In May, it was officially announced that former Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol would serve as the first permanent CEO of the Tysons Community Alliance (TCA).
On her second day as CEO, Cristol sat down for an interview with TCA’s Content Specialist Julia Parker.
Katie’s Journey to CEO
Although she was born in Georgia, Cristol considers herself, more or less, a DC native.
“I grew up in the region,” said Cristol. “When I was eight years old, my family and I moved from Atlanta, GA to Montgomery County, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Tysons.”
Attracted to the Commonwealth, Cristol decided to attend the University of Virginia where she received her undergraduate degree in Political and Social Thought. And after receiving her master’s in Public Affairs at Princeton University, she decided to settle in Arlington to begin her work in education policy.
In 2015, Cristol ran for the Arlington County Board and won. “There were six men running for the Board that year. No women,” said Cristol. “And as I often joke, I thought at the time, ‘Well, I’m going to enter this race and talk about the issues I care about, such as childcare affordability and community response to sexual assault – so that whichever of these men win, they’ll have to remember those issues.’”
After winning the county board race in 2015, Cristol also served as board chair from 2018 to 2022.
“It’s been a pretty amazing eight years in Arlington getting to work on the exact issues that made me run in the first place,” said Cristol. “It is also where I fell in love with the interconnected issues of housing, economic development and transportation. I had the joy of getting to really know the regional landscape, particularly through transportation. There are no islands in this region. We are all so interconnected.”
Stepping Into the Role and Shaping TCA’s Mission
“One of the things that’s so exciting to me about coming into this role is the opportunity to build this organization,” said Cristol. “And thinking about how this organization can model what we’re trying to achieve in the Tysons community.”
Cristol’s delight in joining the TCA can also be credited to her involvement in the working group that helped create our organization.
“I was able to support, in a facilitation role, the working group that built the blueprint for the TCA. Starting back then, and even more so now, you can see a real willingness from both sectors to truly work together to maximize each other’s assets. Tysons itself has such a diverse and talented resident and employee base. And so, as an organization that serves the community, it’s important to reflect some of the same dynamism of the people who live and work here.”
Prioritizing equity in Tysons has long been on Cristol’s radar.
“One of the core principles that we sought to thread throughout our work is the idea of equity. When we were building TCA’s blueprint, we used Fairfax County’s framework of equity questions to help guide us. We asked, ‘who are these actions going to benefit or burden?’, ‘how will we know impacts?’, and ‘which communities have been, or will be, engaged?’”
Vision for the Future of Tysons
As the new CEO, Cristol is already committed to learning more about how people get around in Tysons, particularly their transportation choices.
“To me, transportation is such a key focus area and there’s a lot to be done in terms of figuring out the right relationship with Fairfax County,” said Cristol. “How can we make sure that TCA leverages and complements the County’s efforts without duplicating what they’re doing? Walkability is the biggest challenge and opportunity for Tysons. So that means we have to be laser focused on it. And I think we get there through relationship building and really pursuing the shared vision for mobility in the Comprehensive Plan for Tysons.”
Tysons continues to attract some of the largest corporations in the country. It is also home to a plethora of small businesses that play an integral part of the local economy and community.
“Here in Tysons, we have a chance to work on making sure that we aren’t displacing the small businesses that make this place special, too. Truly understanding the small business perspective is a way to get a window into the incredibly diverse tapestry that is Tysons.”
“One of the things I look forward to coming out of TCA’s placemaking work is how we, as an organization, can help uplift the amazing cultures that are here,” said Cristol. “Whether it’s the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Festival or Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebration, we all, as humans, celebrate with food, arts and expression. That’s what culture is. So, how do we make that an important part of our placemaking strategy?”
When asked to describe Tysons in one word, Cristol responded, “dynamic.”
“This may sound like a cliché, but the word means motion and continuous activity. When I think about what we’re trying to build or see more of in Tysons, it’s the opportunity that happens when people who are working in a small startup meet the right person at a major employer at a TCA happy hour. Or when an artist is able to attend a food festival of a culture that’s totally unlike theirs, and that sparks a fascinating new artistic idea. So, I would say Tysons is a dynamic place where serendipitous collisions can occur, or at least that’s what the TCA’s goal is.”
Join us in welcoming Tysons’ newest champion to the team! To stay up to date on the catalytic work TCA is undertaking, subscribe to our newsletter here or follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and LinkedIn at @TysonsCommunityAlliance, or on Instagram and Twitter at @tysons_va.