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.