September: NoVA’s Bookshelf

Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

The latest Tomes from local authors. —Lynn Norusis


‘Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love’

Photo courtesy of Convergent Books.


‘Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love’
by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
Convergent Books
Local An Inch of Gray blogger, Anna Whiston-Donaldson, thought her first book would focus on remodeling on the cheap. But after a horrific September day brought tragedy to her family, her thoughts of frivolous writing were supplanted by questioning God’s acts.

After torrential downpours struck the Northern Virginia area during the fall of 2011, Whiston-Donaldson was faced with choosing between her children: her son Jack had been swept away while playing in a small neighborhood-creek-turned-rapidly-flowing-river, yet her daughter was with her in the car, disabled by the rising waters.

This memoir brings to the forefront the hardship of a parent burying their child and the impossible task of moving on with life while trying to understand why such events happen. (September 2014)


‘Swan Point’ by Sherryl Woods.

Photo courtesy of Harlequin.

‘Swan Point’
by Sherryl Woods
Virginia resident and New York Times- bestselling-author Sherryl Woods takes readers on a journey of heartache, friendship and budding romance in her latest novel “Swan Point,” the 11th book in her “Sweet Magnolias” series.

This feel-good romance follows Adelia Hernandez as she tries to rebuild her life after a messy divorce. A new home, new job and staying strong for her four children who are also learning how to deal with the abrupt change in their lives, Hernandez has no time to dedicate to a new love.

Yet, when former troublemaker Gabe Franklin returns to the quaint town of Swan Point, trying to start a new, calmer life, the chemistry between the two cannot be denied. Both, along with others in town, try to fight the love that is growing between them. But sometimes love cannot be tamed. (August 2014)

(September 2014)

UVA student from Fairfax missing; D.C. drivers among the ‘rudest’

Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

By Carten Cordell

UVA student from Fairfax missing in Charlottesville
(The Washington Post)

Survey: District drivers among the ‘rudest’

Virginia lawmakers, Gov. McAuliffe agree on state budget cuts

Severance Faces Court Hearing In Alexandria 

New Stormwater Regulations Could Delay Silver Line Phase 2

Trending: New Mockingjay trailer debuts

Posted by Editorial / Monday, September 15th, 2014

By Carten Cordell

Well, we know what you will be doing come November. Until then, enjoy the most entertaining 1:47 of your Monday.


Trending: Antihero TV

Posted by Editorial / Monday, September 15th, 2014

Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Masters of Sex, The Knick

Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television (‘Masters of Sex’); Courtesy of Marcall B. Polay / HBO (‘Boardwalk Empire’); Courtesy of Mary Cybulski / HBO (‘The Knick’); Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels / AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad)

September marks the debut of the final season of HBO’s Prohibition drama “Boardwalk Empire.”

The close of this series comes as other critically-acclaimed antihero shows such as “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have either ended or will end in the coming year.

While networks have sought to fill the entertainment vacuum with newer period-driven shows like “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Masters of Sex” and “The Knick,” we sought to recreate that magic formula with three potential show ideas of our own.

“The Cola Wars”: Nostalgia over the 1980s is in. What better way to capture the zeitgeist than a show about the corn syrup-saturated conflict of our age.

Marketing man Britt Svenson has a lot of secrets and briefcase of ideas about how to help Coca-Cola vanquish rival Pepsi. But the quixotic ladies man with the mysterious past thinks one epiphany will corner the market: New Coke.

“Tell-All”: For former White House insiders, there’s one shot at life after career death, the tell-all book.

Book agent Ethan Hutton specializes in packaging those shattered aspirations and vitriolic backstabbing into a 250-page tome you can buy at your local bookstore. But the cost of business is endless whiskey lunches and sometime publisher liaisons. How far would you go to make sure the public hears the tale of a deputy Secretary of Agriculture done wrong?

“Outbreak”: The Spanish Flu has never been any sexier. It’s 1918 and dashing doctor Gustav Popolopocus is in a race against time to stop an outbreak from spreading across Europe. Aiding in this fight is his beautiful and brilliant assistant, Adi Turnbuckle. When these two get together, influenza isn’t the only thing causing a fever. –Carten Cordell

(September 2014)

RG3 dislocates ankle in win; Manassas tries to solve Route 28 congestion

Posted by Editorial / Monday, September 15th, 2014

By Carten Cordell

RG3 dislocates ankle; Washington tops Jaguars 41-10

Officer who shot Navy Yard gunman says it ‘needed to be done’
(The Washington Post)

Manassas tries to solve Route 28 congestion
(The Washington Post)

One Loudoun‘s Stadium plan hits a snag

Anthony Greene’s take on the IndieCapitol Awards

Posted by Editorial / Friday, September 12th, 2014


Photo courtesy of IndieCapitol.

By Andy Tran

Anthony Greene loves cinema. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he works with Reel Independent Film Extravaganza and The IndieCapitol Awards, a film ceremony that celebrates local filmmakers and the film community. We sat down with Greene to talk about the IndieCapitol Awards taking place October 12 at the Angelika Film Center and all of which it encompasses.  

How did the IndieCapitol Awards get started and how is Reel Independent Film Extravaganza involved with the organization?

Greene: IndieCapitol was originally a web series hosted by Pamela Nash and directed by Cheryl M. Brown, that interviewed an array of filmmakers and supporters from the Washington Metropolitan area. The show released two seasons of episodes on YouTube and featured film notables such as Eduardo Sanchez, Jon Gann, Ellie Walton, Bruce Brown and Anthony Anderson. When devising a way to keep the show going and wondering what could be done to not only heighten press interest, but also prestige into the local independent film community, we came up with the IndieCapitol Awards. We chose to mirror the Oscars in setting up close to 18 categories, spotlighting the best in offerings from local filmmakers. RIFE has been working diligently to find its place in the oversaturated film festival scene, and this year we realized one of the biggest missteps and overlooks was the local film community. We love screening films from all over the world and introducing audiences to great domestic titles that come our way. But our local film community needs a surefire way to share its voice and be seen in high regard just as films from overseas and around the country. We strongly believe in supporting and spotlighting our film community and this event is a great way to begin achieving notoriety and acclaim for our home grown filmmakers.


Who are some the local Northern Virginia filmmakers that are participating in the event and what are their films about?

Greene: One great film of note is “Settled,” directed by Gary Voelker along with members of the NoVA Christian Film community. Another features the work of several George Mason students and alumni, “The Long Term Side Effect,” directed by Dannie Snyder. The first is a wonderfully captured period drama with a spiritual foundation and the second is about a woman who survives pancreatic cancer due to an experimental treatment that stops her from aging. The great thing is that you can find films from NoVA that mix with filmmakers from Baltimore and D.C. and vice versa. The community is really coming together to make great films.


The ceremony is supposed to be Oscar-like, what made the organizers decide to emulate the Oscars, rather than doing something more independent?

Greene: It is true that the fundamental idea of the awards are based on the Oscars. If we’re going to emulate, why not emulate the best or most prestigious? There is so much talk about people who want to be Hollywood, but as of right now we have a group of artist who are great at what they do and worthy of recognition for what they do. The awards honor the independent spirit of filmmakers who push through and make great films. The Oscar-like format is just a guideline to do so.


What is the judging process like and how are the winners determined?

Greene: We graciously had three area critics step forth and volunteer to judge the films submitted. All of the critics are published and two are members of the Washington Area Film Critics Association. It was of the utmost importance to have critics watch the films and judge the merits based on how they would critique any film for their publications. Plus, the judging had to be non-biased and completely in their control. All of the nominations are from votes received and the winners are the ones who garnered the most votes. We really hope we get more participation from critics next year, it was really hard to get three the first time out.


Which Northern Virginia Filmmakers are likely to crossover to the mainstream Hollywood Cinema world?

Greene: I really couldn’t say. A lot of filmmakers are starting to make a conscientious choice on whether they want to go mainstream or find ways to create independently. You have great filmmakers from the area like Ron Newcomb, whose film “Rise of the Fellowship” is nominated, that would be a great fit for Hollywood. But these filmmakers don’t rest on their laurels and wait. Ron has just wrapped on a project entitled “The Rangers” and he continues to push forward independently. That’s why it’s so important to continue to support and applaud our local talent.

What are the types of awards given, and which ones are held with the most esteem?

Greene: We have around 18 categories ranging from Best Picture, Screenplay, Director and Short Narrative to Original Music, Wardrobe, Make Up and Effects. Too commonly, very important elements in independent film like Sound Design are overlooked at festivals and community awards. We wanted to make sure that the complete experience is paid attention to and lauded within our community. Of course, the estimation really belongs to the nominee and the craft that they practice. An actor or actress will definitely see more esteem in winning for their work than they would for the Visual Effects category. More importantly, this is a chance for filmmakers to be introduced to and appreciate others works, forge new relationships and continue to produce. That’s the ultimate motive.

The IndieCapitol Awards
October 12
Angelika Film Center

Facing Fate

Posted by Editorial / Friday, September 12th, 2014

For Secret Service agent Clint Hill, expressions of anguish and adoration have helped heal the wounds of Dallas 1963.

Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill.

Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill. Photo courtesy of Clint Hill.

By Helen Mondloch

Even for Americans too young to remember the watershed events of November 22, 1963, the images are familiar and poignant, forever etched in the national consciousness: the panorama of jubilant crowds, cheering as the motorcade whizzes by; the image of a dashing young president and his wife, clad in her famous pink suit, smiling as they embrace a nation’s adoration; then, the awful moment when everything changes—when the president grasps his neck and the image blurs.

Out of nowhere, a lanky man in a suit is seen sprinting, then leaping onto the rear of the limousine while a shell-shocked first lady mounts the car and inches desperately towards him.

That rapid succession of events, still surreal a half-century later, marked the beginning of a national tragedy.  For then-Secret Service agent Clinton Hill, it also marked the beginning of a personal crucible, one he would suppress for years before the agonies of Dallas would boil over inside of him.

At 82, Hill looks back on the John F. Kennedy assassination with sadness that is ingrained and palpable. At the home office of Lisa McCubbin, his close confidante and the co-author of his books, Hill speaks in somber tones.  His eyes have a drawn appearance brought on by age but also, it seems, from having been embattled. 

For decades, Hill avoided any talk about that heartrending day. He pent up his memories and emotions even from Gwen, his wife of many years, and his sons, Chris and Corey, now in their fifties. Full disclosure was a task that required coaxing, mainly from his old friends in the Secret Service. In 2009, Gerald Blaine, a fellow agent from the Kennedy years, approached Hill and other members of their outfit with the idea of breaking their collective silence by composing a chronicle of the years leading up to the assassination.  As Blaine explains in his 2010 book, “The Kennedy Detail,”  he wanted to set the record straight, to dispel conspiracy theories and scandalous allegations that had taken root in the early sixties and were still flourishing decades later.  Some of those theories impugned the agents themselves, a fact that deeply disturbed him.

At first, Hill wanted nothing to do with Blaine’s proposal. Having served five presidents—Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford—he was adamant about honoring the vow that every secret service agent takes, the life-long promise to refrain from divulging details about the president’s private life.  He also feared opening old wounds.  More than three decades had passed since he hit rock bottom in the late ‘70s, the result of an emotional freefall that had started on that fateful day. His prolonged agony—mirroring symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—stemmed from the insurmountable guilt he felt simply because he had lived and the president had died.

In the end, Hill’s friends convinced him to lend his voice to the annals of a pivotal era. He embraced the idea of paying tribute to both the fallen president and Jacqueline Kennedy, who had died of cancer in 1994. “When they said the word ‘tribute,’ that’s when I said yes,” he recalls.  

Together with McCubbin, Hill contributed a chapter to Blaine’s book and shortly thereafter embarked on “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” a memoir about the four years he spent as the first lady’s personal protector. The book became a best-seller in 2012, leading to a second, “Five Days in November,” published in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

Hill and Jackie Kennedy at the White House. “Little did I know that life with Mrs. Kennedy was going to be anything but dull.” Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Hill and Jackie Kennedy at the White House. “Little did I know that life with Mrs. Kennedy was going to be anything but dull.” Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

The First Lady Detail
Hill’s story with the Kennedys begins in November 1960, right after the presidential election that unseated the Republican Party from the White House and ushered in a whirlwind of change for the nation. Hill recalls that “even though I hadn’t met President-elect John F. Kennedy, it was obvious that protecting him was going to be a whole different ball game than it had been with Ike. We were going from a 70-year-old former general who ran the White House with military precision, to an energetic 43-year-old … with a lot of new ideas to take America into the 1960s.”

While the changes seemed exciting, one prospect did not: Hill’s assignment to the realm of the First Lady.  After having traveled the world with the Eisenhower detail, the former varsity athlete felt as though he “had been demoted from the starting line-up to the bench.” He lamented that “while my buddies on the Presidential Detail would be right in the middle of the action, I knew where I was going to end up: fashion shows, afternoon tea parties and the ballet.”

Hill met Jacqueline Kennedy for the first time when he and another agent paid a visit to the Georgetown townhouse where the Kennedys lived before moving to the White House. He remembers the 31-year-old as “very attractive, very gracious and very pregnant.” (She gave birth to John Kennedy, Jr., a few weeks later.)  After listening to the various security protocols that would require the agents’ presence in her every venture, the First Lady-elect’s smile wore off, says Hill. “It was clear that she wasn’t excited about having two Secret Service agents around, and I realized that if I were going to do my job effectively, I would have to earn her trust.”

While Hill and Mrs. Kennedy were nearly the same age—he was 28 at the time—they hailed from different places. Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in Long Island, the daughter of a wealthy banking scion (who later lost his fortune). She attended elite schools and was once voted “Debutante of the Year.” Hill began life in a North Dakota orphanage. Adopted as an infant by loving parents, he grew up in the rural town of Washburn, in a modest home where he shared a room with his grandfather. He earned a history degree from a small college in Minnesota and did a three-year stint in the Army before entering the Secret Service in the Denver field office.

Hill concedes that in those early days of his assignment, he was clueless about what lay ahead: “Little did I know that life with Mrs. Kennedy was going to be anything but dull.”

Going places
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Hill’s memoir is the frenetic pace with which he and Mrs. Kennedy traveled. Whether he was advancing a trip—doing the legwork to ensure that her every destination was secure—or accompanying her, as he almost always did, he was constantly fielding contingencies that could force him to change course on the spur of the moment. They made regular visits to Palm Beach and Hyannis Port and weekend road trips to Middleburg, where the First Lady indulged her equestrian passion. Then there were her illustrious forays around the globe to places like Paris, Greece, India and Pakistan where the challenges of providing protection were immense, especially since Mrs. Kennedy was an international superstar.

The photographs of their trips abroad are telling. There is Mrs. Kennedy poised in a stunning gown and full-length gloves next to President Charles de Gaulle or some other foreign dignitary. There are masses of people flooding the Grecian ports or the streets of Bengal, yearning to catch a glimpse of her (an impulse that inspired JFK’s famous remark, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”) In the background, there is a man with photogenic features, looking askance at the crowd; his dark eyes  are brooding and stoic, a reminder that he is not there to have fun.

Hill also followed the first lady on her emotional journeys. He was present when her beloved father-in-law, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, suffered a debilitating stroke; and when the family endured the death of Baby Patrick, who was born five weeks premature in August 1963—three months before the president’s assassination.

President John F. Kennedy and children Caroline and John Jr.

Hill with President John F. Kennedy and children Caroline and John Jr. Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Forging bonds
Despite the demands of his job, Hill’s compensation was modest, even by the standards of the time. His annual salary in 1961 was $6,799, a fact he mentions incidentally, and which he says never prompted any grievance. His meager per diem for travel expenses ($12 a day) sometimes made it difficult to find decent lodging on the road. But nothing compared to the sacrifice of frequent and prolonged absences from his wife and young sons– especially the Christmases he spent in Palm Beach.

Nonetheless, Hill would develop a steadfast devotion to a family he saw more than his own. His story weaves glimpses of the Kennedys that are vivid, often breathtaking. In one scene, 3-year-old Caroline is seated with Hill on a sofa at the Kennedy’s Palm Beach residence.  The date is January 20, 1961—the day of the presidential inauguration. Agent Hill stayed back to help with the children’s detail.

“’See your daddy, Caroline?’” Hill asks, pointing to the television.

Caroline watches for a brief moment, “her legs dangling from the sofa,” as her father places his left hand on the Bible and raises his right hand.

“I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, do solemnly swear to …”

“’Where’s mommy?’” she asks.

“Mommy’s there, too. I’m sure they’ll show her on the television in a minute.”

Hill portrays President Kennedy as a genial family man, evidenced in an anecdote he heard from a fellow agent during the painful days following Joe Kennedy’s stroke. After a visit with the elder Kennedy, the family was passing through the hospital lobby, where Caroline spotted a gumball machine.

“’Can I please have a gumball?’” she asked her father.

“’Oh Buttons, I’m sorry; you need a penny for the gumball machine. I don’t have a penny.’”

Hill recalls his amusement when his colleague recounted the incident. “It was typical JFK. He never carried money. Here he was the President of the United States, and he didn’t have a penny for the gumball machine.”

There are images of John, Jr., a toddler who delighted in airplanes, who cried uncontrollably as his parents were departing for Dallas. His father’s funeral took place on the day he turned 3.  In that iconic moment when John-John saluted the president’s casket, Hill reports that he and other steely-eyed agents could barely hold back tears.

Hill’s portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, with whom he formed an unbreakable bond, affirms her image of elegance and grace but also presents her as spontaneous, even mischievous at times. He recounts her sneaking cigarettes with him on their drives to Middleburg, starting in early 1961—“one of the many secrets we would keep with each other.”

Besides secrets, Hill would gain an insider’s perspective on the first lady’s personal tastes and peccadillos. When the crowds and paparazzi became oppressive, she sometimes sent him on shopping errands for gifts, cosmetics, even clothes. And while they always addressed each other in formal terms, they shared humanizing moments. He recalls that she would tease him for his stoic demeanor, like the time she was marveling over the sites they had seen on their trip to India, stopping short when he seemed less than enthused. “Doesn’t anything ever impress you, Mr. Hill?” she asked.

There were tense moments, too, often involving Mrs. Kennedy’s adamant desire to maintain a level of autonomy in a highly controlled White House environment. At the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Hill recalls debriefing her about procedures for seeking shelter in the White House bunker in the event of a national emergency: “She pulled away from me in what can only be described as defiance, and said, ‘Mr. Hill, if the situation develops that requires the children and me to go to the shelter, let me tell you what you can expect. I will take Caroline and John and we will walk hand in hand out onto the south grounds. We will stand there like brave soldiers, and face the fate of every other American.’”

Five seconds in Dallas
Probing the fateful seconds that transformed a nation, Hill says he was standing on the running board of the car that was following the presidential limousine when he heard the first shot. The president immediately grabbed his neck and pitched forward, prompting Hill to leap from his position and run towards the car. Within five seconds of the first shot, a second shot erupted—one that Hill never heard because of the motorcycles surrounding him as he ran. Then came the third, fatal shot. In an instant, Mrs. Kennedy turned and mounted the car, desperately attempting to retrieve pieces of the president’s shattered head.  In that same instant, Hill mounted from the rear, nearly losing his balance as the car accelerated. He then pushed Mrs. Kennedy back into her seat and jumped in after her, covering her and the president’s slumped body with his own. Only then did he realize that Governor Connally, seated up front with his wife, had suffered a nonfatal wound. He knew immediately that the president was dead. As the car sped towards Parkland Hospital, Mrs. Kennedy cried, “Oh Jack, Jack, what have they done to you?”

Descent And Catharsis
Hill spent one more year in charge of Mrs. Kennedy’s protection, following her and the children on their move to New York City, during which time they never discussed the assassination. He demurs from talking about her subsequent years, about how she married Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, a man Hill “never liked.” President Kennedy had issued Hill strict orders to keep his wife away from Onassis, a renowned womanizer, during their 1961 trip to Greece. Hill surmises that the marriage to Onassis was motivated by her heightened need for security in the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The last time Hill ever saw her was at Bobby’s funeral.

Following his time with Mrs. Kennedy, Hill returned to Washington, providing protection for three more presidents over the course of 11 years. During much of that time, he served on the front lines of firestorms ignited over civil rights and Vietnam. But despite the semblance of holding it all together, even earning a promotion to assistant director of the Secret Service, Hill was slowly unraveling on the inside. In 1975, as his troubles bubbled to the surface, his doctors deemed him unfit for the job, sending him into early retirement. Later that year, during a widely watched interview on “60 Minutes,” the embattled 43-year-old broke down before the cameras. Asked by Mike Wallace to recount details of the president’s assassination, Hill trembled and choked back tears while uttering his tortured conviction that he had failed that day.

Then came the former agent’s retreat into his “personal dungeon”—the basement of his Alexandria home, where he spent seven years drinking, smoking and growing increasingly estranged from his family. His marriage began to fall apart. He emerged in 1982, reaching out to his sons and giving up cigarettes and alcohol in order to avert what his doctor warned was an imminent death.

In 1990, Hill reached a major milestone in his journey towards healing when he returned to Dallas for the first time. As he traversed Dealey Plaza and the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, he made peace with the fact he had done the best he could to protect the president.

In recent years, Hill has found catharsis in his writing projects and speaking tours. He divides his time between Alexandria and San Francisco, home to McCubbin, with whom he is collaborating on a third book. Besides a compelling narrative about a day still shrouded in mystery and sadness, Hill shares his perspectives on the Kennedy years.

He has repeatedly backed the Warren Commission’s report of a lone gunman, decrying the multitude of conspiracy theories that have emerged over the years as “delusional.” He points out that most assassins share a similar profile: disaffected “loser” types who believe a spectacular act of violence will make them important. In a similar vein, Hill dismisses widely accepted notions about JFK’s alleged extramarital affairs with Marilyn Monroe and other women, maintaining all he ever saw was a president devoted to his wife and family.

Hill’s story begs questions: Did he love Jacqueline Kennedy? He’s been asked before. He denies it, but not vehemently. Was his time in the Kennedy White House worth the personal sacrifices? It was all worth it, he reflects. The only thing he regrets about his career as a Secret Service agent is that President Kennedy died that day.

Clint Hill’s anguish over the president’s fate, like his undying devotion to Jacqueline Kennedy, casts irony on the first lady’s teasing remark: “Doesn’t anything ever impress you, Mr. Hill?”

(September 2014)

Walter White lives happily ever after: Our 5 predictions for shows everyone else has already watched

Posted by Editorial / Friday, September 12th, 2014

Breaking Bad

Photo courtesy of Helga Esteb/

By Carten Cordell

TV has entered a new Golden Age, and with the wealth of quality shows and great characters, it may be tough to watch them all.

Some of us at Northern Virginia Magazine are just getting around to watching the most popular, binge-worthy shows of late and wanted to share our aspirations for the characters moving forward. All we ask is please, don’t spoil it for us.


Breaking Bad

“It would be nice if Walt could find a meth distributor he could work with long-term. #Tuco4Life”— Carten Cordell, Online Editor


Dawson’s Creek

“I really want Joey and Pacey to get back together.” — Stefanie Gans, Dining Editor



“Is that guy still a terrorist or is he a good guy now?”— Angela Bobo, Fashion & Beauty Writer


Game of Thrones

“Don’t worry guys, I think Jon Snow is going to make it through this.”— Carten Cordell, Online Editor (Hasn’t read the books)


Orange is the New Black

“I get a weird vibe from the one with the eyes.” — Christina Marino, Marketing Specialist


Cougar sighting in Alexandria; Arlington Yoga 9/11 tweet gets backlash

Posted by Editorial / Friday, September 12th, 2014

By Michael Balderston

President Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS faces potential obstacles from Congress.

Olympian Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide.
(The Washington Post)

Locals report possible cougar sighting around Alexandria.

Arlington Yoga studio receives backlash after promoting 9/11 sale.

F-18 jets crash into each other over Pacific Ocean, search on for missing pilot.

Transforming Arlington

Posted by Editorial / Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board.

Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board. Photo by Erick Gibson.

Arlington planners focused on smart growth and innovation decades ago. Now their plans are paying off, as Arlington attracts new business, new industry and new investment, and gains a national reputation as a place to live, work and play. —Allyson Jacob

The views are similar: planes at Reagan National Airport take off and land with regular rhythm. The Capitol dome and the Washington Monument dominate the skyline. Bikes, buses and cars fill streets lined with up-and-coming restaurants and retail shops. Though they reside in separate corridors—Arlington Economic Development (AED) in the Clarendon Boulevard Court House building and the new offices of Disruption Corporation on Crystal Drive—they represent a vision and a plan for the county.

For a decade or so, Arlington has been considered a great place to live, work and play. American urban studies theorist Richard Florida, writing in Atlantic Cities in 2012 as a follow-up to his 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” named Arlington the most creative class county in the United States, second only to Los Alamos, New Mexico. Florida, a former professor of public policy at George Mason University, currently directs the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, is a global research professor at New York University and is the founder of the Creative Class Group.

Popular opinion on Florida’s theories might be cooling, but his research into economic development, and into which elements make a successful urban environment, have consistently pointed to Arlington as a model of what it takes to attract and retain a creative core of residents that support and grow an economy. Arlington has the highest density of 25 to 34 year-olds in the country. All that talent has brought new businesses, startups and venture firms to the area.

Twenty years ago, Arlington was a government town; Rosslyn to Ballston was an “old, deteriorating corridor,” according to Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board. Now it’s a destination for cutting-edge industry and venture capital firms.

Fisette is in his fifth term as chairman of the board, and for nearly 17 years, he’s been working to ensure that Arlington is a center for smart growth—a term originating from the Environmental Protection Agency that involves mixed land use, a variety of transportation and housing choices, walkable neighborhoods and encouraging the community to collaborate in decision. The result is a county is labeled “innovative” as well as smart.

“Arlington County was an innovative organization before I got here, in the context of planning land use,” Fisette says. “Smart growth (means) not doing it the cheapest, fastest way, (but being) strategic.”

Innovative initiatives abound in Arlington County: a community energy plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050, and a 10-year capital infrastructure plan that includes broadband fiber initiative for public facilities and schools—which now includes leasing broadband lines to the private sector— are just a few. “(You need) courage, creativity and planning,” says Fisette. “Local governments that are good are thinking long term, thinking outside the box, beyond the next profit and loss statement or election.”

A recent example: TandemNSI. The company is a public–private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia, AED and a private venture capital firm, Amplifier Ventures, founded and managed by Jonathan Aberman. TandemNSI launched in February 2014 to “better connect federal research and development labs with a highly curated community of innovators in cyber, data analytics, additive manufacturing [3D printing], robotics and geospatial engineering,” according to Jennifer Ives, former director of innovation and strategic partnerships and current advisor to the company.

TandemNSI helps private companies take advantage of declassified technology to build solutions for national security. “When tech is declassified, the private sector can commercialize,” Ives explains. “The Commonwealth is involved because [declassifying and commercializing tech] helps grow and create a larger job market. How do you leverage the technology? Create new businesses around it.”

Aberman founded TandemNSI out of the Ballston Innovation Initiative, a similar and successful program he funded and piloted in 2013. When he and Ives were looking for a physical location for TandemNSI, Arlington was a natural fit, says Ives. “Arlington has three [national security] agencies—Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)—clustered within two blocks of one another. Arlington is the ‘bullseye.’”

More companies are making bets on Arlington and taking advantage of the smart growth and innovation that Fisette and his predecessors have worked to obtain. Ashburn-native Paul Singh has divided his time between Silicon Valley and the district for most of his adult life, starting, selling and investing in companies. His most recent creation is Disruption Corporation, a research company for the private investment market. One arm of Disruption is the Crystal Tech Fund (CTF), a $50 million venture fund for entrepreneurs that are between seed and Series A funding rounds.

“I went to Bishop O’Connell and Fairfax High School and my memories [of Arlington] are clouded,” Singh laughs. “We would go to Court House or Clarendon and get hammered. Arlington was suits and defense—corporate. That’s what the industry was. Now, tech is the future.”

Companies in the CTF portfolio (six as of press time) can opt to work out of Disruption’s offices if they choose; Singh’s perch on the 10th floor is spacious with room to expand. Part of the reason Singh bet $50 million on Arlington is a local ace in the hole: commercial real estate giant Vornado owns 26 buildings in Crystal City, and Singh likes the idea of working with a single entity.

“Vornado is one of the largest real estate companies in the country,” Singh says. “[I can call and say] ‘Danny Boice from Speek [a CTF company] wants to live close to work.’ One landlord can roll out the red carpet.” But it’s more than convenience. Vornado has invested $10 million in the CTF. (Singh is quick to mention that Vorndao didn’t get special terms.) “They want to build a city. I need to build a city where the importance of tech is outlined. What we do here will vastly influence all the other [industrial] sectors,” he says.

“Tech isn’t a bunch of kids in a corner watching porn,” Singh adds. “It’s entering the mainstream. We’ve never done a good job explaining why tech is important.” With Disruption, Singh plans to change that.

When asked where he will be in five years, Singh’s response echoes the goals stated by Aberman and Ives: “Push[ing] circles of venture capital, high-growth companies and economic development together.” In Arlington.


Arlington County By the Numbers

25.8 square miles

215,000 (Jan 2014 est.)

Pop. Density:
8,332 per square mile

71.3 percent of adults in Arlington have Bachelor’s degree
or higher

(September 2014)

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