They live in houses built on parcels of land that are 2 acres in size or larger. 88.5 percent of them are married, and their average age is 42. They earn a median household income of $190,911 a year — one of the highest median household incomes in the entire country. "They" are the residents of Great Falls.
These basic statistics were the beginning of "Community, Culture and Community Spaces," a presentation given to those who attended last week's Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) Nov. 14 general membership meeting at the Great Falls Grange.
The presentation, which was put together by 2020 Vision Project co-chairs Kathleen Murphy and Michael Keeler, explained and outlined the results of the "Values Survey" that was handed out to residents of Great Falls several weeks ago. Since Murphy and Keeler only had a short time frame in which to distribute, collect and analyze, they were only able to gather the results of 234 surveys.
The Values Survey was the first of several community research projects that will be done between now and spring as part of the Great Falls 2020 Vision Project.
THE 2020 VISION PROJECT was conceived at the urging of Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois, who felt that the establishment of a specific community framework would help ensure that Great Falls is always what its residents want it to be. Members of the Great Falls Citizens Association willingly embraced the task and have subsequently outlined specific information gathering strategies that will be carried out along a planned timeline.
"Our approach is an iterative, multi-month dialogue among all of the constituents of Great Falls," said Murphy.
Over the last couple of months, the 2020 Vision Project committee has been meeting with a multitude of focus groups to discuss their perspective on the Great Falls community. Focus groups that have met thus far include seniors, artists, moms and various neighborhood associations. A teen focus group was scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Great Falls Library, but was ultimately cancelled when no teenagers showed. This week the 2020 committee members will meet with members of the local business and professional community.
"We are till considering focus groups through the end of December, and I know that there are still more that would like to come forward," said Murphy. "We want every citizen to feel that they are being respected in any conversation."
The December GFCA general membership meeting will focus on the Great Falls Village Center, and citizens are encouraged to come and discuss how they would like the community's economic and social center to look in 2020, and what kinds of businesses and amenities they would like to see there.
In January, a detailed survey will be mailed out to all the residents of Great Falls, and members of the 2020 Vision committee hope to see a significant amount of citizen participation in order to truly gain a complete and accurate sense of what the community desires.
Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerald Connolly attended last week's Great Falls Citizens Association general membership meeting, and gave a detailed overview of the Board of Supervisors' 6-point plan for Fairfax County's success.
"Every part of it has been unanimously adopted by the Board," said Connolly.
The six major issues tackled on the county agenda are crime, affordable housing, education, environment, taxes and transportation. Connolly was invited to speak at last week's meeting to make residents aware of the overall projected vision for Fairfax County, so that they can start to consider how they would like Great Falls to fit into that picture.
THE RECENT Values Survey was taken from The Values Centre, which was created in 1997 by Richard Barrett & Associates "to support leaders in building values-driven organizations." The Values Centre survey applies a model created by Richard Barrett called "The Seven Levels of Community Consciousness." According to this model, communities have seven well-defined developmental levels of consciousness: motivation, unity, interdependence, cohesion, transformation, self-esteem, relationship and survival. Barrett theorized that communities develop and grow by mastering all of these needs. The 2020 Vision committee used this survey as a tool for assessing where Great Falls stands in terms of its mastery of the seven values.
"The whole 2020 process is an effort to invite the citizens of Great Falls into active participation in the values that define Great Falls ," said Murphy. "The intention is for people to have a full spectrum of values."
Murphy said the survey asked participants about their core values because their collective answers then offer "an understanding of the cultural underpinning of our town."
"What are the values that reflect you, what are the values that reflect Great Falls, and what would you like to see in Great Falls in 2020?" said Murphy, citing some question examples. "The behaviors that you see in a community are based on certain beliefs and principles and views that the people who live in the community have."
MURPHY PRESENTED the results of the survey, which essentially showed that Great Falls has a fairly strong mastery of the seven core values, but that there was some imbalance in the "transformation" category, which Barrett's model describes as the "continuous renewal and development of the community."
"People are saying that the culture in Great Falls is very close to how they want it to be, but the transformation circle is empty … which means that people haven't reached that citizen activism point yet," said Murphy.
In addition, two values that surfaced as "potentially limiting" to the community were "materialism" and "low-density," the latter of which sparked some debate since residents of Great Falls generally treasure the rural country atmosphere created by their low-density zoning status. Murphy asked her audience if they considered low-density to be a positive quality that should define the Great Falls community, or if they felt it to be a potentially negative quality that inhibits community interaction and cohesion.
Several residents argued that low-density cannot be blamed for disconnectedness in the community. Great Falls Citizens Association member and environmentalist Stella Koch said that many things can be responsible for poor community cohesiveness.
"You could just as easily say that lack of trails leads to lack of interaction," said Koch.
Eleanor Weck, co-chair of the GFCA Trails committee, agreed and said that she lives on six acres but knows each of her neighbors quite well.
"I find myself much closer, to more people here, than I did when I lived in an apartment," said Weck.
2020 VISION committee co-chair Michael Keeler brought up the always divisive issue of sewer — an amenity that is needed in the Great Falls Village Center, but is feared by many because its installation would change the area's zoning parameters, and open the door to increased development.
"If we had more local control over zoning, we wouldn't care about septic," said Keeler. "But because we're so hyper-sensitive to maintaining low-density, we are opposed to septic."
The businesses of the Great Falls Village Center are currently coping with a failed septic system, and are subsequently using a pump and haul system to handle their excess waste. The failing Village Center septic system prohibits the addition of any new retail business requiring high water usage, such as coffee shops, hair salons and restaurants. In addition, the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department currently employs regular pump and haul to handle its failed septic system — a system seen as a needless and expensive burden by Fire Chief Steve Ruzila and the rest of the fire department members. Similarly, the failing septic system of Great Falls Elementary School is another logistical dilemma.
Linda Thompson, a member of the Great Falls Optimists Club, agreed that the fear of septic paving the way for over-development is limiting the potential of the Village Center .
"I have some concerns that fear of our zoning changing is driving away the possibility of things that we can do," said Thompson.
She suggested that the residents of Great Falls research the possibility of becoming a town in order to gain more control over its own zoning.
"The concept is, once we become our own entity, we can bring sewer without worrying about the zoning," said Thompson. "No entity can stay stagnant — it's either dying or it's growing … so somehow or another we have to get the community to understand that unless they get into the possibilities that Great Falls can be, it's dying."