Not Quite the Conventional View

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006

The basic outline of Fairfax County's transformation is well known: The county's job base has exploded in size, its population has grown far more diverse and its housing market has boomed.

So when the Board of Supervisors commissioned an in-depth report on what the future holds for the county, few expected big surprises.

The report, "Anticipating the Future," includes plenty to buttress the accepted trends, but it also indicates that not everything is as it seems in Fairfax. In ways big and small, some of the report's data and projections challenge commonly held assumptions about the county and where it's headed. The report, compiled by county staff members from multiple sources, offers these considerations:

· Reports of the county's urbanization are slightly exaggerated.

· Fairfax may be full of new Americans, but huddled masses is hardly the way to describe them.

· Despite what its boosters say, the county may have passed the days of its most robust growth.

Much has been said about how Fairfax is rapidly urbanizing, changing from a traditional suburb to a place that has some of the characteristics of a city.

The county has grown much more crowded -- one-third of the vacant land that existed in 1980 remains -- and it is more densely populated than cities such as Virginia Beach, Lynchburg and Roanoke.

But as the report indicates, what is being built doesn't look much like a city. High-rise apartments are going up here and there, in Reston, at the Vienna Metro station and at Tysons Corner, but the bulk of the growth is in the form of traditional suburban housing.

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