Where We Live

Where the Martini Flag Flies and Babysitters Thrive

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 17, 2009

The 24 houses of Oakton Plantation sit amid countless other subdivisions but seem almost like a self-contained small town. Residents of the decade-old Fairfax County neighborhood socialize together, welcome newcomers, organize community events, lend one another gardening tools and even sometimes vacation together.

"The neighbors are what really make it special," Linda Blankenship said. "We love it so much, we pretty much plan on being here forever."

This is a community of warm and enthusiastic extroverts who like to chat, look out for one another's children and join regular cocktail parties.

As you're heading home from work, "you look to see who's got the martini flag out," Christopher Bright said.

Susan Williams started that tradition after she moved to Oakton Plantation about nine years ago with her husband, Art, and daughter, Katy. They would relax in their back yard after work with beers and barbecue and liked it when neighbors joined them.

"We wanted people to know when it was okay to come over," she said. She found a decorative porch flag with a colorful martini motif. Now, whenever a resident feels like hosting an informal happy hour, Williams lends out the flag.

According to both longtime and newer residents, newcomers are warmly welcomed, though houses don't change hands very often. Pauline Knipe, an agent with Keller Williams Realty, sold the most recent home, to Ryan and Ana Cook. "That was the first one sold in a couple of years," Knipe said.

People are drawn to Oakton Plantation by "the quiet of the neighborhood, the size and newness of the house and the short drive to Metro and shopping, and yet you really are tucked away in the neighborhood," Knipe said. "And it's such a pretty neighborhood, so well-kept and friendly."

"I don't know how many people stopped by when I was raking leaves," Ryan Cook said. "That's the best way to meet people." A neighbor even lent him a tool to help with the work.

Lawn work is new for the Cooks, newlyweds who have just moved out of an apartment, but they like having a yard. "Here the lots are wide enough, you're not on top of each other," Ryan said. The lots range from a quarter to a third of an acre, Knipe said.

The friendly neighbors were a draw for Ana Cook. "I liked that it was a neighborhood with a lot of families and children," she said.

And there are plenty of children. "We call them 'the gang' " Susan Williams said. "They're always biking up and down the street," with traffic cones set out by parents to make sure the slow-moving cul-de-sac traffic sees them.

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