Approximately 15 years after the idea was first floated and six years after efforts began in earnest, Arlington County Board members on July 20 approved the final procedural step before formal opening of the John Robinson Jr. Town Square in the Green Valley neighborhood of South Arlington.
“How long, long overdue it is,” said County Board member Takis Karantonis, who joined his four board colleagues in approving the use permit for the park, which is expected to formally open in September.
That last step was not without some hiccups, as the Green Valley Civic Association raised several concerns, including the times of operation and whether those wishing to offer pop-up classes and other programs would need county-government permission before doing so.
Many of those specifics remain a work in progress, to be ironed out once the facility becomes open to the public.
“I’m hoping it really will be a valuable asset,” County Board member Libby Garvey said.
That, too, was the hope of Kimberly Roberts, a native of what during Virginia’s segregation era had been one of the few communities in Arlington where African-Americans could live.
The site, Roberts said, would hopefully serve as “an active, safe space we can all be proud of.”
“This area needs to be looked at differently than just another park or open space,” she told County Board members. “We need to ensure newcomers in the county, and those who have been here for decades, like me, continue to feel welcomed and embraced.”
The parcel on which the town square is located long has been an ad-hoc gathering space for some in the Green Valley community. In 2006, the process to develop it into a more formal park space began, though it wasn’t until 2015 that the formal development effort began. That project was slowed by COVID, but is now in the home stretch.
The town square is located where 24th Street South, South Kenmore Street and South Shirlington Road come together, and is named in honor of John Robinson Jr., who died in 2010 at 75 and long was involved in the Green Valley (previously known as Nauck) community.
As head of the Martin Luther King Community Center and publisher of the Green Valley News, Robinson was a fixture in the community during turbulent times.
A mural of Robinson by artist Romeo Taylor now can be found close to the town-square construction site, next to one of another community stalwart, Leonard “Doc” Muse, longtime proprietor of the Green Valley Pharmacy.
Much of the funding for the town-square project, which included acquisition of a nearby parcel to fill out the site, came from a park-bond referendum approved by county voters. Now, the effort is almost complete.
“It has the potential to transform the neighborhood in a very positive way,” Roberts said.