Stepping Out and Stepping Up to a Smarter Community

Stepping Out and Stepping Up to a Smarter Community

This piece was originally published in the April 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

By Pat Walsh, Editor in Chief, NEMA

“Quill,” a perimeter enhancement for the Dominion Virginia Power substation, was inspired by the successful return of the bald eagle to the nearby Potomac River.
“Quill,” a perimeter enhancement for the Dominion Virginia Power substation, was inspired by the successful return of the bald eagle to the nearby Potomac River.

When the ei editorial staff decided to explore a real smart city, we simply looked outside our office into Rossyln, an unincorporated neighborhood in Arlington County, Virginia.

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Rosslyn is accessible to tourists, policymakers, and world leaders by train, plane, and automobile. In 2015, the Arlington County Board adopted the Rosslyn Sector Plan (RSP), a blueprint to making it a smart community. The plan parallels many of the priorities NEMA established in its Smart Cities Strategic Initiative.

While Rosslyn’s early history saw battles, bridges, and brothels, the neighborhood boomed in the 1960s, complete with a few skyscrapers, and remained intrinsically unchanged until 1992, when the county decided to transform it into a modern urban center that would attract corporations, upscale retail, and a mix of residential housing. Because of its location, there were key challenges to overcome in order to achieve its full potential as a great, distinctive urban place, according to Jay Fisette, vice chairman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors.

“Rosslyn already has strong sustainability attributes and is in a position to become even more sustainable,” Mr. Fisette said, while explaining the RSP. “Over the last century, Rosslyn has experienced an incredible transformation greatly influenced by its exceptional location and access, combined with county planning and development policies. With more than eight million square feet of commercial office development, it emerged as a major employment center, with a large share of federal government and contractor tenants.”

The plan envisions the Rosslyn sector as

  • a global destination with a dynamic skyline, unique vistas, and exceptional value;
  • accessible through a number of reliable transportation connections;
  • a walkable neighborhood, connecting people with the community;
  • a good neighbor to adjacent communities, making sensitive building form transitions and offering complementary housing and service options;
  • an urban district that celebrates the experience of nature and recreation through its diverse network of public parks, open spaces, and tree-lined streets; and
  • a dynamic place inspired by its diverse mix of people and activity.

Implementing the plan is the bailiwick of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID), which provides a variety of services that create a clean, safe, and vibrant environment. Because Rosslyn is a dense urban district, Lucia deCordré, BID’s director of urban design, sees opportunities everywhere for a modern, vibrant urban community.

“BID has numerous missions to support retailers, property owners, and residents with beautification, urban design, walkable streets, and great infrastructure,” she said, citing the community’s dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented development pattern as being well suited for energy-efficient buildings, water conservation, and transportation. It’s all related to BID’s pivotal setting between Washington and Virginia, or as Ms. deCordré summarized, “location, location, location!”

With so much happening in the world of energy, she says, property owners see distinct advantages to incorporating energy efficiency into their projects. Sustainability recommendations are focused on two levels: neighborhood and site- or building-specific. By applying sustainability standards, great advancements can be made in maximizing energy efficiency, minimizing carbon footprints, effectively managing stormwater, and dramatically reducing generated waste in Rosslyn.

“Many are taking it upon themselves to design LEED-certified buildings,” Ms. deCordré said, referring to the rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. “While most are Silver, the newest ones are Platinum-rated. One building, which was originally designed to Silver specifications, has been already been renovated to Platinum.”

One of the benefits of urban density, Ms deCordré says, is sharing resources. For example, five separate buildings in one block undergoing redevelopment will share energy systems. Other buildings employ new technologies, such as parking lifts, daylighting, and solar installations, as well as new methodologies, such as rainwater harvesting systems and planting native, drought-tolerant plant species.

The RSP also calls for the pursuit of combined heat and power (CHP), or cogeneration, as a strategy that produces electrical power and heating and cooling in a single unit. Integrating CHP with the district’s energy system can increase a building’s energy efficiency from 35 percent to more than 80 percent.

As of 2012, buildings in Arlington County accounted for more than 60 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounted for the balance. The county’s transportation demand management program encourages residents, employees, and visitors to use alternatives to private cars. Rosslyn is served by three subway lines operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), public and private buses, and shuttles that connect Rosslyn with neighboring municipalities, airports, and rail systems. Significant upgrades to the current Metro station will transform it from a simple depot into a transportation hub.

Rosslyn’s streetscape plan encourages pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets and accessible recreation areas. The county’s public art plan incorporates installations like the mural pictured above. The mural, “Quill,” created by Christian Moeller, employs solar reflectors to ensconce the Dominion Virginia Power substation with feathers, a nod to the recent successful return of the bald eagle to the nearby Potomac River.

It seems an apt image for a community that soars to new heights as a smart, reinvigorated downtown district.

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