Perhaps it is perceived as obligatory more than anything else, but the catch phrase “small town character” became the focus of a bit of a discussion by the Falls Church City Council Monday night when it was discovered as included in a draft vision statement for the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The “Comp Plan,” as City Hall insiders know it, does not have the force of law, but is considered an important document because a lot of input goes into it and it does shape perceptions for future growth and other City policies and priorities.
A developer, for example, can look it over and get a pretty good idea of what kind of project the City’s decision makers would be more likely to support than not. “Comp Plans” are often cited like Biblical citations to reinforce somebody’s plans for new building or park or special use.
So, words tend to matter in these things, and the City Council is due to sign off on recommended updates to the City’s Comp Plan (the first since 2005) in late July after more exposure to City boards and commissions and in at least one forum, to the public in general on June 8.
For whomever came up with the phrase, “small town character,” in the vision statement now being considered, it is worth noting that it is in distinct contrast to the notion that became the City’s official logo and slogan in the last decade or so, “The Little City.” What’s the difference between a “small town” and a “little city?” One is more rural and one more urban, for starters. People who look backward toward the “good old days” prefer the “town” concept, even though, technically under Virginia law, Falls Church is not a “town” (a legal term used for places like Vienna that do not have their own taxing authority) but an “independent city” like Alexandria.
Also, more progressive-minded folk here think an urban “feel” for Falls Church is better than times-past “rural idiocy,” an unkind term coined many years back. Yes, the City is following the mode of a modern urban environment, not the roughshod density of big tall, smoky cities of the last half century, but attendant to slick, convenient, smart and diverse ways.
It seems to us that rather than “small town,” the City should embrace the notions of being uniquely friendly, welcoming and happy. These words appear nowhere in the Comprehensive Plan draft, but probably matter more than “small town,” which is a notion that can be associated with a horrible, gossipy, cruel, back-stabbing place if allowed to trend that way.
Of course, we can claim to be “friendly,” “welcoming” and “happy” only if we actually are, and maybe that’s what we ought to be focusing on, including other notions such as “courtesy,” “helpfulness,” “empathy” and “compassion.”
We’ll have really arrived when there is a consensus to revise our slogan to “The Friendly Little City.”