Clarendon Area's Urban Energy Helps Melt Midlife Ordeals Away

Susan Cherney, left, and Dee Emma moved separately to Clarendon after life changes.
Susan Cherney, left, and Dee Emma moved separately to Clarendon after life changes. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 21, 2007

After her marriage broke up last year, Raquel Fuentes, an Arlington County mother, knew she needed a new life. A marketing manager in the District, the 38-year-old wanted to live somewhere safe but lively, too, with plenty of people around so she wouldn't feel lonely.

Weary of driving everywhere from her Arlington neighborhood of tidy brick colonials filled mostly with families, she yearned for a more urban lifestyle, where she could walk to shops and restaurants. She wanted to take Metro to work but also stay close to her daughter's day care and friends, because she shared custody with her ex-husband.

Fuentes was drawn to Clarendon, in the heart of Arlington's bustling Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, a three-mile stretch of dense development concentrated around five Metro stops just across the Potomac River from the District.

Long known as a magnet for young singles just starting out, Arlington's "R-B corridor" is quietly attracting a large number of middle-aged people looking to start over. The rapidly urbanizing stretch of suburbia is becoming the place to move in Northern Virginia after a life-changing event, like divorce, the loss of a spouse, a cross-country move, kids moving out or parents dying.

"The boomers are here in big numbers now," said Jay Fisette (D), a member of the Arlington County Board. "Two acres of grass to cut on an isolated cul-de-sac with two tense hours of bumper-to-bumper commute time becomes less appealing when personal circumstances change."

The reasons for the boomers-in-flux become more clear with the opening of each new high-rise: close proximity to the District and jobs, Metro within walking distance, and more and more places to frequent: new restaurants, upscale shops, dance studios, coffee bars, bike trails, dog parks, gyms and live entertainment.

And lots of other people going through similar life changes.

"The fact that there are other people like them who they can establish a relationship with, whether it's a romantic relationship or friendship, is very important," said Ralph Rosenbaum, a demographer with the city of Alexandria. "These people are looking for a social life outside of their family, because their family may not be local anymore or may not exist in the same way."

Demographer Roberto Ruiz of Arlington's planning office estimates that Arlington's baby boomer population -- residents ages 45 to 64 -- has increased 34.4 percent to about 54,300 since the 2000 Census. The population of the county is just under 200,000.

And the number of single people in Arlington continues to soar from an already high level. In the 2000 Census, 40.8 percent of Arlington's households were made up of single people, among the top U.S. localities. Since then, the population of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has shot up by about 6,000 people, or 17 percent, while the household size there has decreased, Ruiz said, meaning more singles are taking up residence in the urban-suburban strip.

The new real estate doesn't come cheap -- another reason higher-income boomers are filling in the gaps.

"It can't all be 20-somethings," said Robert E. Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and the author of "Boomburbs," a new book on the suburbs. "They couldn't foot the bill."

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