What are the pro's and con's of moving from Boston Metro area to Northern Virginia (outside DC).
August 21, 2009 3:52 PM   Subscribe

What are the pro's and con's of moving from Boston Metro area to Northern Virginia (outside DC).

My wife is originally from the Reston area of Virginia (right outside DC). I am originally from Connecticut, but lived in Florida for 15 years. We are thinking of moving to VA after I finish my MBA in Dec. I am wondering what you guys think of the area?

1) She is currently employed as a meeting manager, I was laid off from the start-up I work for and have been looking for 4 months. My background is in both marketing, but also event production and film production. What might we find the employment situation to be in general (we will not be moving without one of us finding a job...just wondering regarding my desire to go back into events or film production what my options might be).

2) What is the cultural situation? I was frustrated living in FL because it felt like there was a lack of culture. Here near Boston we have all of Boston plus quick trips to NYC or Providence. How much stuff is there to do in VA? I worry its North/South fly-over country. Is that not the case with the area around DC due to the whole "capital of the country" thing?

3) What is it like from an economic standpoint? We live a little south of Boston and it seems a bit run-down, a little too much the Wal-Mart crowd. We are arrogant Whole Foods type people...will we fit in? I love some of the educated artsy stuff in Cambridge, but my wife doesn't want to live in so urban a setting.

4) How is it visually? I picture it as having lots of the new construction, planning that I saw when I lived in Orlando, not as much of the industrial look that you see even in some of the nicer parts of the Northeast.

5) What is the crime rate like? I feel very safe in MA and worry about the crime rate...I know some parts of Fairfax Country have a high rate, should I worry about this? Especially if parts of it like Reston don't?

6) What else don't I know?
posted by UMDirector to Work & Money (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This thread, about Chicago v. DC, might be useful to you.
posted by jgirl at 4:05 PM on August 21, 2009

Nova is suburban yuppieville -- the district has some good stuff (like lots of museums, obv., as well as various cultural-type things -- but not as good as in Boston). The range is from Arlington (all gigantic condo buildings full of lobbyists) to Alexandria (a cute little town)
posted by paultopia at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2009

I moved to Boston from Arlington last year.

Living in Arlington is almost the same as living in Cambridge, with slightly different accents. It's less dense, but lots of uppity whole foods stuff is there and its close to the city.

Fairfax county is one of the richest, safest, cleanest places in the country, plus it has a Wegmans.

The employment situation along the tech corridor (267 aka the toll road) is similar to what goes on out on 128.

The biggest difference for me is that in Boston, I don't need a car. In Arlington I usually did, in Fairfax, I *always* did.

Living near DC, you'll be super close to the best art museums in the world, and all of the touristy things that make DC unique. There is a lot of history and culture in the city if you look for it, but not nearly as much as Boston.

In/Near DC, there is less fried seafood. There is more fresh produce, as the growing season is longer. It is hotter. People get weird about snow.

Most of the really new development is past Reston in Sterling, Ashburn and other parts of Loudoun county.

It is a very nice place to live, similarly priced in a lot of ways you'll notice (whole foods and new houses in the suburbs are roughly the same). There are lots of tech jobs, less union guys who drop their Rs, more diversity and integrations (though not so much in Reston). Lots of government employees, lots of military people around.
posted by bensherman at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2009

Reston itself is very safe. If you live in Reston and you want culture, you'll need to make a commitment to go in to DC. Right now there is no convenient public transit, but they tell me there will be a real actual metro stop out there by 2012. Usually it's a 20-30 minute drive into DC BUT the traffic on 66 can get really backed up which can make it more like 40 or 50 minutes. I think the biggest problem for me with Reston was that 66 was high occupancy only during rush hour which meant I would have had to take a bus (probably feasible) or take the beltway (god help you with that) to get into the city.

As far as culture, I really think DC is an awesome city. If you like bars or jazz clubs (14th street, gtown, and adams morgan can't be beat). If you like international food, no where in the world is better than adam's morgan. If you like plays/musicals there's plenty of offerings at the Kennedy Center. And it's not that far from new york, so you can take the amtrak up on a weekend if you want to catch a broadway musical. The national symphony is great and of course it has the best museums in the country.

If you are really concerned about culture, I would live in Arlington or Alexandria. There's plenty of bars, clubs etc. in Arlington/Alexandria to keep you busy. Reston is for folks with kiddies ... My husband moved to Reston in his early twenties and he really regretted it and wished he'd been in Arlington where all the action is.

If you live in Boston now, why not spend a few weekends in DC and see how you like it.

Good Luck!
posted by bananafish at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The range is from Arlington (all gigantic condo buildings full of lobbyists)

This is not at all an accurate portrayal of Arlingon, which includes vast neighborhoods of houses with yards and literally hundreds of thousands of non-lobbyists. In fact, I would bet that there are at least 10 times as many military personnel living in Arlington as there are lobbyists.

I prefer Alexandria in many respects, but Arlington is very nice, and characterizing it as "all gigantic condo buildings" seems like the kind of statement one might make if they had never gone more than a block from a metro stop.
posted by The World Famous at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

1. It is more like parts of greater Boston than it is like Florida.

2. The area varies a lot; living in the closer parts of Arlington has very little resemblance to living in Reston. The initial description of Arlington as being full of condos is increasingly apt for parts of Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston, and so forth, but it is easy to find lots of neighborhoods with single family housing. And the description of Alexandria as "a cute little town" is probably apt only for some of its neighborhoods.

3. It sounds like you and your wife may have varying tastes, putting aside your shared passion for Whole Foods.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:03 PM on August 21, 2009

I have been turning aside an opportunity to move to NOVA for a while now because the place turns my stomach. I'm not talking about Arlington/Alexandria which I see as extensions of DC but I am referring to everything from Springfield west and north. It's a materialistic suburban wasteland and a traffic nightmare. Sure there is whole foods and wolf trap but that's about it. Visually you could be in any suburban chainstore ghetto anywhere in the country. If you are happy in Boston stay there.
posted by Xurando at 5:21 PM on August 21, 2009

My time in NoVA taught me to always to pee before leaving for any trip. Traffic backups are insane in the outskirts of DC. I think my tops was a six hour delay, but six hours is a long time in your car.

(The culture is lovely, though. It really is about Location, Location, LOCATION in this particular neck of the woods.)
posted by kiwi-epitome at 5:27 PM on August 21, 2009

Great stuff so far!

I should add: how is it politically? More mixed like Florida? I assume not the blue state at all that MA is?

Also - how is the health care? Am I too spoiled by great MA hospitals?
posted by UMDirector at 5:31 PM on August 21, 2009

When they tell you that the traffic is bad in Northern Virginia, they mean it. They really mean it. Traffic is bad.

I don't know anything about Reston, but my parents have been renting a McMansion thing in Ashburn for about the last year and a half. The house is great and there's a Wegman's. (We like Wegman's out here.) But it feels like a stunted development of a town. It feels like there's a lot of strip malls. I agree that Alexandria and Arlington are more artsy and unique and I think they are worth some of the conveniences you're giving up. Parking still sucks and it's more expensive, but they're cute. Arlington is definitely not a condo wasteland, though the scenes around the Rosslyn and Courthouse metros kind of are. There are some great restaurants in Courthouse, though, and both are really close to the city (Georgetown, if you're into that kind of thing). Clarendon is pretty cool, too. More residential and homey, but there are restaurants and bars and stuff within walking distance. It's cute. I used to work near Ballston but that was kind of boring.

I love living in DC but I don't think I would want to live here if I had a family. DC is beautiful, it really is, and there are amazing (free!) museums and good restaurants and good nightlife. I think the people are kind of hard to get to know, but it's worth the time. I just don't always feel that safe.
posted by juliplease at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2009

I should add: how is it politically?

If you're close enough to live by political careerists and military folks (i.e. Arlington, Fairfax, Springfield, Alexandria), it is extremely polarized. Like, extreeeemly.

And traffic? I moved from there to LA. LA traffic is a dream compared to commuting in Northern Virginia. Compared to the DC metro area, there is no traffic at all in Los Angeles.
posted by The World Famous at 5:54 PM on August 21, 2009

I live in the Fair Lakes area of Fairfax County -- right down the road from Reston.

1. In general, the job situation around here is significantly rosier than in most of the rest of the country. While tech jobs are probably the easiest to find, there are a reasonable number of other jobs in the "support" industries like meeting management and marketing.

2. The cultural scene in northern Virginia is excellent. In Vienna, you've got the Wolf Trap National Center for the Performing Arts. There's the Fairfax Symphony -- a very fine group -- and innumerable smaller orchestras and chamber ensembles, ballets, and theaters. Reston is especially well known for its local art scene (painting, sculpture, etc.) If you're into dining out, there are bunches of ethnic restaurants of pretty much any kind you could want. The cultural diversity in Northern Virginia is fantastic. It's not at all "fly-over" country.

3. Most of Fairfax county (where Reston is located) is quite affluent. There are several Whole Foods stores. If you wind up living a little further out where it's less expensive -- in Prince William County around Manassas, for example -- you will definitely see areas where it's run down and people aren't doing very well economically.

4. Northern Virginia is surprisingly verdant. In areas like Reston and Fair Lakes, some care has been taken to preserve trees and to develop (relatively) attractive communities. Most of the areas closer to DC have already been developed as much as they're going to be so construction is pretty much limited to repair or tear-down/rebuild projects. Further out there is some new construction going on but not as much as you might think. Northern Virginia has a BIG population already in place.

5. I'm not sure where you got the idea that Fairfax County has a crime problem. Fairfax is one of the most affluent counties in the US and has, overall, a relatively low crime rate. Prince William County (west of Fairfax) has more crime. Reston, which is IN Fairfax County, is likewise relatively safe. As an example of what I mean... I regularly leave my door unlocked when I go for an hour-long walk with my dog and I've *never* had a problem. In the 13 years I've been living in my townhouse, I've never been the victim of a robbery or property crime of ANY kind and neither have any of my neighbors. It's quite safe here.

6. There's a lot to like about Northern Virginia. The cultural diversity is wonderful. There are some FANTASTIC Indian restaurants in Fairfax County! The cultural scene is great and DC is a quick metro ride away. (Catch the metro in Vienna. I'm not sure where the previous poster got the idea metro is going to put a stop in Reston by 2012. There's talk of putting a metro stop at Tyson's Corner -- a huge shopping and business nexus -- but nothing I've heard about Reston.) If you're at all into gardening, the climate is great for that, though it does get awfully bloody hot in August most years. In the winter, it doesn't usually get too cold. Most days, the temperature gets above freezing, so snow doesn't last very long. Although you're not *in* DC, if you're living in Northern Virginia you're definitely part of the whole "DC vibe" -- which can be fun and interesting if you're into politics at all. You're only about an hour and a half (by car) to the Shenandoahs to the west and about three hours to the Atlantic on the east. On the down side, there are a shitload of people here. Millions. Literally. And we've got some of the most aggressive drivers in the country -- which sucks.
posted by rhartong at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to what has been said about traffic and drivers, as a New Englander (native or not), you are not going to believe what people are like here when it snows. A flake or two, even.

What my Upstate NYS compatriots would call vigorous flurries="snowing pretty hard" here.

In all fairness, there are people hear from all over the world, let alone South Florida, or someplace like that, who have never seen snow (or seen it fall), let alone driven in it.

But still...
posted by jgirl at 6:30 PM on August 21, 2009

Careerwise, you'd both have some reasonable opportunities in the area -- certainly in the meeting planning arena. The government is the big driver of many of the businesses in the area. In addition to federal employment (USA Jobs), there are a zillion law firms, defense contractors of all stripes, and a decent smattering of tech companies, and lots of non-profits (think 'national association of X').

Politically the area has become much bluer in recent years. Northern VA is VERY different from the rest of the state politically. This isn't to say there aren't conservatives -- consider the military presence, the Republican congressional staffs, and the lawyers and lobbyists, plus plenty of regular people. The population tends to be politically aware and astute, because in many ways it is a company town, and that company is the federal gov't. DC itself is ridiculously Democratic -- Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama each got at least 90% of the District's vote (I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but I'd be shocked if any of them got less than 85%). Alexandria and Arlington are both very crunchy. I think some people in Old Town Alexandria are actually made of hemp.

Overall, the area is pretty affluent. If you look at Forbes or similar lists of richest counties, numerous NOVA and Maryland counties are on the lists. That being said, there are some less well off areas in NOVA (and certainly in the district). In NOVA there are areas that have some crime, but overall the burbs are pretty safe (crime map).

The museums in the District are great, the restaurant scene has improved greatly. You are further from beaches, and the baseball team isn't very good (a Nats-Red Sox game will have more Boston fans than Nats fans).

The traffic can be pretty terrible, Metro is clean and reasonably efficient, the summers are hot and humid, the winters are mild but they will close the schools if there's a chance that maybe there will be a couple of inches of snow in the evening.

[re rhartong's comment: Metro is planning on having a metro stop at Wiehle Ave (which is in Reston) by 2013 as part of Phase I of the Silver Line]
posted by i love cheese at 6:46 PM on August 21, 2009

Oh, and here's the obligatory link to The Arlington Rap
posted by i love cheese at 6:48 PM on August 21, 2009

My husband's from Mass (halfway between Boston and Worcester) and I'm from the northern VA area. I think you'll find the affluent suburbs of DC are similar to the affluent suburbs of Boston.

-Most people in northern VA are people who have moved there as adults for jobs, which means less "native" community than in some other places, but also more varied and cosmopolitan neighbors. A lot of the jobs in DC are intellectual jobs, or military jobs that have you traveling around the world for some period -- so in the nicer suburbs IME you find very highly educated and/or well-travelled people.

-The traffic is worse in DC but the drivers are more aggressive in Boston (IMO).
-There are more colleges in Boston but more international cultural opportunities in DC. Lots of museums, usually free, in DC. Good concerts, good plays, good art, etc.
-The DC subway is safe and easy to navigate but doesn't get out to the further-out areas yet.
-The cost of living is high in the DC area, housing can be very expensive, but public schools in the nicer areas are very, very good. (I think this is probably similar to Boston area.)
-The DC area is a bit of a company town, so many jobs depend on the government or lobbying or military.

-The DC area also has a lot of immigration, from central America and southeast Asia and certain parts of Africa. (So - lots of great restaurants from these areas of the world!)

-I have not lived in Florida, but I think the northern VA area is unlikely to be like Florida culturally -- except maybe in having a lot of development in the last 20 years. There have definitely been a lot of McMansions in HOA neighorhoods, and townhouse/condo developments, built in the DC area since I was a kid. It has sprawled like crazy and that's why traffic is so bad - the roads into DC from those outer areas can't handle the rush hour traffic. The neighorhoody areas of Arlington are still modest 2 and 3 bedroom houses built from 1940-1965, small houses, mature trees, nearby parks, good schools, etc -- but those houses are *extremely* expensive per square foot because they're so close in.

-Original Reston was built as a planned community, where the clumped the houses together and left room for nice stretches of woodsy trail, but still walkable to restaurants etc. It's a nice place to walk around (though not an organically evolved city) and if you're a runner or bicyclist it's heavenly. Reston has since sprawled out from that with pretty standard 1980s suburb, where the houses have nice sized lots and the trees are mature, but you can't really walk to anything. (There are also 1990s-2000s McMansion HOA neighborhoods, where the trees haven't grown up, and the houses are gigantic and closer together -- these are separate from the 1970s-80s development I'm describing here.)

-We have a relative who lives in Reston now, near Fox Mill Woods park. She likes her house (in one of the '70s-'80s neighborhoods) but does miss being able to walk or use public transit to get to things. It's a nice neighborhood to walk the baby around with a stroller, and you would feel ok about your kids playing in the street.

My husband says:
-Economic situation's probably better in NoVA, though Boston doesn't depend as much on one entity (govt) to keep it going, so Boston has a "higher floor"
-It's not flyover country, there is culture, more high-culture stuff, less college-age/arts culture than Boston
-If you're looking to the south of DC, there aren't convenient other cities like Providence, though Baltimore is an hour north and is similar to Providence of fifteen years ago.
-Generally New England has little downtowns, small towns that you can get involved in and are central, but where you could be a 30-45 minute drive to Boston. Northern VA doesn't have that as much, though if you look you can find things sort of like that in DC suburbs.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:17 PM on August 21, 2009

I've lived on Boston for the last 15 years and have had a good friend living in DC during that time, so I've gotten to visit a lot. Plus, there was a period of time I was commuting to the Dulles area for a contracting gig.

Go visit. Figure out a few places you'd consider living and spend time there. Places can seem really great on paper (wow, when will that phrase go away?), but the reality can be quite different.

You will need a car.

Live as close to the city as you can. I am not a surburban person. I hate the suburbs and thought they were bad on New England. They've got nothing on the DC area. Like people have said, the traffic is horrible. Think Route 9 past the Natick Mall x 100. Seriously. There seems to be no real regional planning, with respect to highways or housing. It's like every square inch is gettig bulldozed and filled up with McMansions. Homeowners' Associations are very real there and they have lots of dumb rules like about what color your front door has to be.

However, my friend and his family are very happy there. He's in govt, so I think in part he feels trapped in the area by the uncertainty of a 'civilian' life with no pension, but still, they like the area.

To me it seems like suburban death, but at least he has a nice yard?
posted by reddot at 9:44 PM on August 21, 2009

Arlington is blue as blue can be, but the farther out you go, the more red it gets. But hey Northern Virginia carried the state for Obama so it's getting bluer all the time.
posted by bananafish at 10:47 PM on August 21, 2009

I'm from just south of Boston and used to live in DC. Arlington may vote Dem, but it's still fairly conservative socially. The areas really close to DC (Courthouse, Clarendon) are pretty bland and corporate - lots of condo blocks and buttoned up types. I really don't agree with the "crunchy" descriptor (you'll find that more in Takoma Park, MD and certain neighborhoods of DC).

My old boss used to live in Loudon County, which is near Reston, and it sounded very Stepford-ish. He thought it was ok because the schools were good and there was room for his daughters to have horses, but it sounded otherwise pretty horrible.

The job market in the DC area is one of the strongest in the country, thanks to the whole infrastructure of government, contractors, lobbyists, lawyers, etc. So that's a good thing.

Culture-wise, I'd say DC is a mixed bag. Lots of "high culture" - symphony, theater, museums, etc. But DC is really, really really lacking a homegrown arts/music/theater scene. I imagine because it's too expensive for artists to live there and it's not really an artist magnet like NYC. I found that this made DC a much less interesting, vibrant place to live than lots of other cities I've been to.

I would suggest looking into the upper northwest neighborhoods of DC - places like Cleveland Park, Chevy Chase or Friendship Heights. A bit more of the urban vibe you're looking for (plus an easy Metro ride to even funkier places) but a less hectic than Cambridge. You would still be a pretty easy ride to your wife's family in Reston.
posted by lunasol at 11:13 PM on August 21, 2009

Taking your questions one at a time:

1. The job market is better right now in the DC metro area than just about anywhere else. I think the unemployment numbers actually went down here last month, as opposed to up nationally. The government is about the only growth industry around right now, and everything in the Metro area orbits the government.

2. I don't think there's a shortage of "culture" in the DC area, but then again I never thought that CT or central ME did either, so maybe I'm not really the best judge of what you're looking for. If you want, you can check out the Washingtonian After Hours blog, and look for the "Culture Vulture" entries, which are all free events in the area. It's tends to be DC-centric, which means they could be difficult to get to depending on where you're living (Reston isn't, in this Beltway snob's opinion, really even in the DC metro area in any meaningful sense; it's a separate 'edge city' in its own right).

3. Depends on what area you're in. Even inside the Beltway there are some areas that are much more upscale than others. Fairfax County—which is 1/3rd the size of Rhode Island and has almost as many people—varies greatly also. Some parts are seriously gentrified yuppieville territory, others are what a realtor might call "up and coming." Sometimes it can almost be a block-by-block difference.

4. Again, depends on where you are. In Alexandria or most of Arlington, you'll see mostly older construction and mature neighborhoods, with some infill and new highrise condo development (particularly in Arlington). Moving out towards Fairfax, the construction tends to be more recent. Further out—near, say, Leesburg and elsewhere on the Toll Road / Greenway in Loudon County—there's a lot of 'McMansion farms' built during the Bubble, which strike me as ideal places to live if you're a serial killer. But YMMV; apparently somebody's buying them.

5. There are parts of Fairfax County that have higher-than-average crime rates, although I can't think of anyplace that I'd actually be concerned enough about to not walk around during the day. (I think it's mostly property crime, with maybe some gang activity.) But again, keep in mind that Fairfax County is huge, and it contains thousands of neighborhoods, each of which have their own very distinct personalities. In general, it has one of the highest median incomes of anywhere in the country, some of the highest education levels, and best public schools. I have found the police (Fairfax County and Alexandria City are the only ones I've dealt with personally) and other public services to be, in general, professional and responsive. They seem to be very well-funded, although I suspect they're getting hammered by property tax receipts like everyone else right now.

6. Things I'd tell myself if I could give myself advice back when I moved to the area (from Maine, 2005): the traffic is bad. No, really, it's fucking epic. It's like a force of nature; you plan your days around it like someone living on near the ocean might plan around the tides. Even the 'reverse commute' (which I tried for a time, living in Arlington and working out in Fair Lakes) sucks. Live near where you work, or better yet, work from home. If you can't do that, work nonstandard hours so you can avoid the worst of it. The only winning move in the game of DC commuting is not to play if you can possibly avoid it.

The Metro system is great; it may be worth a significant premium to be within walking distance of it, if you want to be able to enjoy DC easily. Especially for your first place in the area, it would be a big plus, because it would let you explore a lot of other neighborhoods without constantly having to worry about driving/parking/traffic.

I worked my way through most of the Virginia section of Tyler Cowen's Dining Guide during my first few years in the area, and it was a lot of fun. Good ethnic food, of virtually every kind you want to imagine, is definitely one of the big pluses of being here, and probably the biggest single thing I'd miss if I relocated. Lots of cities claim to have good ethnic food, but DC's (the entire metro area taken as a whole) is truly exceptional in my experience.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:03 AM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in Cambridge, MA but my office is in Reston, VA. I work from home when I can, but I'm down there a ton for meetings (at least once a week, if not more). People who have lived in NOVA can answer your question better, but if you've got any specific questions that I might be able to help with, drop me an email/MeMail.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:44 AM on August 22, 2009

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