The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Bailey's Crossroads—the Culture Pit
By Brainy Bird
Sprawl is not conducive to creativity, and the less-than-charming Bailey's Crossroads of Fairfax County, Virginia only illustrates that point. Bailey's sits like a beached, morbidly obese whale on a sandbar. It is unsightly and unmoving, at least in terms of intellectual and community productivity. Looking for a town square? A proverbial commons where neighbors can exchange news and ideas? Try the Best Buy or Ross Dress for Less. That mess of urban planning at Leesburg Pike and Columbia Pike is meant for retail therapy and bumper-to-bumper traffic, not cultural exchange. This is certainly not the fault of the people who live there, but the fault of developers and the government officials who let Big Business have its way for decades.
Bailey's Crossroads marks the junction of Alexandria and Annandale, Virginia—suburbs of Washington, D.C. The areat is named after the family of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame because they once owned the land there. Perhaps one of the more diplomatic descriptions of the area is CaliTerp07's on a City-Data.com forum: “eclectic,” “a mix of older housing, tear down/rebuilds, high rise condos/apartments and businesses.” Bailey's Crossroads as we know it today mushroomed without anyone planning and enforcing a true vision. It is a patchwork of incongruous architectural styles and run-down but bustling shopping centers.
The population is largely immigrant (especially Latin American) and about 13% of residents live below the poverty line. There is no Metrorail and many residents rely upon buses for transportation. Violence, especially by the hands of gangs like MS-13, is relatively high. In 2011, only 23.5% of Bailey's Crossroads residents had obtained a Bachelor's degree in a county where over half of all adults have a four-year college degree. With a per capita income of $24,091 and a median household income of $51,650, Bailey's Crossroads is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.
According to an infographic by Washington City Paper, these statistics make Bailey's Crossroads economically comparable to Brentwood, the neighborhood surrounding Northeast Washington, D.C.'s Rhode Island Avenue stop on the Red line. Unlike Brentwood, Bailey's does not suffer from urban blight. It suffers from the opposite problem: overdevelopment.
Virtually all businesses in Bailey's are mid-level and discount franchises and chains. The Bailey's Crossroads Revitalization Corporation, a non-profit, runs the Bailey's Beautification Alliance because, quite frankly, the neighborhood is not a pretty place. For one, it is overcrowded. Bailey's Elementary School, for instance, is 30% over capacity. Walk along Route 7 toward Seven Corners in the City of Falls Church and you will quickly discover that no sidewalk exists for a large portion of your journey. At some point, you'll run the risk of death because there are so many enraged drivers. You are much better off driving—not that the massive traffic congestion will make driving a pleasant experience. For your own sanity, you might prefer to take the bus, but beware. The area's buses are unreliable because the roads are so congested. Your for the bus wait will be no fun, either. Many of the bus stops feature broken benches housed by cracked shelters.
Leesburg Pike may have begun as a buffalo trail, yet there's nothing pastoral about the area now. A scant number of trees color the landscape. Fairfax County has a moral responsibility to tear down vacant buildings and shrink parking lots to accommodate green and non-commercial spaces. As one of the richest counties in America, Fairfax could also afford to kick out some of the more obtrusive big box retailers. Put up a theatre, a gallery, a sculpture park, something—anything—that gives people joy and an outlet for creative expression, especially for a population that is poor and quite possibly missing their home countries. Why not a performing arts center for concerts and dance halls? What about regular community festivals? And while they're at it, Fairfax might devise a way to better integrate housing with retail for a more seamless look. Doing so will not only improve the neighborhood's appearance, but also make jobs more accessible to people living in Bailey's. Nobody can complain about a shorter commute.
This is the time to construct a vision for Bailey's–not a new one, but the first there ever really was.