Northern Virginia - The good, the bad, and the ugly! (An opinion thread) (Arlington: appointed, for sale)
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Moderator cut: Refers to another thread that was merged
I thought I'd post my own opinions/observations on life in Fairfax County from the perspective of someone who moved here 16 months ago from the Northeast.
There's no way to avoid the fact that with roughly 1.1 MILLION people living here with more arriving daily that many of us are starting to feel increasingly like we are "rats in a cage" as we find ourselves trapped in incessant traffic jams on roads choked with what are now officially the nation's worst drivers. However, the typical Fairfax County resident would be opposed to higher taxes imposed upon himself/herself to fund better mass transit options to help alleviate this congestion, and they'd also oppose any efforts to build vertically to house more people on less of a land footprint nearer to transit because they don't want to sacrifice the "suburban feel" of the area by having to look at high-rises (cough...Restonians...cough). In essence, most Fairfax County residents whom I've met want to "have their cake" and "eat it too." They want solutions to our gridlock without having to pay for those solutions or make any drastic lifestyle changes to accommodate the implementation of those solutions (as evidenced by yet another one of the infamous Reston NIMBYs recently who wrote a letter to Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post claiming the Silver Line of the Metrorail wouldn't be worth the construction-related congestion that might impact Reston).
Are people here cold, sterile, and rude? I used to think this way. Now? I strongly disagree. The frenetic pace of life here, the high cost-of-living, and constantly feeling like you're competing, even in intimate social circles, has created a citizenry here in Fairfax County that is so stressed to the hilt that most simply don't greet strangers or hold doors because their mind is in a different place half the time---not because they are genuinely horrible people. In my native Scranton, PA perhaps 90% of people whom I'd pass on the sidewalk or on a trail during my runs would return a smile and a pleasantry. In Fairfax County, VA that drops to perhaps 50%. Does that mean that the 40% differential makes Scranton that much "friendlier" than, per se, Springfield? No. It means that 40% accounts for those who are so distracted, stressed, or frustrated that they may genuinely just be so "lost" mentally that they don't even realize you've acknowledged them to begin with.
My biggest personal complaint will likely be that there is not enough in Fairfax County to justify the exorbitant cost-of-living for single young professionals. Couples? With dual incomes you can afford a 1-bedroom apartment very comfortably and live a nice lifestyle here. Families? You have excellent schools for your children. Someone like me? (Crickets chirping). This is why now whenever friends of mine from PA consider moving here I advise them to move as near to the city as possible and to get a roommate---period. I earn what would be considered a respectable salary in most parts of this great nation of ours. Here? I have $25 to my name until Friday and am nerve-wracked hoping my half-tank of gas lasts me until then. I really wouldn't mind suffering like this financially if Fairfax County had something to offer to someone like me. Sadly, it doesn't. We just get a lengthy drive to a Metrorail station followed by a long train ride to the "action." In most major metropolitan areas rents will decrease considerably the greater distance you get away from the core city. Here? Rents decline negligibly, and in places like Reston there's barely a "bargain" to be found at all, despite our far-flung locale.
I will always cringe whenever I hear someone else say there are moving here just for the sake of a job. That's foolish. As someone who graduated college at the height of the recession I jumped at a job opportunity here, fearing I would end up working in retail in my hometown otherwise (much to my chagrin I am now looking to work a second retail job to supplement my primary income). I knew in advance that Fairfax County, which is the poster child of American's worst urban sprawl, was the opposite of where I wanted to live (a walkable, transit-friendly, historic, sustainable area with a true "neighborhood" orientation), but I told myself that the career potential I had gained would be too good to pass up. I work in a high-rise in Tysons Corner that overlooks a porn shop, a fast-food restaurant, an ugly strip mall, and construction. I live in a low-income part of Reston that is nearly an hour's walk from anything worthwhile. Needless to say my car gets a lot of use, and as someone who would rather NOT own a car I hate this. Please, folks, if you're moving here for a job and know in advance you don't like living in suburbia then don't make the same mistake I made. Turn down the job (unless it is lucrative enough for you to afford the city).
Overall I know I won't be living in Fairfax County permanently. Winchester continues to tug at my coattails, as I could picture myself having neighbors like South Jersey Styx over for a crazy disco dance party after a nice dinner at a mom-and-pop restaurant on the downtown pedestrian mall. I also consider the fact that I could earn the same salary in metropolitan areas like Pittsburgh or Baltimore and live in the city proper (with cash to burn). NoVA is quickly approaching NYC's cost-of-living, but I have yet to meet anyone who would claim we'd match NYC in terms of quality-of-life or "bang-for-your-buck."
What are others' opinions on Fairfax County? Obviously judging by [earlier comments] a lot of people feel very strongly. I'm just curious to hear your own perspectives.
Last edited by bmwguydc; 09-14-2010 at 08:03 PM..
Reason: Removed orphaned comment when merged
It's an overrated dump with rude, selfish people I'm glad I don't live next to anymore. Plain and simple.
Maybe I'm getting sucked into this black hole of sorts, Alan, but I don't "hate" NoVA the way I once used to. I would still be much happier elsewhere where you could get more bang-for-your-buck with a better quality-of-life for young middle-class singles, but I've finally come to terms with the fact that you and I are in the 2% of all individuals who don't love this place, so I'm saying to myself "If you can't beat 'em, then why not join them?"
Last edited by bmwguydc; 09-14-2010 at 08:06 PM..
Reason: Removed orphaned quote/comment
It's been six years of my life that I'll never get back, living in northern Virginia.
Since living here, my kids have discovered a new appreciation for their parents. My kids have observed what stunts people pull here, and they are much better than I am at handling things. They know what not to become like as adults.
At least the time here has made my family stronger.
When I lived in New York City, I used to hum the line from "New York, New York" - "if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere."
When I moved back to Fairfax County, I noticed that a lot of the office parks and buildings seemed pretty generic. So I came up with a new line "if I could be anywhere, I can make it here." Worked for me.
If other things in your life are going well, it's a fine place to live with plenty of opportunities. If they aren't, there's plenty here to set you on edge.
I don't think I would have been very happy living in Fairfax in my early 20s (and it was a lot less crowded then than it is today). So I didn't - I lived in other states and cities instead and only returned to the burbs when Mrs. Jeb got fed up with city living (as only those who survived the Marion Barry era in DC can fully appreciate).
In my book, it's sad that there are so many people here now who really are only here now for jobs, and spend a lot of time obsessing over how they could have a better life somewhere else and assuming they could earn a similar or only slightly lower salary in the other location. Unfortunately, Fairfax happens to be the place where some have to come to terms with the fact that those ideal job/residence combinations don't always exist these days. Reality does bite sometimes, but you should try and make the best of it.
I suppose I've just matured to the point of feeling indifferent towards Fairfax County. I just shrug my shoulders now. I'm not going to fault people for loving this place that I don't personally love any longer. Had I moved here at a different stage in my life (mature enough in my career to not have to skip meals, not single, adopted children, etc.) then I'm sure I'd have a different outlook here.
My problem I think is that I'm a 40-year-old trapped within the body of a 23-year-old. I'm so drawn to Winchester in particular because I dream of getting to know good 'ole Mrs. Clarendon next-door well enough to surprise her by repainting her peeling cellar doors while she's at church or to invite a few couples over some wintry evening to listen to Jimmy Buffet songs, sip sangria, and relax in my hot tub, in defiance of the snow around us. I'd like to run for city council in a place like Winchester and get to know the needs and concerns of my fellow neighbors.
I grew up in a very strict household with very strong Christian moral and ethical values, and moving to an area where many people I've met would throw their own kin in front of a bus for a job promotion has been hard for me to endure. In my own particular circumstances earlier this year I faced a great deal of collusion that ended up nearly costing me my life from the resulting depression. That soured me, permanently, on Fairfax County. Life doesn't have to be "every man for himself", "only the strong survive", "eat or be eaten", etc. Life can be just as I described. I just wish I could find a place like that here in Fairfax County, but I'm so busy stuck in traffic and working at a stressful job that doesn't pay my bills that I can't discover where it is. I walk through the neighborhoods of Winchester near the hospital and feel moved inside. I can't say the same for many places here.
Don't let anyone talk you out of moving to Arlington, and make sure you're near the Metro. Arlington can have it's own version of the exburbs if you aren't careful. It will be one of the best moves of your life.
Edit: not if you want to get away from the fast pace. I'm just saying that if you want to meet single people and go to bars, enjoy the lifestyle that young people do. My time in Arlington and DC would be hard to trade.
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