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Bikes, Buildings and Broccoli: Integrating Arlington County's Smart Growth and Fresh AIRE Principles into Who We Are and All We Do

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Bikes, Buildings and Broccoli: Integrating Arlington County's Smart Growth and Fresh AIRE Principles into Who We Are and All We Do

Arlington Public Library, Va.

Health & Wellness | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

Arlington County (VA), 2002 EPA National Award Winner for Smart Growth Achievement, "has consistently been viewed as a model for…land-use and sustainability...(AIA, 2012).” Arlington Library has intentionally positioned itself as prototype and promoter of Arlington's green principles, through programming, art, gardens, bikes, LEED certification, energy upgrades, collections, classes and partnerships.


Smart Growth, Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions), and Green Buildings have been hallmarks of Arlington County’s development over many years. An Urban Agriculture Initiative is being added in 2012. Yet the environmental principles that form the basis of Arlington’s sustainability platform can seem abstract to the local citizen. The public library, as a both a department of local government and a community hub for education and connection, is uniquely positioned to demystify government mandates and translate them into what is familiar and achievable. By both espousing and applying green principles in a highly visible public space, the library can play a transformative role in raising civic awareness through innovative and strategic community partnerships; nontraditional programming; and modeling of practical applications of new initiatives. By reaching a diverse clientele of 2000-3000 walk-ins per day, more via its website, the library extends and strengthens the County’s ability to highlight, demonstrate, inspire and celebrate sustainable actions among its residents that enhance the quality of life beyond its geographic borders.

Key Elements of Innovation

Libraries supported the County’s Fresh AIRE Initiative in 2007 with Arlington Reads Green, a community-wide program that highlighted and promoted discussion of five works of nonfiction on the environment. In 2009 the library created a Sustainable Arlington collection of 100 professional-level materials to serve the needs of County staff, planners, developers and citizens regarding sustainability in community planning, urban design, architecture, construction methods, energy, transportation, and community involvement. The library’s most recent goal has been to integrate Smart Growth thinking into everything it does to make local government priorities in all areas of sustainability more accessible, more tangible and ultimately more successful. To that end, everything APL does is an effort to B-E G-R-E-E-N. The library has: Built on past successes to broaden awareness and increase visibility of County sustainability goals. Enhanced and shared collections -- virtual, digital, print -- that serve as a resource for County staff and residents. Grown collaborations with County Departments and community organizations to offer classes, programs and services that teach and demonstrate the application of County principles. Rebranded the community public library as THE PLACE to reach and educate citizens on all issues relating to energy and the environment. Educated through models of sustainable concepts in the facilities and on library grounds, demonstrations and information kiosks of relevant County agencies and community nonprofits. Encouraged environmental awareness of our youngest patrons through storytimes, a Kids Club garden, bike safety classes, and exhibits of school-created rain barrels. Now and into the future.

Achieved Outcomes

Bikes—Arlington is a “Bicycle Friendly Community.” Many APL staff bike to work; staff lead residents on an annual bike tour of seven library branches. The library hosts BikeArlington’s Two Wheel Tuesday sessions on safety, equipment and routes. Children in Kids Club get bicycle safety lessons from Police during Bike Safety Month. Central Library is a CapitalBikeShare site where residents rent bikes from a solar-powered station. Buildings—Central Library cut electricity use by 43% and total energy use by 27% over 10 years. The library circulates electricity monitors. 250 solar panels installed in 2011 on the library’s roof are projected to save $9000 and reduce CO2 emissions by 100,000 pounds annually. An in-library touch-screen kiosk registers energy generated and explains the process. Westover Branch Library received Gold LEED Certification in 2010. The library recycles paper, bottles, cans, eyeglasses, cell phones, CFI light bulbs and holds an annual Recycled Art Show for all ages. Semi-annual Friends Book Sale rebranded as County’s largest and longest-running recycling event. Broccoli—Arlington Library is known for its gardens; Central Library has an organic vegetable garden, with second-year extension; recycling bins planted as container gardens; two square-foot gardens; a rooftop container demo; two native plant and an ivy alternative garden. Biweekly classes are held in the vegetable garden March-October. Harvests go to Arlington Food Assistance Center. Glencarlyn Branch has a Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and Columbia Pike Branch a butterfly garden in 2010 and 2011. Westover Branch is seeking a grant to fund a garden with the public schools’ Parenting Teen Program. Central hosts weekly Master Gardener and Tree Steward clinics. APL won a 2011 Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Award from the Alliance for Innovation and a 2011 Virginia Public Library Directors Association Award for Outstanding Adult Program for its 2010 Arlington Reads program on food sustainability.