A look inside Arlington’s community: bicycles, gardens, and business as usual

Arlington is not what it appears to be at first glance. On the  outside, it’s a city of sprawling strip malls with large roadways  connecting cars to the larger DFW metroplex. On the inside, it’s a city  of beautiful and well-established neighborhoods, friendly local  businesses, and a diverse and growing activist community.

Arlington is infamously known as the largest city in the U.S. without  public transportation, making personal vehicle transportation nearly  inevitable. UT Arlington reached a record enrollment of almost 33,000 students this year, defining Arlington a college town in principle but not in practice. Almost 35% of its population is under the age of 25, yet it’s  quintessentially a commuter city with a large proportion of the  University population opting to live in neighboring cities. However, a  growing number of concerned citizens, community activists, business  owners and students are working hard to change Arlington from the inside  out.

Bike Friendly Arlington (BFA) is a group of cyclists organized to promote bicycle and  pedestrian infrastructure within the city. The group is composed of  people from a diverse background, including UTA students and local business employees. The group is modeled after Bike  Friendly groups started in Oak Cliff, Denton, Fort Worth, Dallas, and  Bedford, and others sprouting up all over  the metroplex. So far, BFA has been successful in supporting the Bike & Hike Master Plan and the Thoroughfare Development Plan, which will function over a 30 year time scale to delineate  bike lanes and implement and/or refurbish sidewalks along some of  Arlington’s lesser-congested roadways.

BFA has also been successful in incorporating businesses into the cause. Downtown Arlington establishments, such as Maverick’s Bar on Main Street, have served as meet-up spots for the group. Potager Café and Health & Harmony House have hung BFA signs at  their establishments and even offered a discount to bikers to show their support. These establishments, among  others, have seen their weekend business triple because  of the popular bicycle “pub rolls”, which have attracted over 35 riders,  including cyclists from Fort Worth and Dallas. The group, which has  grown since its creation a year ago, will convene to show their support  for the Bike & Hike Master Plan at the City Council Hearing on March 22, 2011, and are expecting a record number of supporters.

Arlington’s citizens and UTA students are also organizing around gardens and the Downtown Arlington Farmer’s Market.  Chowgene Koay, the President of the UTA Environmental Society, has been  volunteering at the Farmer’s Market introducing interested passers-by in  his personally engineered aquaponics systems, which he builds at no  charge from re-purposed materials. His dedication to the Environmental Society,  which is rooted in his vision of an ideal community, is indispensable to Arlington’s growth as a sustainable city. He has brought students,  residents, and business owners together by freely discussing his  passions and ideas about permaculture design, aquaponics, and community  sustainability and has found that many people excitedly share his  vision. The Environmental Society has held garden installation potlucks  and has been working to propose a Green Fund initiative to the Student Council in order to fund student-led projects in sustainability.

Another initiative that has gotten a lot of positive attention is the establishment of the City of Arlington community garden, which will be built by Parks and Recreation officials and University volunteers this Thursday, March 3rd through Saturday, March 5th.  Many of the same people involved in the bicycle movement and in UTA’s  Environmental Society will be lending a hand. The community garden will  serve as yet another place for Arlington’s citizens to come together  with ideas for a brighter future. Arlington is not exactly what it  appears to be at first glance. The city has a lot of heart on the inside  and its citizens are working hard everyday to show its true self to the world  outside.

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