Barney Buscemi believes he has found his niche in Fairfax County. The 31-year-old bachelor heads a regional office in Tysons Corner for a national investment consulting firm.

He lives in a $200,000 town house in the Falls Church area, five minutes from his office, and breezes to work in a red Saab 900 convertible.

Buscemi, who sometimes can be spotted in such Tysons watering holes as the Fedora Cafe, in many ways represents the energetic breed of professionals who have helped galvanize this once quiet bedroom community into the economic dynamo of Virginia, a bustling county of 710,000 -- more people than San Francisco.

"There are so many people like me," Buscemi said. "I tend to think of myself as pretty successful and not starving by any means . . . . There seems to be a bust-your-butt philosophy in our work ethic, which I admire."

These are the people of Fairfax County: well-educated and prosperous, more than half are college graduates, and more than half have household incomes greater than $50,000 a year, a Washington Post survey shows. Most have white-collar jobs and white faces.

Here is life in Fairfax County: clogged highways and quality schools, bedrooms and boardrooms, traditional urban amenities without the grittier big-city negatives.

But it is a place that does not yet know what it is becoming -- urban, suburban or, as some experts suggest, a place that fits neither definition. A place where residents themselves present divided views of their county's future.

According to the Post poll of 1,157 county residents, three out of 10 said the quality of life in Fairfax is getting better, while nearly as many said the county is getting worse. Slightly more than a third said it is staying the same.

These are the problems: Traffic congestion is viewed by two-thirds of those surveyed as a "very serious" problem. Inadequate roads, the second biggest problem, was rated by about half as a major concern. Next came affordable housing and too much growth and development, ranked as very serious problems by about a third of those interviewed.

It is a life style in transition.

With some regret, Vienna residents Donald and Dorothy Trask are planning to transplant the roots they have carefully laid over the past 35 years to Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Donald Trask, who runs a typesetting graphics business, and Dorothy Trask, a sales clerk in a party supply store, will run a Victorian-style country inn there, about 100 miles away.

"Fairfax isn't what it used to be," said Donald Trask, 54. "It's getting a bit overcrowded . . . . There are other things we look for in a quality of life. It's a matter of choice."

Trask has seen his taxes skyrocket to the point that he pays more than $3,000 a year on his house and car, compared with the $500 in taxes he expects to pay in West Virginia. He said he has watched the small-town character of his community evolve into one that welcomes office buildings "like in Crystal City."

Kathy Obert, a 26-year-old electrical engineer, finds comfort in the building boom that has made room for people like herself. She landed a job with the Defense Department in Crystal City after graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Obert lives in a town house in the Alexandria area, and she parties and plays softball with many of the young people who have recently made Fairfax their home. "Sometimes, it's almost like being back home in Illinois," she said.

While 30 percent of the Fairfax residents in the survey said the pace of development is a very serious problem in the county, about an equal percentage said lack of affordable housing is a major problem.

But without more building, housing prices can only be expected to rise.

Joseph Tippett, a homeowner in Springfield, illustrates the challenge the two problems pose for county officials. Tippett complains about the pace of construction, yet he also complains that the house he could afford is in need of serious repair.

"It's just a mess; $140,000 for this mess," Tippett said last weekend, busily fixing the front door and making other repairs at his brick Colonial house in the Beverly Forest subdivision in Springfield. "I'm putting thousands into it to make it livable."

Tippett, who owns a company that sells manufacturers' products to building engineers, said he and his wife Carol went through two real estate agents and countless ads during three months in search of an affordable home in Fairfax. The average value of a house in the county is $148,700, according to county statistics.

"We looked for months and months to find this. We really weren't happy with it," Tippett said.

The group most concerned about housing prices is the 24 percent of Fairfax residents who rent rather than own their homes. Nearly 45 percent of all renters said high housing costs were a very serious problem, compared with 28 percent of all homeowners.

However, most Fairfax residents appear to not want housing to be too affordable. Nearly half of those surveyed, 47 percent, said it would be a "bad thing" if more low-income families moved into their general neighborhood.

"Low-income generally have a lower educational background, and they don't keep the property up as well," said Ted Hussar, a general practice lawyer who owns an Annandale town house.

"It takes a toll on the entire services . . . . There's just a full range of things low-income people are entitled to without paying for. That has to come from somewhere, so it comes from the government."

Joseph Mayton, an Army colonel whose family lives in West Springfield, said he is troubled that his two sons, ages 12 and 9, are growing up with a warped view of the world because of the narrow range of economic classes in his area.

In his community, Mayton said, if youngsters want a bike or a skateboard, they all too often get it. If they want a trip to Disneyland, they go.

"In some ways, it's comforting and reassuring to live among homogeneous groups where generally you aren't forced to confront the reality of extreme poverty. Whether it's good or bad, if you don't see it, you don't think about it," he said.

There is another reality to Fairfax that some say underlies the numbers on public opinion polls. It is racism. More than half, 55 percent, believed racism is at least a minor problem in Fairfax. Slightly more than a third said racism was not a problem. The remainder were undecided.

"I see no progress, no efforts. Nobody is even talking about it," said a 52-year-old white resident who requested anonymity because of his job. He does contract work for defense contractors and educational institutions in the county. He sees no commitment to affirmative action, from either business leaders or politicians. "Neither candidate {in Tuesday's election for chairman of the Board of Supervisors} will talk about it.

"There might just be some thoughts that if you get too many out here, they might want to live here," said the resident, who moved to Fairfax from the Midwest four years ago.

Still, in a county where blacks make up 6 percent of the population, residents profess racial tolerance. Many claim that their areas would benefit if more blacks moved in. Almost half of those surveyed, 45 percent, said it would be a good thing if more blacks were in their general neighborhood.

Mona Head, a real estate agent who lives in a $325,000 house in Reston, said the upper-middle-class whites in her community do not take the time to care about minority representation in jobs.

"They figure you're integrated and that's all you have to do," said Head, who is black. She said she was upset when four of her children were not hired by local companies during the summer months of college. The plum jobs would have provided valuable training in their majors -- marketing, economics and communication. Instead, the children delivered pizzas.

"I don't think they {whites} are aware of their racism. They are not aware there is a commitment beyond the commitment, that they should be concerned if they go into an office that doesn't have blacks. I don't think it's important to them."

The survey did show Fairfax residents appear to have a sense of region that extends beyond county borders. Slightly more than three of five agreed with the statement that "Fairfax County and the District share many of the same problems."

Apparently not all of the same problems, however. More than half, 55 percent, said they would "hate" to live in the District.

Wayne Mills, a retired federal worker, said he would love to go to a Washington Redskins game but has sacrificed that pleasure for nine years. He said his primary concern is District crime.

"I guess there is a stigma placed upon D.C. that kind of strikes me wrong and I don't want to be a part of it," said the 57-year-old Mills, who lives with his wife Virginia, a real estate agent, in the Greenbriar community near Fair Oaks Mall. "I just feel it's not for me. I wouldn't live in the District under any circumstance."

As Fairfax has grown, the number of cars on the road has dramatically risen -- a function of the county's affluence as well as its expanding work force, county officials said. While the population rose by 24 percent between 1975 and 1985, the number of registered automobiles went up by 60 percent.

The ebb and flow of traffic in Fairfax, many residents said, governs when they will go out to eat, to the movies, to the mall, or anywhere at all.

The frustration of lurching and idling in traffic on Rte. 28 and the Dulles Toll Road makes Mike Tossing scream during his 24-mile, one-hour commute from his home in Chantilly to his job at a pharmaceutical company in McLean.

"I hate this. I absolutely hate this," said Tossing, 30, describing how he throws back his head, screams and pounds the roof of his dark gray 1987 Cutlass.

Tossing and his wife Patty, a receptionist in an orthodontist's office in Vienna, moved to Fairfax 11 months ago from suburban Chicago, where he said traffic was not an issue. He said he is so fed up with Fairfax traffic that he is trying to talk his company into transferring him to Baltimore.

"It just kills your spirit," he said. "You try to beat it. But it's just one traffic jam after another."

Andrew Barrick, 45, said he thinks he sees Fairfax's changing complexion on Shirley Highway, on his way to work at the U.S. Justice Department where he is a civil rights lawyer.

Barrick watches the way motorists try to get the better of one another, passing each other recklessly on the shoulder of the road. "There is less civility," said Barrick, who lives alone in a three-bedroom brick rambler-style house in North Springfield. During his 12 years in Fairfax, he said, residents have hardened.

"People are just really discourteous and act in a dangerous way," he said. "These are the good people of Fairfax doing this. Everyone's under stress and pressure. You start to see people disregard the rules of the roads."

Despite the Fairfax traffic, the growth, the housing woes, the fears of class and racial isolation, almost seven out of 10 residents would rather live in Fairfax than anywhere else in the Washington region.

In their view, Fairfax continues to deliver quality services. The ratings on the public schools, parks and recreation facilities and police protection were as high as or higher than those obtained in a 1973 survey of Fairfax residents.

Cecelia Palmer and Alston, her husband of 48 years, will spend the rest of their lives in Springfield, filling the days with bridge, swimming and visits with friends.

"We've always said when we retire we're going to move to leave this congestion," said Cecelia Palmer, who is 70. "But the more we look around, the more we think we're going to stay in our little corner, off the main street."