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Commentary

Our Special Community

Recently I was asked to participate in a workshop for a group of leaders who were planning a future for their organization. Specifically I was asked to discuss the characteristics of our community of Reston. While I try to stay on top of trends and am out in the community on a daily basis, I learned a lot preparing for the presentation at the workshop.

While the 400 square miles of Fairfax County are about average size for a county in Virginia, there is little else average about us in the state or in the nation for that matter. Virginia is the 12th largest state in population among the 50 states, but the population of 1.1 million people in Fairfax County is larger than any other jurisdiction in Virginia. The capital city of Richmond has just over 200,000 people. Washington, D.C. has just over 600,000. Virginia is the eighth wealthiest state in household income, but the Northern Virginia jurisdictions of Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington have the highest level of household income in the nation. In fact, the median household income in Fairfax County is more than twice that of the United States.

That is not to say that everyone in Fairfax County is wealthy. We have the same income gap between the top and bottom incomes as exists throughout the country. While Fairfax County has a seemingly low rate of poverty at 6 percent, that rate translates into 72,000 individuals; a low rate but a high number! Eight percent of children under 8 were below the poverty level compared with 4 percent of people 65 years and over. Thirteen percent of families with only a female head of household present had incomes below the poverty level.

Just as our county’s population has gone from about 454,000 in 1970 to 1.1 million today with an expected growth to 1.37 million in 2040, the population has become more diverse. Thirty percent of the people living in Fairfax County are foreign born. Of the foreign born, just over half were born in Asia, about 30 percent in Latin America, and the rest from throughout the world. The diversity of our population by ethnicity and race can best be seen in our schools that are themselves diverse in different ways. Hunters Woods Elementary is 33 percent Asian while nearby Dogwood Elementary is 60 percent Hispanic. Lake Anne Elementary is 37 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic and 21 percent black. Nearby Forest Edge is 40 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 20 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Demographic information is available on each public school’s website.

The population of Fairfax County is among the best educated in the country. Of persons age 25 and older, 28 percent have advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s, 30 percent have bachelor’s degrees, and only about 8 percent have less than a high school education.

All these characteristics make our community unique and special. A wonderfully diverse population with very different backgrounds and needs contributes to our special culture. I would not want to live anywhere else in the world.