Smart Growth

Growth is “smart” when it creates attractive communities with a range of housing and transportation options near jobs, shops, services and schools. We’ve been employing these strategies since long before the term was coined in the 1990s — beginning with planning the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which is recognized as a pioneering model for smart growth success.

Arlington Recognized as a Leader in Smart Growth

APA Achievement Award

The American Planning Association recently recognized Arlington’s commitment to community-based planning and smart growth with a Gold 2017 National Planning Achievement Award for Implementation of the County’s General Land Use Plan. Each year, APA recognizes outstanding efforts in planning and planning leadership through its National Planning Excellence and Achievement Awards, the profession’s highest honor.

Arlington’s Smart Growth Journey

For more than 50 years, Arlington’s General Land Use Plan has served as a guide for the county’s smart growth journey. Arlington experienced a remarkable transformation from an auto-centric collection of neighborhoods to one of America’s most recognized examples of sustainability and transit-oriented development.

Visionary planning began in the 1960’s as the D.C. metro area faced the impacts of suburban sprawl and accelerating reliance on automobiles. The region was preparing for the expansion of Interstate 66 and Metro when Arlington made a landmark planning decision to concentrate growth in mixed-use, transit centers. The "Bulls Eye” concept for the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor was an innovative decision that relocated Metro’s orange line away from the median of Interstate 66 to the commercial spine along Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards.

The concept was reflected in the 1975 General Land Use Plan and, together with Jefferson-Davis Metro corridor planning, marked one of the earliest commitments by a suburban community to what is considered “smart growth”.

One of the pillars of our smart growth policy involves focusing high-density, mixed-use development along three primary transportation corridors, while preserving open space and existing residential neighborhoods. We accomplish this by having well defined zoning and land use policies and plans that guide development for specific projects, neighborhoods and the County as a whole.

Today the County expands on the core principles by collaborating with the community to maintain sector plans for each Metro station area. The results shine in seven mixed-use, walkable and bicycle-friendly Metro transit villages. Two Metro corridors accommodate 36 million square feet of office space, 6 million square feet of retail space and over 47,000 residential units.

The Principles of Smart Growth

Smart growth involves a set of principles to guide development and land-use decisions. These principles were developed by the Smart Growth Network, a partnership of government agencies, developers, environmentalists, historic preservation advocates, professional organizations and interests from the real estate industry. It was launched by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1996.

  • Mix land uses
  • Take advantage of compact building design
  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  • Create walkable neighborhoods
  • Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  • Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
  • Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
  • Provide a variety of transportation choices
  • Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective
  • Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

How Arlingtonians Benefit From Smart Growth

Smart growth is an approach that’s good for the local economy, the environment and the people who live and work here. Among the most obvious benefits are easy access to public transportation and walkable neighborhoods with great restaurants, shopping and lively nightlife. Other benefits include:

  • Commute time in Arlington is lower than the average commute time for the region.
  • Arlington residents help reduce the area’s carbon footprint: 40 percent of Rosslyn-Ballston corridor residents take public transportation to work; 16 percent don’t own a car; and 6 percent of Arlington’s work force walks to work.
  • Arlington’s urban villages contribute to a strong local economy. According to a study by Arlington Economic Development, the urban villages yield approximately $250,000 in taxes per net acre, ranging from $357,000 per acre in Rosslyn to $132,000 in Clarendon.
  • Arlington has the lowest property tax rate among jurisdictions in northern Virginia and among the highest levels of services.

Presentation: Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Smart Growth

Learn more about how Arlington planned for smart growth along the R-B corridor.

Arlington's Smart Growth Journey