Are There Two Arlingtons?

Understanding the history behind Arlington's North-South divide and how it's shaping present-day perceptions and realities.

Last November, a caller dialing into WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” identified herself as “Christine…a resident of South Arlington, the ugly stepchild of Arlington.”

She introduced herself this way before posing a question about bus rapid transit to Arlington County Board Member John Vihstadt, a guest on the show that day.

Vihstadt, who previously lived on Columbia Pike (his son still does) and now resides in Tara-Leeway Heights in North Arlington, paused and leaned into the microphone. “It really pains me when we get into this argument about a north-south divide in Arlington,” he said. “I really view our county as one Arlington.”

The problem is, not everyone shares that conviction. And on matters of county politics, perceptions have proven to be just as powerful as the hard realities driving budgets, site selections for county facilities and the allocation of resources.

“The county board is not tone-deaf,” Milliken, the facilities planner, says, giving elected officials credit for how they handle the difficult, no-win diplomatic predicaments they so often find themselves in.

On the streetcar issue (which he personally supported), Milliken says, “They listened. It was clear, in two elections, and in a lot of community discussion, that the streetcar—fairly or not—had become something unnecessary, or at least not the right technology. They did what they needed to do in order to say to the community, ‘We heard you.’ ”

And yet, for all of their listening skills, due diligence and efforts to give equal airtime to all constituents, the current board members still have an image problem:

All of them, save one (Libby Garvey), live in North Arlington.

Arlington resident Steve Thurston was the founding editor of, which operated for two years. He teaches writing and journalism courses at Montgomery College in Rockville.


Categories: Community