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Insiders: Living in Arlington

Residents reflect on their community.

What is it like to live in America’s smallest county? The question was posed to a cross-section of residents and it would seem that whether one is a life-long resident or a relative newcomer, living in Clarendon or Crystal City, Columbia Pike or Courthouse, Arlingtonians are all too happy to brag about their community and reflect on what makes this a great place to live.

“Before anything else, Arlington’s strongest asset and most important attraction, are the people,” said Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO). He added, “Even the most recent newcomers will immediately feel that the community surrounding them is indeed special.”

Sarah Rice, a native of Connecticut, who arrived in Arlington last August from San Diego, said she is thrilled to be back on the east coast. “My husband is career Navy, Medical Corps, and is also a general surgeon, but currently he works downtown at the Washington Navy Yard in charge of medical programs for our country’s Merchant Mariners.” She said, “We chose to live in Arlington because of its close proximity to the city for commuting, yet still having that woodsy, quiet feel.”

For Rice, who has a daughter, Kylie who is starting preschool next month, and a baby named Kiera, the family-friendly atmosphere is another reason to love it here. “It is nice to be in a town that hasn’t been overrun by all the “big box” shopping centers,” she said, adding, “It keeps it quaint and historic, sort of like preserving what it was like for me growing up in a small town; I feel safe here and it’s nice to be able to pass that feeling on to my children.”

After four military moves all over the country and overseas, Rice said she is grateful for all the community resources. “I like the emphasis Arlington places on walking, fitness and education. I have enjoyed using the drop- in fitness centers while I was trying to get back in shape after the second baby.” As a family with children, Rice appreciates the local parks and libraries — she noted that her 3-year-old enjoys seeing local animals at the Gulf Branch Nature Center, “the little zoo, I call it.”

LONG-TIME RESIDENT, Leni Gonzalez also gives the county high marks for its excellent school system, park and recreation programs and the relative safety of its streets. “As a woman, I feel very safe here, the crime rate in Arlington is much lower than in other areas,” she said. Gonzalez said she also appreciates the diversity of the population and the many languages spoken here, making it an interesting and very rich place. “This is the best place — I am very happy living here,” Gonzalez said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Karantonis, “Civism, diversity, tolerance, respect and education are ubiquitous and well rooted in Arlington’s social life.” Karantonis explained that the term, “the Arlington Way” with reference to the commitment to local participation in decision-making, is applicable beyond politics. “It is about how Arlingtonians treat each other and how they organize living in community — truly, this is the nicest part of living here.”

Graham Dufault, a single 27- year- old, law student at George Mason University has been in the area for about five years, mostly in D.C. — he made the move to Clarendon a year ago. “I was worried that this area would be too suburban, but it’s basically urban with neighborhoods flanking on either side,” he said. According to Dufault, he has been pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant night- life in Clarendon. “It’s a lot of fun, there are a lot of people my age who live in this area … and lots of happy hours and people constantly outside enjoying the outdoors.” The new coffee shop and wine bar, by the Liberty Tavern team at the former location of Murky Coffee has become a regular haunt: “I love Northside Social — it reminds me of home. I’m from Portland and it’s almost like they’re replicating the coffee shop culture in Portland,” Dufault explained.

Having lived in other cities, Dufault said gives him a greater appreciation for the area. “When I was living in Atlanta, I realized how limited it is compared to the D.C. area where you have better transit and it’s easy to get around and fun places are easy to access.” An avid runner who also enjoys hiking, Dufault cites the proximity to areas like the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Beach and the Maryland Shore for easy day trips as another advantage.

“I GREW UP in Arlington and I have seen it change quite a bit over the years,” said Bob Brambilla, a tax attorney who works for the IRS and lives in Fairlington. Because Arlington is centrally located, Brambilla said, it makes it easy and quick for him to get into downtown D.C. And, Brambilla who is single, said he appreciates all the choices for dining and entertainment in Clarendon and Shirlington: “Iota Café, great for live music and the Clarendon Ballroom [for live music and dancing] … as well as all the free outdoor concerts in Rosslyn, Shirlington and Crystal City.”

Brambilla is also a fan of farmers markets, and said he frequents the one at Courthouse on Saturday mornings or the one near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive on Sundays. He also had a list of local “hidden treasures” for good food and wine: wonderful German breads at the Heidelberg Bakery, great wine and cheese at Arrow Wine, great carry- out at Lebanese Taverna, and Italian subs and other specialties at the Italian Store.

“For outdoor enthusiasts, Arlington Cemetery, Roosevelt Island and the Potomac Heritage Trail are excellent hiking areas,” he said adding, “in addition, there are bike trails where you can go from South to North Arlington and do a loop, which I have done many times.” Brambilla, who is also bit of a history buff, encourages visiting local historical landmarks, like the Robert E. Lee house located within Arlington Cemetery.

In the short time Rice has been here, she has become quite an enthusiastic ambassador: “When I talk to friends planning a move to the nation’s capital region, I always try to talk them into living in Arlington — it really has an ideal blend of everything.”