A new ring of old-style suburbs is flourishing on the fringe of the Washington area, luring young families with relatively low-priced homes and the promise of a good life they no longer can afford close to the city.
From Frederick and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland to Fredericksburg and Warren County in Virginia, the new subdivisions are sprawling with single-family homes, yards full of children, and life styles that remain dependent on cars and gasoline.
Despite soaring fuel costs and the return of young professionals to the city, the rush to new, distant suburbs will probably continue, according to a report on the trend issued today by the Greater Washington Research Center. r
"Washingtonians continue to move outward in search of affordable housing, lower taxes, a rural environment and a life removed from metropolitan problems," said Carol L. Richards, an urban planner who wrote the report.
"The family is alive and well and moving to the fringes," Richards added. "There are still a great many families that want the traditional suburban home, but they have to move to the fringes to afford it.'"
Even with gasoline at $1.25 a gallon and heading for $1.50, housing costs so much less in the new suburbs, Richards said, that middle-income families can afford to buy there and commute long distances to work.
For example, the same four-bedroom house with a one-car garage that costs $86,400 in southern Fairfax County sells for $75,000 30 miles to the south in Spotsylvania County near Fredericksburg.
The house -- a Winchester model built by Ryan Homes -- is priced at $94,900 near Gaithersburg in Montgomery County. Near Frederick, about 25 miles to the north, the price is $77,900.
Prompted partly by such differences, Richards reports, the total population of the 14 jurisdictions adjoining Washington's official metropolitan area increased by 28 percent from 1970 to 1978.
Within the metropolitan area itself, the population rose by slightly less than 4 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The population of the District of Columbia fell by about 11 percent, while the increase in the suburbs was 13.5 percent -- far less than it had been during the 1960s.
Even though the difference in housing costs probably accounts for much of the growth on the metropolitan fringe, many families who make the move there complain that the old suburbs themselves now have "the congestion and complexities that were once thought to be the exclusive province of the central city," Richards said.
The litany of complaints includes pollution, high taxes and crime, plus dissatisfaction with schools once regarded as suburbia's gems.
Although the outward migration includes some blacks, primarily it is made up of white families. Richards said, including some who probably are "running away from school busing for racial balance," particularly in Prince George's County.
Many migrants also "are looking for a more traditional, disciplined environment for their children, away from the drugs and social problems that they see in metropolitan schools," she said.
"Some fringe officials note that there is nothing extraordinary about their schools, especially when compared with . . . Montgomery or Fairfax," Richards said. "Ironically, however, this condition is seen as positive by some newcomers . . . who find in the rural counties a "back to basics' approach that they missed in the [suburbs]."
Underlying the movement to the fringes -- many of which used to be remote, generally stagnant rural areas -- has been the construction of superhighways, Richards said, such as Interstates 95, 270 and 66.
Along with the Capital Beltway, she said, the fast roads not only have made city jobs accessible from farther away but also have permitted industry and business to move to the suburbs. Indeed, from 1970 to 1978, while there was no increase in employment in Washington, about 195,000 new jobs were added in the suburbs.
"If you work in Gaithersburg," Richards said, "it's really not so far to commute from Frederick."
With the Metro subway system, commuters from Annapolis now are parking at New Carrollton in Prince George's County and taking fast trains into the city, she noted.
Thomas Muller, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, said new subdivisions are springing up outside virtually all of America's metropolitan areas, not just Washington.
For blue-collar and low-salaried white collar workers, he said, these are the only alternative to living in apartments or town houses closer in.
"People are more willing to buy a smaller car and drive farther than they are to cut back on the type of houses they buy for their families," Muller said.