COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt
Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
Traffic along Fort Hunt Road moves more slowly. The local beauty salon does a steady business of "roller sets" under bubble hair dryers, and the barbershop around the corner offers shaves. Full-time attendants at the service station pump gas, check tires and clean windshields because so many customers can't.
Just up the road, a variety store hearkens back to the dime store, its shelves chockablock with everything from bobby pins to popguns. Its fastest-selling items are canning jars and sewing notions. The former Hollin Hills Elementary School is now a retirement community, a mix of assisted- and independent living for about 150 people. Another school has become a senior center, offering Jazzercise, line dancing, bridge, military history classes and trips to see "Menopause, the Musical!" in Baltimore.
The Fort Hunt area -- which fans out from Fort Hunt Road and includes the Mount Vernon, Tauxemont, Hollin Hills and Hollin Hall neighborhoods -- was one of the first suburbs in Fairfax County. As the population in Washington's suburbs ages, Fort Hunt is already grayer than most and offers a glimpse of America's future.
More than 22 percent of Fort Hunt's population is 62 or older, compared with 9.9 percent countywide, according to the 2000 Census. It's a place where transportation can be a problem for those who don't drive because everything was built around the automobile, and where the design of a house can determine whether residents can live out their lives in their homes.
Most of all, gestures that might be considered courtesies elsewhere are necessities. Elderly neighbors check in by telephone with one another, and those who can still drive ferry those who can't to the grocery store, the pharmacy or the doctor.
For one group of ambitious seniors, it means building a organization that would formalize this spirit of cooperation. Following the lead of Boston's Beacon Hill, about 40 residents have been meeting since March to create Mount Vernon At Home, a nonprofit entity that would help them manage their daily affairs. It will need to attract at least 300 dues-paying members to offer a service that would depend on professionals and volunteers to arrange for rides, meals, home repairs or other assistance.
"Aging in place" is the new buzzword for people who prefer to live out their remaining days in their homes, close to the people and places they have known for most of their lives. Owing to a combination of good fortune and foresight by businesses, government and ordinary people, a large number of senior citizens have so far succeeded.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.