What will Fairfax County look like in 10 or even 20 years?
That is one of the prompt questions that Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services regional services and center operations division director Lloyd Tucker issued to the dozens of people who gathered at the Reston Community Center on Mar. 4 for a 90-minute discussion of their hopes and concerns for the county’s future.
Responses ranged from broad areas that individuals believe should be prioritized, such as public transportation and affordable housing, to specific requests, like the addition of sidewalks and bicycle lanes along Lawyers and Hunter Mill Roads.
When asked to formulate future news headlines that they would like to see, League of Women Voters of Fairfax executive director Beth Tudan envisioned Fairfax County Public Schools closing achievement gaps that separate students by factors like race and economic status.
Vienna resident Michael Liggett imagined a time when Fairfax County draws a 90 percent voter turnout, while his son, a sophomore at South Lakes High School, hoped to see declines in drug use, suicide, and depression rates.
While the discussion occasionally took on an aspirational tone, its contents could have a very real impact on the direction that Fairfax County takes going forward.
In addition to hosting five community conversations like Monday’s meeting in Reston, Fairfax County has publicized an online survey and is conducting other forms of outreach to involve the public in its development of a countywide strategic plan that will shape the county government’s goals and priorities for the foreseeable future.
“It’s to really create a sense of focus or hearing from the community where they think we should apply our resources, apply our efforts to really make a big difference in the community,” Fairfax County Strategic Plan project manager James Patteson said. “What does the community see as the biggest opportunities, challenges, and the desired outcomes they want?”
Fairfax County regularly develops plans and visions that outline how it wants to approach issues like economic success and housing, but this is the first time that the county has attempted a strategic planning process with such an all-encompassing perspective, according to Patteson, who recently retired as the county’s Department of Public Works director.
Along with defining the county’s priorities for 2020 and beyond, the strategic plan will integrate existing plans and initiatives, including the recently adopted One Fairfax equity policy, the Environmental Vision, and strategic plans for individual departments, in order to better align and coordinate the county’s efforts.
After launching the strategic planning process in November with the development of a work plan and approach to engagement, Fairfax County is currently in the initial public input phase of the strategic planning process, which is guided by a 14-person communications and engagement committee as well as a steering committee that counts County Executive Bryan Hill and FCPS representatives among its members.
The county has been soliciting feedback with a survey that has been online since January and has so far received 13,000 responses, according to Patteson.
Posted on the Fairfax County government website, the survey is available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean. Patteson says the county has received at least some responses in all of the offered languages.
The Reston community conversation was the third of five planned meetings. The fourth took place at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church on Wednesday, and a final one is scheduled to take place on Mar. 14 at the Ox Hill Baptist Church in Chantilly.
About 60 people have attended each of the community conversations, Patteson says.
The county has visited housing complexes, community centers, neighborhood resource centers, and other locations for more targeted public outreach to connect with populations that may be less likely to participate in civic discussions.
“One of our goals is to reach some groups that don’t always engage with us,” Patteson said. “…So, are we hearing from the different minority communities? Are we hearing from the young people? Are we hearing from older folks? We really want to make sure we reach out and pull in that diversity of perspectives in the effort.”
After this community engagement phase concludes later this month, the county will develop an initial draft with seven to 10 priority areas and three to five key performance indicators for each priority area.
The strategic plan steering committee will meet with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Mar. 26 to discuss the draft priorities.
While Patteson declined to comment in detail on what the county has heard so far before sharing the draft with the board, he says the general feedback that he has received in terms of the public engagement process has been largely positive.
“People have really gone out of their way to come up and talk to me or others and say they really enjoyed being part of the conversation,” Patteson said. “They really enjoy the fact that we’re reaching out, making this community-centric.”
According to a project timeline on the strategic plan website, the county will establish staff strategy teams for each priority area in April, and community engagement expected to resume that month going into July.
The county hopes to finish developing the strategic plan by December with adoption proposed for early 2020, when the county will have a newly elected board of supervisors.
“We’re glad that folks are coming out and sharing their ideas,” Tucker said. “We look forward to them participating throughout this whole process through the year.”