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Old 02-02-2010, 12:51 AM
128 posts, read 410,850 times
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My husband and I are planning a move to DC Metro this summer (specifically, NoVA; Reston/Herndon/Sterling...Leesburg), but I'm having a panic attack about this decision.

"On paper", this decision makes sense; great public schools, nice weather, cosmopolitan/sophisticated city, lots of jobs, family in the area. Yet, my gut is churning when I think of the cost of housing, lack of charm, traffic, lack of creative people, and the abundance of Type As obsessed with greed and power. I like the "finer" things too, but I do not ascribe to the "live to work" philosophy. We lean towards a more European-style of life, and are liberal (if that matters).

We're ok making the transition from city life (currently in Chicago) to suburban life, but we would hope to find a suburb with some sort of community, charm, or walkable anything.

I've been researching the Philadelphia area, but (again) no where is perfect. The complaints about Philly seem to be CRIME, dirty city, narrow-mindedness/not open to newcomers, and angry depressed people. Geez! Can it be true?! How pervasive is the crime in the suburbs? We lived in New Orleans until Katrina, and would love to go back, but will not due to the crime and the schools. We lived there for many years and it's the kind of place where thinking about your safety is a part of everyday life--even in the good areas. It's the violent crime that is devastating to the city. I don't want that for my future child. I also lived in NYC (Manhattan, Williamsburg & Prospect/Crown Heights, Brooklyn), neither of which ever felt unusually unsafe for a big city. Chicago seems reasonably "safe" for a big city, as well.

What would you all say are the TRUE pros and cons of the Philadelphia and DC suburbs (with a focus on NoVA).

Thank you so much!
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Old 02-02-2010, 06:56 AM
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
14,129 posts, read 31,067,879 times
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Originally Posted by cm143 View Post
the abundance of Type As obsessed with greed and power. I
Had to laugh at that one. Lived here in NoVA 20 years and most folks around here are just regular folks. You'll find your share of culturally sophisticated liberals here too. Besides NoVA, you might want to take a look at Maryland, paritcularly areas like Takoma Park. In NoVA itself Alexandria and neighborhoods like Del Ray could be what you're looking for. I've done a lot of business up in Philly and I think you'll find DC a much more interesting place to live. There's a vibrancy here that you won't find up there. I wouldn't worry too much about crime as the nicer suburbs are relatively safe as they are in most metro areas. Most of the violent crime around here is drug related and generally involves people known to each other. As long as you don't get mixed up with that element you should be fine.
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:00 AM
Location: DC
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I grew up in Philly and have been living in the DC area for about 6 years (4 for college in Fredericksburg, 1 in Alexandria, and 1.5 in DC). That said, my experience with the suburbs is fairly limited, but I can try.

First off, I love both Philly and DC, so it's hard for me to say which one is "better". It's more about personal preference. Philadelphia (and the suburbs) is the type of place where a lot of people are born, live, and die. In other words, people stick around. It's not uncommon to find 3rd or 4th-generation Philadelphians living less than 10-20 miles from where their family first came to the area. Since so many have lived there their whole lives it can sometimes be hard to break into the "circle", but once you do it's my experience that they'll have your back for life. It's also a more blue collar city, and no one has a problem with that. As a result, you'll probably find fewer "Type As obsessed with greed and power". I've always been of the "work to live" mentality, and haven't changed despite moving to DC. As far as "angry depressed" people, I really think that depends on who you're talking to. Philadelphians do tend to be sort of self-deprecating, especially about the city, which may make them seem "depressed". I still find it funny that all my friends in high school who "hated" Philly and "couldn't wait to leave" have never left (by choice). As far as it being dirty, it's a city. It's definitely grittier than DC, but it's my personal opinion that NYC seems dirtier and smells more (maybe because Manhattan is an island). Regarding crime, like a lot of cities there's a good amount of crime, but most of it is confined to certain areas of the city. Areas like Center City, Old City, Chestnut Hill, etc are very safe. As far as cost of housing, it's definitely cheaper than DC. Everything else is about on par, but regarding real estate you can get much more for your money in the Philly area. There are also decent arts communities (you mentioned liking creativity) and interesting little historic areas both in and outside the city. I've noticed a lot of people also compare Philly to a smaller Chicago, though I haven't been so I can't really say if it's an accurate comparison.

In comparison, you have DC. It's much more transitory here, so there's always new people coming and old ones leaving. It's nice, because it can make it easier to meet people, though I've seen complaints that it's hard to make true long-term friendships. Compared to Philly (and considering the NoVa suburbs), the DC area is much more white collar. Just about everyone I know has or is getting a graduate degree of some sort, many from prestigious schools. Considering that in my private high school my parents were seen as the "rich ones" (federal employee and public school teacher), it's different for me that being surrounded by lawyers, consultants, engineers, and lobbyists is the "norm". As for the people, you'll see a lot of complaints that the people around here are rude, arrogant, depressed, or angry. A lot of this I think is just because of the horrible commutes many people deal with. That said, I've met lots of very nice and friendly people, so I don't really agree with this opinion. Finally, regarding crime, like Philly DC has a good amount of crime which is now mostly confined to specific areas of the city. One thing to understand is that DC has changed drastically for the better in the past 10 years or so. In contrast, Philly has remained more or less the same as a whole, but with some neighborhoods getting far better and others deteriorating as those pushed out of the improving neighborhoods move elsewhere (again, probably adding to the "depressed" characteristic, as many people there have long memories). As a result, I've noticed that people in DC tend to be more optimistic about the city than Philly.

I'm sure I forgot things, but this is just my take on the two areas. Regarding suburbs, you've got good choices either way. If you like historic charm, Philly's got places like Yardley, Doylestown, and Jenkintown, which have some walkable areas and older (non-development) homes. The suburbs are pretty safe in both areas, and suburban school districts are also good (in both cases you'll want to stay away from city schools, though Philly schools are a little better than DC). I find both cities to be very interesting and vibrant, with plenty to do.
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:04 AM
Location: Home is where the heart is
15,402 posts, read 28,786,542 times
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Originally Posted by cm143 View Post
What would you all say are the TRUE pros and cons of the Philadelphia and DC suburbs (with a focus on NoVA).
My knowledge of Philly mostly extends to having seen "The Sixth Sense" so I can't offer a comparison. In general, I get the impression that the Philly area is grittier than Virginia, both literally and in personality/way of life. Whether or not that's attractive depends on your personal taste. Some people from PA complain that Nova feels like living in Disneyland.

As far as the things you mentioned specifically:

Crime: Crime is not really an issue in the suburbs near Reston. Here's a thread that tells you more. Reston has a little more crime than the communities in eastern Loudoun (mostly because it's a more urban area). If it helps, I live in eastern Loudoun and feel perfectly safe taking long walks after dark.

what to expect in the bad areas of reston-herndon

Cost of housing: It's expensive here.

Lack of charm: Depends on your personal taste. IMO the Lake Anne area of Reston is extremely charming, in a 1960's artists colony sort of way. But, if "charming" to you means historic you will do better in Philly. Herndon has a very small historic neighborhood (see the picture thread below) but other than that much of Nova near Reston/Herndon is less than 40 years old. Yes, you can find a few historic villages (Waterford, for example) but Waterford is pricey.

These photos might help:
Reston-South Lakes
Reston-Town Center and Lake Anne

Traffic: It's bad here. Try to live 5-7 miles from work, and it won't bother you that much.

Lack of creative people: Actually, Nova has a surprising number of creative people, especially in the Lake Anne area. Not a lot of starving artists, however. Also, not a lot of funky little shops selling crafts (plenty of crafts festivals, however). If you are artistic, you will probably enjoy the many art galleries and smithsonian museums. The best way to meet fellow artists is through a meet-up group.

Abundance of Type As obsessed with greed and power: Only in the movies, LOL. Reality is we have about the same number of people obsessed with greed and power as any other metro area. A lot of people here are very busy, but at the same time sort of relaxed about it. The people I know seem to have plenty of time for book clubs and hiking clubs and gardening--not exactly characteristics of people obsessed with greed and power.

European-style of life: Not completely sure what you mean, but the Nova suburbs are surprisingly international. You are likely to have neighbors from all over the world, including Europe.

Liberal: Plenty of diversity here, which means you'll have neighbors who are very liberal, moderate, and very conservative. The most liberal community near Reston/Herndon would be Reston. The Lake Anne area still has a lot of it's original hippy-dippy roots. Reston also has the most 20-somethings of that area, which tends to make it more liberal. (But, if you really want to be in a 20-something community, look much closer to DC, for example Clarendon.)

Jobs: If you are choosing between Philly and DC, I wonder if you are planning to move here and then find a job. If so, choose Philly. Yes, we have a lot of jobs here, but they tend to be the sort of jobs that require a long interview process. You can be out of work a long time before a job actually starts, so only move here if you have a firm job offer in hand.

Last edited by normie; 02-02-2010 at 08:19 AM..
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:16 AM
Location: Home is where the heart is
15,402 posts, read 28,786,542 times
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Originally Posted by CAVA1990 View Post
Had to laugh at that one. Lived here in NoVA 20 years and most folks around here are just regular folks.
LOL, so true. I mean, look how many people feel relaxed enough to sit around typing long posts for city-data! We take time to be helpful to folks moving here--to me that refutes the picture of an entire population where everyone is obessed with greed and power.
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Old 02-02-2010, 11:41 AM
Location: Virginia
18,717 posts, read 30,903,958 times
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Originally Posted by normie View Post
LOL, so true. I mean, look how many people feel relaxed enough to sit around typing long posts for city-data! We take time to be helpful to folks moving here--to me that refutes the picture of an entire population where everyone is obessed with greed and power.
LOL, what a good point! If we were really greedy, we'd say "Sure, we can give you advice. But send me a DM first because it's gonna cost you!"
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Old 02-02-2010, 01:27 PM
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Ooh... finally a question where I feel like the expert! I grew up in the Philly suburbs and currently live in the DC suburbs.

First, some of your assumptions about DC are correct (traffic, cost of housing), though there are a lot of people who "work to live" rather than living to work. Are there more type A's in DC? Sure, but that doesn't mean that everyone is a type A.

As for the assumptions about Philly, Philly suburbs and the city of Philadelphia are two completely different animals as far as crime and schools. The Philadelphia suburbs have some of the best schools in the country and do not have crime problems. Crime in Philadelphia is mostly limited to North and West Philadelphia as well as a few aging suburban manufacturing towns (Chester, downtown Norristown) that you won't be looking for housing in anyway.

Juniperbleu is absolutely correct about Philadelphia being a place where you have 3 full generations of family living within 20 miles of each other. Growing up, it seemed like every time I went over to some kid's house, there were 10 family members there as well! This probably contributes to the provincialism of the area (everyone's an Iggles fan), but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not open to newcomers. After all, there are many national and multinational corporations in the area and people are coming in all the time. Chances are you won't be the only newcomer on the block and if you get involved in the community, you'll fit in just fine. Philly suburbs are not like the transient culture of NoVA, where everyone is a newcomer, but it's not like some backwoods town where everyone knows everyone either.

As for walkability, I think it's easier to find in the Philly suburbs than the far-flung Virginia suburbs. This has to do with the historical development patterns. The Philly suburbs were once villages and mill towns (similar to New England), while the Virginia suburbs were plantations. So the communities near Philly were built when walking was a necessity, while the VA communities are mostly created from scratch in the past 50 years. However, while it may be easier to find walkability near Philadelphia, don't be fooled into thinking it's ALL quaint small towns. Most of the suburbs are still developments like in any major metropolitan area.

This is getting kind of long so I'll do my pros/cons list next post...
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Old 02-02-2010, 01:47 PM
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NoVa vs. Philly (with your criteria)

Schools: NoVA wins, but both are excellent.

Cosmopolitan/Sophisticatedness: NoVA wins, but Philly is no slouch in this area either. You can't beat the culture of DC, but Philadelphia has world-renowned museums, orchestras, and galleries as well.

Jobs: NoVA wins hands down unless you're in a medical/pharmaceutical-related field. Then Philly wins.

Charm: Philly suburbs win for having more quaint towns and historic architecture around.

Traffic: Philly has less of it, and more alternate routes to avoid it when it does happen.

Creative people: I'll call this a tie. There's a lot of arts culture here and in Philly.

Crime: Again a tie. Both are very safe places.

"Down to Earth" people: Philly has more but they're not hard to find in NoVA either.

Liberalness: The NoVA suburbs are more liberal than the Philly suburbs in my experience, but my experience is with Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria, not the outer suburbs. The Philly suburbs are more of what I'd call "Northeast Republicans"- conservative on money issues but liberal on social issues. NoVA has a lot more diversity, which probably contributes to its more liberal stances. The Philadelphia area is more segregated and has less international flavor.

Walkability/transit - For the inner suburbs, NoVA wins for having a more urban feel in Arlington, Alexandria,and Falls Church. For the outer suburbs, Philly wins for having more small, walkable towns and a regional rail system that goes out further.

Housing cost - Philly is much less expensive.
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Old 02-02-2010, 01:54 PM
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Default Thanks AGAIN!

CAVA1990---Thanks…yeah, Del Ray would be at the top of our list, IF we could afford it . Actually, I grew up in Reston and went to high school in Langley, but A LOT has changed since the 80s. I just don’t know if Reston is the place for us…no one can tell us and we’ll never know until we try it .

juniperbleu---Thank you so much…wonderful post! It makes my decision even more difficult (haha). Good to know about the dirt and the crime. It doesn’t seem to be as bad as people were saying. I do like that the DC area seems to be an easier place to meet people, though. We have been moving regularly since Katrina in New Orleans, and it’s so hard to “start over” and over, and over.

normie---Thanks! I’m not really all that worried about the safety in the Reston area. It does seem to be fine. I have seen photos of Waterford, and it IS charming, but, yes, too expensive and far out. If we decide to move to NoVA, we will definitely be taking advantage of a meet up group. Thanks for the suggestion . Good to know about the Type As…again, don’t mind a mix of people...it’s just then when you read some of the threads on here, it sounds like that’s all there is. My husband and I both work from home, so we will have jobs when we move there AND won’t necessarily have to worry about traffic, but for the long-term….that will change.

If we could afford to live in the District (or even Old Town, Del Ray, or parts of Arlington) AND we didn’t have to worry about public schools; I think DC would be an easy choice for us. It’s just those darn inevitable NoVA ‘burbs that are getting me down.

It seems that the Philly suburbs have more charm and walkability, but I may be way off. These “charming” areas may be out of our price range, too. We want to rent initially, and would like to stay below $1500/month. I looked at photos of the Chestnut Hill area of Philly and it seems so ideal! Is this an area that the middle-class can afford, or is it like the McLean of Philly?

Blue collar vs. white collar…I’d have to say I’d like a mix. Hmmm, which color collar do artists, writers, and musicians wear ? I’m a bit of an oxymoron; I’m hoping to sit for the CPA exam next year, but I have always worked in film or photography, and all of my friends are writers, artists, and musicians, as well. HA!

I should say that we do like Chicago, but HATE the weather and the isolation of the Midwest. I do miss the East Coast. I spent most of my life there. Family in DC, friends in NYC. Philly is so close to NYC. Ugh, if only NYC was cheaper…or New Orleans safer…or, Paris was a part of the U.S. HaHA!

Well, again…you guys on CD are awesome!!! Couldn’t do it without you .
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Old 02-02-2010, 02:02 PM
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Hi pcity…thanks for your reply, too! Great post.

Which suburbs of Philly have charm and some walkability, but are ALSO affordable? Something like, Chestnut Hill…but, I have no idea if that n’hood is affordable???

I plan to sit for the CPA exam in the next year (or two), would it be difficult to get a good job in Philly? I can only assume that DC would be easier.

Love your pros and cons list, too.

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