4 people 1 house
March 10, 2012 2:56 AM   Subscribe

What are some positives and negatives about living in Alexandria/Arlington Virginia area?

I will be moving to the D.C. area in two months to work near Bolling, AFB. So far most of the recommendations I have gotten are to live in Alexandria or Arlington (and give MD a wide berth) but I can't find a whole lot of atmospherics for some of the things I am looking for.

I looked at two similar threads, however their requirements were much different than mine and city-data while good, did not give me many facts on the pollutant environment.

My wife and I are early 30s and have two toddlers and no other wild animals. We like quiet places so townhomes/apartments are out. We don't want to have to drive for hours to go watch a comedy show or eat at an Ethiopian/Pakistani restaurant on the rare weekend either. She is vegan, I'm indifferent but we both are organic and grow our own veggies where possible - so places that have ample garden area and the laws to allow it are preferable and close access to farmers markets is desirable.

Ideally we would be close to public transportation or bicycle trails so we don't have to drive much. Prefer a place that is not in a flood plain or snowdrift area and is within stones throw of a hospital.

Is there much difference in water quality in the D.C. area or are there any major toxic output areas (Power plants/waste water treatment plants) around the D.C. metro we should avoid?

Any help is appreciated. Price range is between 2000 and 2500/mo.
posted by AndrewKemendo to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm from the midwest, but have spent some time in that area of NOVA. Alexandria seems nicer than Arlington, but both seem highly congested. (In fact, the whole area seemed congested to me- anything accessible via Metro seems to be high density living.) Might want to think about going out another "ring" of suburbs. I seem to remember that it opened up very quickly just south of Alexandria.
posted by gjc at 4:31 AM on March 10, 2012

I live in NOVA but further out. Alexandria and Arlington are very urban-like and built-up so there isn't much land. They are also close to DC and all the restaurants and night life, good public transit and desirable so they are expensive areas to live. There isn't anyplace that I can think of in Va that will meet all of your requirements (close to culture, easy commute and still have space). You will most likely have to decide which of your criteria are the most important and then go with that. One possible solution is Fairfax county because there are still a few areas that aren't completely built up and even a few farms left. The further out you go from DC the more reasonably priced housing is and the more land you can have, but of course there is a trade off of traffic and distance from DC. Traffic is always bad around here and many work from home or "off" hours to avoid the worst of it. You will probably want to look at the schools too since you have children. Most of the school districts are county-wide so they are huge. Within each district there are good and not so good schools, depending on which part of the county they serve. Don't be swayed by the data since it covers the entire county and includes the desirable and not so desirable areas.
posted by Flacka at 4:50 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although you were told to avoid MD, I actually think you'd find a lot of what you're looking for in Takoma Park. Very green, lots of rental houses (single family detatched) in your price range, bike/hike/green belt paths, good Ethiopian food all around, and a relatively easy commute to Anacostia (though admittedly not as easy as parts of Alexandria). TP has a weekly farmer's market that is quite extensive, and many people raise chickens and plant veggie gardens. There's government support for composting. TP has a long community history of activism (it's officially a nuclear free zone!), and lots of community support for the organic/vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. There's also a Metro stop as well as several bus lines, and the schools in Montgomery County are generally excellent.

For a slightly easier commute (and lower housing costs), consider University Park, but be aware it does not have as much of the community focus on organic/natural/healthy living that TP does. Feel free to Memail me fir more info on TP.
posted by devinemissk at 6:02 AM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

arlington uses DC water so use britta wherever you live. I grew up in alexandria right across the woodrow wilson bridge, parents worked near bolling - was a nice easy commute. if you want atmospherics, shoot to live in old town alexandria, but that is in a flood plane, though it never really impacted me (and i lived on the block right before the potomac, loved it!) its right off the GW parkway bike path. arlington is a really cool place to live too - if you live in shirlington area, you are right off of 395 which is an easy shot to get into the city and over to bolling too. there's bike paths over there (WO&D trail) and public transport is plenty - bus system goes to pentagon metro or ballston. memail me if you want more info.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 6:04 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, the elephant in the room about MD (PG County specifically) vs. VA if you're looking at south of DC is race. There are nice, quiet middle/upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods with ample yards to be found in many corners of southern PG County, but the demographics are going to be 60%-80% African American. There are also places where crime is an issue, but these are also the older, denser, inside-the-beltway areas that probably won't have the housing stock you're looking for anyhow. In your case, for example, you wouldn't want to live in the strip between Bolling and Andrews AFB, but you're not going to find a single-family non-townhouse rental in those areas anyhow.

Most people whose knowledge of PG County comes from the evening news are pretty ignorant about the other corners of it.

The first two responses are correct in that Alexandria and Arlington are denser suburbia that it sounds like you'd like, and I don't think you'll find a 3-br rental house with a yard in your price range. I won't speak to the VA communities further out that may suit your needs, but on the MD side you might look at areas a bit south of the beltway along Indian Head Highway, like Ft. Washington. It's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to outdoor recreational activities in this area of PG County. On the other hand, you'd have to compromise somewhat on some of your other priorities--it's a bit of a restaurant wasteland, and day-to-day bikability may be not great because, like most of metro DC, there are recreational bike paths but the major arterial roadways are poorly designed in terms of bike safety. Still, depending on where you look, you're 20 minutes from Alexandria or the District if you want to grab some Ethiopian or hit up Whole Foods.

To step back a minute and look at the bigger picture, let's look at your wish list:

1. close to Bolling AFB
2. bikable/convenient public transportation
3. close to ethnic restaurants/crunchy-granola lifestyle
4. quiet single-family neighborhoods
5. rent $2000-2500 for (presumably) at least a 3 br house w/yard
6. not built on toxic waste dump

I don't have any information on #6, unfortunately. If you were to draw out a Venn diagram of your other wishes, the union of all 5 of your wants is going to be the "empty set", in mathematical terms. Alexandria or Arlington would give you 1, 2, and 3. Fort Washington would give you 1, 4, and 5. A variety of places farther out might give you 2, 3, 4, and 5. (e.g., I live in Takoma Park, and Google Maps is flat-out lying to you when it tells you you can get from here to Bolling AFB in under a half hour--it'd be more like 45 minutes on a good day and an hour during rush hour).
posted by drlith at 6:52 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in the District, and I love it. Lots of people have preconceived notions about living in the District without actually doing any research. Mt. Pleasant is a neighborhood situated directly adjacent to the zoo in NW Washington, between Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. It's about a mile from each Metro, and there's not a whole lot of traffic, so very quiet, and full of a diverse array of people. It's also quite safe, relatively speaking. Lots of people have gardens, are very granola, and there are a significant number of kids in the neighborhood, especially compared to elsewhere in DC. The houses are beautiful, mostly double-wide row houses, but some detached homes as well. There are parks, great restaurants, and you can hear the lions roaring from the zoo. If you want more advice on living IN the District, send me a message - I've got all sorts of links and info.

I agree with drlith, that the union of your wants is going to be an empty set. In Virginia, Alexandria is huge and has a ton of different options. Most places in Arlington and Alexandria have good access to public transportation, and the benefits of suburbia (parking lots, better schools). Off of King Street in Alexandria there are lots of houses that are at or even below your price range, most of which have good-sized yards. If you look farther out, towards the end of the Blue Line Metro (i.e. Braddock Road, Franconia/Springfield), you'll find that rents get cheaper, there are lots of housing options, but it's not particularly quiet, and for a detached home, you're going to pay a lot more than your price range.

In Arlington, check out Arlington Ridge (I'm pretty sure the zip code is 22206)... quieter community with access to everything. No idea what rents are there. Don't rule out Maryland, either... much like living in the District, there are LOTS of options, and you're going to find that rent is cheaper, schools are just as good, and it's quieter, but either way... Virginia or Maryland... your commute will likely be hell. Google Maps is full of crap, and tack on at least 15 minutes to whatever it says.

My tip: If you want to be close to an actual Metro station, neighborhoods are going to be much busier and louder... try looking about a mile away from Metro stations, where you'll have quieter neighborhoods, less traffic, and the Metro will still be walkable/busable.

Good luck!
posted by eenagy at 7:17 AM on March 10, 2012

Re TP: you can take the Green Line to Bolling from Ft. Totten (one stop on from Takoma on the Red Line) if you're interested in taking Metro to work. If you want to drive, though, drlith is right -- bank on at least 45 mins.
posted by devinemissk at 7:20 AM on March 10, 2012

Best answer: Also, re: water quality... USGS has a website devoted to tracking it across the nation. Select a geographic area, and the third link down should be a real-time water quality table.
posted by eenagy at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2012

Alexandria seems like its pretty close to ideal. Check out the area south of 95 like Belle Haven and Belle View which is classic 50s suburban, with yards and nature trees, and reasonably priced. Bike trail goes along the Potomac up to DC and down to Mt Vernon. The commercial district along Rt 1/Richmond Highway is pretty grim down there but there is some good Vietnamese food and a Habitat for Humanity construction thrift store if you're into that kind of thing. Commute across the Wilson Bridge can be a pain but you wouldn't have too far too go. There's good bus connections but no Metro station.

On the MD side, also consider Takoma's less funky neighbor, Silver Spring. Rents are cheaper and there's lots in easy walking or bike distance. Metro commute would be easy; car would not. There's some interesting redevelopment going on around Hyattsville and Bladensburg, but still pretty rough around the edges.

NOT Arlington. Arlington has no soul. People lump Arlington and Alexandria together, but they're very different. And your commute would be worse than from Alexandria.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:47 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely don't rule out PG County.

You should investigate Upper Marlboro and Bowie, as they're both significantly closer to Bolling than some of the previous suggestions. And drlith is exactly right that Takoma Park, while a pretty perfect match for what you want in all other respects, is too far away. Silver Spring is even farther.
posted by yellowcandy at 4:26 PM on March 10, 2012

are there any major toxic output areas (Power plants/waste water treatment plants) around the D.C. metro we should avoid?

Close by your Bolling AFB location, the Blue Plains sewage treament plant, which I'm afraid you'll find unavoidable.
posted by Rash at 4:44 PM on March 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the great responses. To be honest I never thought about the "Stay away from MD" as a racist statement where in fact that makes some sense in context. We'll definitely be opening up our search to MD and D.C. proper now given all your inputs.

Love the empty set comments. Thanks again, this is really useful.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 11:53 PM on March 10, 2012

Lots of good info here. I'll throw in my few cents based on living there for most of my life until ~3 yrs ago: In Alexandria, you want to look at the Del Ray neighborhood. If you're priced out, check out eastern Fairfax county, between Franconia/Rose Hill and Belle View as mentioned above. You'll be close enough to bike trails and such and surrounded by a wealth of ethnic restaurants, though a bit removed from the crunchiest of lifestyles.

There's a coal-burning power plant just north of Old Town Alexandria which has to be terrible in terms of pollution but is weirdly never talked about. I think there might have been some news recently about cleaning it up or shutting it down if you want to Google it.

North Arlington has been hot for years due to its compact (if not always walkable) neighborhoods and independent retail and such. South Arlington is denser, more strip-malled, and nearly as diverse as Queens, so again full of world-class restaurants but congested and not always beautiful. If you can find something affordable & quiet, it's got a lot going for it, much like Alexandria.

I don't know enough specifics about Maryland but I'm glad you aren't ruling it out just because Black people live there.
posted by sudama at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2012

I would also suggest looking at the string of streetcar suburbs in Prince George's County coming out on Route 1 - Hyattsville and Mount Rainier in particular. They all have similar vibes to Takoma Park, and lots of older cute single family homes with city councils that are very into progressive politics (Mt Rainier has a cooperatively run pool, a grocery coop, and a bike coop)

Where We Live: Mount Rainier, a lower-priced alternative to Takoma Park: A great Washington Post article on Mt Rainier.

Where We Live: Historic Hyattsville sees a retail rebirth - and one on Hyattsville.
posted by waylaid at 10:34 AM on March 15, 2012

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