648/affordable-housing-apartment-urban-development

    The Richmond area only has fourwalkable neighborhoods – the Fan, Carytown, Museum District and Scotts Addition. Henrico has nothing, I assume Chesterfield still does not either.

    Again, Amazon coming to NOVA is fine for the reasons Don says (putting aside the larger anti-Trust issues about Amazon writ large), but Economic Development needs to address non high-tech workers and small businesses too. Amazon and other large multi-nationals that have received Huge subsidies are given incredibly favorable treatment. Other, anchor institutions need to be developed with buying/selling supply chains tied to the local/regional community.

    • Jim:
      My pessimism regarding affordable housing availability in a fast growing, high density market stems from the fact that I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve lived and worked (off and on) in New York City since 1987. The city has a fabulous economic base, progressive government, sky high taxes and still there’s an “affordable housing crisis”. I agree with your sense that it should be achievable to have density, growth and affordable housing but it never seems to work that way. You mention Baltimore City. That city has a falling population and over 16,000 vacant homes and yet there’s still a problem.

      https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-vacant-demolition-blocks-20180227-story.html

      Some of the “ecosystem effect” of Amazon in NoVa will “spill over” into small businesses. Restaurants, car repair shops, etc will all benefit from the newly arrived Amazon employees. And Uncle Sam is always just down the road. I think NoVa will be fine. Richmond seems economically healthy too. The rest of the state? I’m not so sure.

    • A thoughtful comment and well reasoned.

      Mr. Loving asserts that this issue is the responsibility of government to do “something”.

      Can we talk about what that “something” might be – perhaps is already done in some places? I know that Seattle had an approach that Amazon and other businesses strongly disagreed with and threatened to leave.

      Jim B still asserts that it is the Govt itself that is causing the problem by draconian zoning restrictions but I have the same problem because it’s never really specified WHICH restrictions cause what percent of the problem – something that would inform us as to each restriction contribution so that guidance could be developed along with model ordinances.

      We already get a LOT of density in many larger cities like NYC , Chicago, LA – etc and affordable housing is not a solved issue so apparently even places like NYC – in theory – still have “restrictive” zoning… I’d sure like to know for the bigger, denser cities that still have affordable housing problems – what else they need to be doing on the zoning side to alleviate – that would be better/more effective than rent-controls.

      • Jim B is right from a tactical perspective. There’s plenty of dysfunction in the politics of land development. However, from a strategic sense, I think he’s in denial. Classic American-style economics would hold that a shortage of people performing blue collar jobs in the fast growing cities would push up the cost (i.e. wages) for those positions allowing the blue collar workers the chance to earn enough to afford housing in the cities. In days gone by that’s exactly what would have happened. Today, a combination of wealth inequality, weak labor organizing and diversion of human labor through automation have changed the calculus. Only very aggressive government sanctioned wealth transfers will stop the further polarization of the population into wealthy city / near suburban Americans vs everybody else. Absent aggressive government action those in the bottom economic quartile or perhaps even the bottom half will be inexorably driven further and further from the city centers and nearby suburbs.

  11. Terrific summation of where we are — and must go.

    One nit: you compare a century of Richmond vs Atlanta growth as 30% vs 142%. Assume that is for the entire SMSA in each case, not just population within the corporate limits? You know why I phrase it that way.

    And a comment: I foresee the day not too far off when population growth in NoVa dictates greater freedom for that region from the ICS’s undue political and economic benevolence to RoVa. Fine. But RoVa’s needs aren’t going anywhere. What new principles should we be thinking about for the eventual political and tax-revenue/expense-allocation relationship between NoVa, the State’s economic engine, and all those “people down there”? In what respects is growth in the urban corridor of Richmond and Hampton Roads complementary to what’s foreseen for NoVa, rather than as these areas are traditionally seen, as in competition with each other? In other words, how can we get on the same page in the urban areas’ dealings with the depressed, underdeveloped, undereducated areas of the State?

    • The population counts for Atlanta and Richmond are just for inside the city limits. That was what Virginius Dabney’s article addressed in 1926 and his quoted statistics showed he was using data from the 1920 Census for the City of Richmond. I’m not sure that the concept of a Metropolitan Statistical Area existed in 1926. However, Richmond (the city) has badly lagged other southern cities in growth over the past 100 years. Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston (SC), Atlanta, Jacksonville, Tampa, etc have all grown at rates far exceeding the City of Richmond. If Richmond’s city fathers had angst over Atlanta overtaking Richmond in population they obviously couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Many southern cities grew faster than Richmond. If growth for the city of Richmond was a priority in 1926 it’s obvious that those in charge never figured out how to address that priority.

    • As for “RoVa” that’s too big and diverse an area to cover as one thing. Richmond (the MSA) will be fine. Hampton Roads will struggle as politicians in DC look at cuts to the military to reduce the deficits and national debt. On a smaller scale, Charlottesville will do very well as baby boomers retire to that area and UVA provides enough graduates who want to stay to feed ongoing entrepreneurial activity. Then, there’s everywhere else. The cautionary tale on that account is California. Immense wealth on the southern half of the coast and startling poverty elsewhere. 6th highest Gini Coefficient among US states despite a seemingly endless series of wealth transfer measures. A severe housing and homelessness crisis in SanFrancisco despite the most liberal politicians in America.

      Rural and most of small town Virginia needs to de-populate at an accelerating rate. I know people doin’t like to hear that but urbanization is a long standing reality across the globe. Sometimes economic options run out and you have to relocate.

      • Dear Don,

        It shows again that extreme Capitalism and extreme Communism, merge, different flavors of the same Utilitarian cocktail. The manias for “efficiency” and agglomeration are just that, manias. All of the insights of the millennia about the benefits of the countryside are cast aside; whole communities and cultures are cast aside. Spare us from all procrustean ideologies.

        Sincerely,

        Andrew

        • “The manias for “efficiency” and agglomeration are just that, manias.”

          True, but the two need not be mutually exclusive if we properly value, understand and appreciate what it takes community-wise to generate truly whole and healthy human capital, namely effective communities from a humanistic vantage point as well as a financial winner. This is critical part we have been missing in our post modern societies. That lack is now coming back to bite us in the ass, but we have not fully known why, until now.

      • My point was, City Limits in Richmond vis-a-vis Henrico were last increased in 1943; into Chesterfield was around 1970 but the concurrent Henrico annexation was aborted and has remained forbidden by the GA ever since. Atlanta was more a large swath of land including surrounding rural areas to begin with, had steady increases through the 20th century and a big expansion in the ’50s, and last extended the city limits in 2018. Thanks to the GA, rational expansion of cities into Virginia counties these days is circumscribed generally, and the Richmond versus Henrico standoff is a particularly egregious case.

        Re RoVa, agree with you. Rural depopulation cannot occur without an affordable place to move to, however. Will it be in Virginia, or somewhere like NC or TX? I suspect the latter.

  12. this is one of the better “threads” on these issues.. commentary is informative and reasoned..

    ” Only very aggressive government sanctioned wealth transfers will stop the further polarization of the population into wealthy city / near suburban Americans vs everybody else. Absent aggressive government action those in the bottom economic quartile or perhaps even the bottom half will be inexorably driven further and further from the city centers and nearby suburbs.”

    Now don’t take offense here – but this walks and talks like “liberal” and I’d be shocked if Jim B did not feel the same way!

    But you also said upthread with regard to organic markets and affordable housing: ” My pessimism regarding affordable housing availability in a fast growing, high density market stems from the fact that I’ve never seen it happen.”

    And that’s been my impression also and so … we’re presented with this belief on Jim and others part that the market “will work” if you let it but then we’re told that it does not work anywhere because 100% of those cities all practice bad zoning that prevents the market from meeting the affordable housing – demands…

    So we have this conundrum – the same one that we have with the idea that the free market will provide affordable health care and again that it’s something the market can do but govt policies prevent it from happening – not just some govts – all of them – everywhere.

    So I end up with DJ on this. I find it hard to believe that nowhere is there a place where the market “works” and that the failure is 100% the fault of bad govt policies.

    All I ask is one or two places where “enlightened” govt has got out of the way of the market – and affordable housing was provided – by that market.

    where is that place? Cairo or Singapore or Mexico City or where?

    • We already have creeping socialism in the United States and in Virginia too. Obamacare, Medicaid expansion, a broad interpretation of Social Security disability benefits, pay to drive in NoVa but drive “free” elsewhere, subsidies for Metro, subsidized housing, free and reduce cost school lunches ….

      I personally believe that advances in technology in the absence of corrective government policies inevitably lead to greater concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few (in developed countries). There is no offshore IT outsourcing without modern, cost effective networks to allow technicians in India to work on systems in the United States. There are no self-service iPad based ordering stations in airport restaurants without iPads and advanced wireless technology. Good for shareholders of Apple and Cisco, not so good for the waiters and waitresses who used to work those tables.

      In my opinion, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with respect to the disruption of society by technology. These technological changes (along with the corruption of government by special interests) will lead to even more wealth concentration in the hands of a few. Dialing up the level of socialism has an effect on wealth inequality. In 1980 both the US and Europe saw their respective top 1%ers owning 10% of the wealth. Today, the top 1% in the US own 20% of the wealth while the top 1% in Europe own 12%. Meanwhile, growth and technological innovation in Europe has faltered. The current US approach is unsustainable and the approach taken in Europe needs some serious tweaking.

      • actually public roads ARE socialism – right?

        toll roads ARE “market” where you pay for what you use directly.

        we TAKE property from people who do not want to voluntarily sell it – to give to others to use for roads. Right?

        DJ – you make fun of “snowflakes” and “leftists” but your words here are a bit curious to me:

        ” In my opinion, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with respect to the disruption of society by technology. These technological changes (along with the corruption of government by special interests) will lead to even more wealth concentration in the hands of a few. Dialing up the level of socialism has an effect on wealth inequality. In 1980 both the US and Europe saw their respective top 1%ers owning 10% of the wealth. ”

        especially this: ” will lead to even more wealth concentration in the hands of a few. Dialing up the level of socialism has an effect on wealth inequality.”

        I’m not sure your intent.. are you blaming capitalism and it’s govt-influencing variants (crony, rent-seeking, etc)… or are you blaming “creeping socialism”?

        are you advocating socialism as a response to illegitimate capitalism?

        what say you on this?

    • “. . . but then we’re told that it does not work anywhere because 100% of those cities all practice bad zoning . . . ”

      This may sound like a nit but it’s fundamental: Markets do what they do within the applicable government constraints. If one constraint is large-lot residential zoning, markets will satisfy the demand for what the zoning allows; however if what the market really is demanding is townhouses and only 5 acre lots are allowed, the market can’t fix that; that’s a political problem (usually an us-vs-come-heres or NIMBY feud). If someone can affort an apartment but the only thing available is a 5 acre McMansion, he’ll have to look elsewhere. In the case of Loudoun or Prince William what’s allowed is only low density in much of those counties and some high density areas closer in. But the population growth could fill the whole of Loudoun with townhouses and then some. Fairfax (and Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria too) are guilty of fencing off huge 50s development areas and preserving their 2, 3 or 5 acre zoning, no matter that the resulting density can’t support mass transit or planned commercial centers, leaving developers to scramble to in-fill where they can, then houses are priced way up reflecting developers’ inability to meet demand, and local living remains entirely auto-centric due to the low density. And Virginia’s resistance to growth is not as bad as what you see across the river in Montgomery County, MD. So we create all these new jobs in NoVa, but where will those who fill them live? And who will cut the lawns and teach in the schools and staff the shops that all those new families will bring about? The entire DC area is busting at the seams yet tied up with low density zoning that is an obstacle to a truly market-driven solution.

  13. re: ” This may sound like a nit but it’s fundamental: Markets do what they do within the applicable government constraints.”

    are we looking at this in opposite ways?

    I’m seeing people move to Fredericksburg – IN SEARCH OF homes that they cannot find in NoVa that are “affordable” to them so they are coming south to find “affordable” single family homes that are just too expensive in NoVa.

    My view is that they are too expensive because they are running out of land in NoVa to provide single family homes and the “market” has increase the price of those homes in response to increased demand and reduced supply.

    Jim B thinks that the “supply” is there if the government would allow more “rezones” but I’m of the view that there is nothing that government can do to increase the supply of land .

    It’s NOT that folks who want single family homes will switch over to apartments to satisfy their wants – those folks will commute to exurban locations to find an affordable single family house.

    That’s a totally separate issue from “affordable” housing for service workers who cannot afford a single family home EVEN IF they commute to exurban locations. Those folks need an AFFORDABLE APARTMENT in NoVa – near where their service type work is.

    Those are two DIFFERENT things that are getting conflated here in my view.

    Jim B is essentially claiming that housing is not affordable because NoVa will not allow denser rezones or rezones of ancillary apartments – converted garages or basements or mother-in-law additions, etc.

    Those things are NOT for the folks who commute to Fredericksburg for “affordable” housing – it’s a different thing.

    But switch back to NoVa and Amazon – and “affordable” housing that is NOT single family homes but multi-tenant housing.

    Is Arlington County GUILTY of restrictive zoning that limits the supply of “affordable” multi-tenant housing?

    and if THIS issue – the reason why we have commuting to Fredericksburg?

    I think they are totally separate things that are getting conflated.

    what say you?

  14. Ahh – I see your point on annexation. Virginia’s resistance to annexation is one reason there are no real cities in Virginia. Richmond is a fine place but 60 sq mi is small by city standards. But … independent cities, no annexation, Dillon’s Rule … You can still smell the malodorous scent of the Byrd Machine in Virginia.

    As far as affordable housing in Northern Virginia … people come to Northern Virginia from other countries by the droves. Some are well educated engineers from places like India but most are poor people looking for opportunity from places like Guatemala. They are uneducated, poor and barely speak English. Yet they come. In fact, these immigrants (legal and illegal alike) are far more likely to come to Northern Virginia than any other place in Virginia. They somehow find a place to live. The somehow find a place to work. They somehow learn English.

    https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/virginia/foreign-born-population-percent#map

  15. This is an excellent discussion. I’m with LarryG though, on Don’s assessment and suggestions regarding the role of government and the move to cities vs rural. First, let me thanks for the learning of “RoVa”, I’m from Richmond originally, and had not heard that one! http://www.virginiaplaces.org/nova/edgesofnova.html

    Regarding LarryG’s question – where has affordable housing worked in highly dense areas – I suggest you plug into google “where has affordable housing worked in urban areas?” and you will find lots of articles about at best, mixed success where the effort has been made. But, make no mistake, the only way it will work is with government planning and effort and that means yes, planning with intent and strategy (a la Smart Growth planning) principles, but it also requires a tax base (city cores competing with suburban counties and continued flight is what we had/have since the 50s/60s). https://smartgrowthamerica.org/ The trend is clear, people are moving to cities (whether they are “Smart Cities” or not), and that will continue. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html So, urban governance and cooperation is key. One good model is in DC area (originally for Transportation planning) – that is The Metropolitan Council of Governments. This concept is needed for all major urban areas, but, our State Legislations do not want to address the rising need and power of key urban centers. https://www.mwcog.org/community/planning-areas/regional-planning/

    Don and I know all too well from our work in technology (me – 34 years at IBM, him same plus lots prior) – automation and efficiency for the shareholder is the holy grail and CEOs/shareholders will move work to the cheapest market ($20/hour PhD programmers from India for delivering outsourced apps, for instance), and with AI-robotics, there needs to be another strategy for economic development, as I said, other than “hey, everyone needs to become a programmer and join the fun!”

    So, we need both/and strategies – OK, bring on Amazon but have local/regional economic development strategies that build local/regional capacity for everybody – i.e. build greater community wealth for all.

  16. We may be look at different parts of the same elephant.

    I participate in the MPO in Fredericksburg and have been involved in transportation for 40 years and I’m looking at the number of people who live in the Fredericksburg region who commute north to NoVa jobs every day.

    I look at I-95 which is chock-a-block at peak hour and essentially no longer useable as an interstate highways during commute hours – it’s just a gawd-awful quagmire for out-of-state folks to try to travel through – and many either go west on I-81 or they time their transit to be in the wee hours of the day.

    I’ve also traveled around the country and have been to many of the urbanized areas from Boston to New York to Philadelphia, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Louisville, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Tuscon, Phoenix, LA, SF, Las Vegas, Reno. Seattle, Portland, Boise, Salt Lake, Chicago , and others and the exurban commute is a common thing in all.. some more horrible than others but pretty much a typical thing everywhere there is an interstate and a belt…

    That does not mean many of those urban areas don’t practice “smart growth” or have programs and policies whose purpose is to provide “affordable” housing but none of them can provide the KIND of affordable housing that some want – and that is a single family home – with a yard – tucked off the highways – with a good neighborhood school.

    That kind of housing is scarce and expensive in the urbanized areas.

    And that’s why people commute in large numbers around the country to exurban locations .

    That situation is a different one than that of a lower income service worker who needs an apartment or similar they can afford. They’re not looking for single family homes with yards and cul-de-sacs. They’re just looking for an apartment in a safe part of town they can walk, bike or transit to.

    So those are two different things in my mind.

    And when we discuss “affordable housing” – I feel the two get conflated and we really do not understand the distinction – nor what it might take to fix it – and whose role that is.

    I just doubt that cities or the “market” can provide more “affordable” single-family homes in urbanized areas where land for that kind of housing is scarce and expensive.

  17. re: ” So, we need both/and strategies – OK, bring on Amazon but have local/regional economic development strategies that build local/regional capacity for everybody – i.e. build greater community wealth for all.”

    that might be a bigger trick than “affordable housing” and would also further rankle the ” the govt can’t do this and when it tries it screws things up worse” folks.

    Bezos, himself, has said something to the effect that “someday, something else will replace Amazon” – and that’s food for thought because first, he’s right – whether you’re Kodak, or Blockbuster or even GE or GM – the world changes and the bigger and older corporate entities who dominate are also no longer nimble and younger startups invariably drive innovation and change.

    It was not the traditional “Bell” companies that brought us cell phones and it was not the big weapon system companies that brought us drones for example.

    So back to Arlington and Amazon. What should Arlington do – to transform itself into an ecosystem for 21st century business even beyond Amazon and is part of that mission ”
    build local/regional capacity for everybody – i.e. build greater community wealth for all.” ?

    and now the tough question – what are those things they should do to achieve “greater community wealth for all”?

    To this point – it walks and talks like a zero-sum game. i.e. you get the Amazon and it’s high paid workers – and the locals get higher cost housing and increased traffic congestion.

    So I’m a skeptic to this point. I believe, to this point, all the talk about what is going to be done to mitigate Amazons impacts is more wordsmithing than actual – quantifiable change.

    I don’t think we actually, really KNOW – precisely what should be (or not) done to achieve the goals. I think we are still at the stage where we can define the problem and we can talk about things to try – like “less restrictive zoning” but to date I don’t think we can point to any places that have essentially invented how to do it and have success to prove it.

    Some of these least regulated places in the world – 3rd world countries with urbanized places like Cairo – have not achieved that goal and, in fact, the ones that have done “better” are the top-down dictatorial nations that actually do provide housing for most all their people but at a grievous cost to other important things much valued in western style Democracies with robust private sector markets.

    We’re looking for the Goldilocks solution and it’s a tough gig.

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