[long post] Back about a month ago, I went on ‘a walk‘, which was really a long run but I was very under-motivated at a time and was too ashamed to call it a run. All my races were being canceled at the time and my training for my biggest race of the year (June 13/Laurel race) was derailing faster than I can blink, since I want to train in the woods for that race but couldn’t do it because all the parks were closed (and we were supposed to stay at home) – led to no LH#4 trip. I know I could have sneaked into the woods and no one would care or be able to find me. Virginia has a lot of woods and national parks. Rangers can’t cover all of them. There are places no one would go to.
The walk ended up being a 24 mile run, but was short of a marathon which was what I truly targeting, since the last few runs earlier were virtual marathon runs. This one fell short and couldn’t be used as a virtual marathon.
The cool thing about it was I got to see my neighborhood – the big neighborhood what I normally don’t get to see when traveling in in a car. I experienced how big my community really is. It is a new perspective knowing it is big, yet also feeling good that I could walk around it. If you look at the map, the path I ran has a triangular shape.
Near the tip of the triangle, is where Main Street intersects Lee Hwy and becomes Rt 236, and I decided to turn back at the time because I never walked across that street before (crossing over to Main). I felt that was a new frontier. It was like in the Lord of Ring, when Frodo and Sam said after taking one more step, they would left Shire behind. I was there not daring to cross it that day, because it would have taken me outside my zone (neighborhood) and into Fairfax city.
Well, this past weekend, I crossed the street and continued on much further, in fact all the way to my former high school. I spent the afternoon exploring that new area, basically running up and down on Lee Hwy and Fairfax Blvd (same street but their name changes along the way).
I got to my high school. It was remodeled after I graduated. It looked a lot different. I have been back maybe once or twice to watch a play and at another time for a football game (something I didn’t experience while I was in school, it was all 20+ years ago). Funny how time flies. I felt it was just yesterday I graduated. I was feeling though, that this run was like the first time being back. I was wondering whether our senior class gift to the school is still there (most likely not). This moment was strange too since school is out due to the pandemic. There were a few people around. Some were running on the track. One father was taking picture of his daughter who was in her graduating gown. There were many signs posted along of the side walk congratulating the seniors because they were denied of a formal graduation ceremony.
At the time though, I wanted to see if I could run to my university, which was another maybe 5 miles away. In the end, I was hungry. It was about 6 pm in the evening. I scratched the plan to run to my college, since there are fewer restaurants near the college, because it is outside Fairfax City.
So I continued down on Rt 236. Got my dinner. There are a bunch of asian stores in that area, where I was. Annandale is known as Korean town (now Centreville has taken over that title; or has become K2, 2nd Korean town). No, I didn’t get to Annandale yet, but its influence can be felt.
The sun was hot. My pace became a walk. I walked for the next couple hours after dinner basically around a 6 miles block, by turning on Pickett Rd, and again on Fairfax Blvd, which took me back to my high school, after passing Fairfax Circle.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. I saw a beautiful sunset as I was heading west. Fairfax Blvd becomes Main St. I stayed on Main Street, which later becomes Lee Jackson Memorial. Once I crossed back onto Lee Jackson, the rest of the run was like the previous ones. I was in a familar territory, my neighborhood. Funny, a month ago I wouldn’t have considered that to be familar to me.
Why am I going into all these details? It can be a little dry even for those who know the geography. Get to the point, right? I passed through many sections of my “big town”. From Centreville, to Chantilly, to Government Center, and Fairfax Corner, into Fairfax City. Fairfax City is not small.
Centreville and the surrounding areas have been blooming like crazy for the past 20 years, even last 5-10 years, the place has become unrecognizable. They are still building it and transforming as we speak. To me that is very exciting, because I live in a dynamic city. For example, while growing up, Centreville was not a Korean town. There was only one Asian store there. Two actually, a Pho place. However, over the years, now almost every store has become Asian, mainly Korean, exaggerating a bit here. The best things are they stay open late into the night (pre-pandemic). There was once a Korean restaurant that opened 24 hours. I never went out that late, but my friends said it is typical in Korea.
In contrast, Fairfax City, while is still ‘expanding’, as I ran through it, has kept in its historical state. There is of course much history behind, since it was established 1869, but has existed long before that. I would say, the residents or local government has put a halt on it being transformed too quickly, because in the 50s, the surrounding area was growing at 60% [wiki] in population. That is quite a scary number (from 299,000 to 489,000) of people for the region in 10 years time. I think Fairfax too struggled to keep up at that pace. Things have slow quite a bit, especially the heart of Fairfax (the city).
Note, we have Fairfax City which is inside of Fairfax County. Sometimes they seem to be synonomous, but Fairfax is self-ruled, I think (and is separate from the County). While many other municipalities like Centreville does not have self-ruled, and is under the County’s management.
I felt I have walked into the past as I traveled down Fairfax Blvd. It was how it look maybe 30 or 50 years ago. It was just a weird feeling. Having been living in Centreville, and also working in downtown DC, I have come to expect new buildings and the modern look. But as I ran, I was saying huh, how come there isn’t any tall building here or there. Or why is there a strip mall here? There were a lot of ‘huh’ moments. It seems the locale is 20-30 years behind time. It is changing, but it is not doing as fast as out in the extended suburb. There are not many buildings/houses over three stories. Most of them are single story, flat. There are a lot of “green space”. All the surrounding places around Fairfax City has exploded with ‘high density’ this and that, but it seems Fairfax City is still a low density area. The image I had in my mind was like New York City Central Park being surrounded by all the skyscappers. I’m not complaining though, but that is how it comes across to me. I get the residents’ sentiments. People want to feel their root, how things look when they were a child here.
I came across a ‘house’, but it was like a farm to me. It might have been one. They kept all the land and now zoned as residential. There is a house at the very far end of the long driveway. This is rare in a city. I have not come across a lot of houses with a driveway, and one that is long, where you almost couldn’t see it. I said wow, I never expected a farm to be inside a city. Centreville and Chantilly used to be farm land too but now you can’t find any. You could if you drive a bit out to the next division/county over, e.g. to Cox Farm, where my sister loves to bring her kids there. We still have the street name called “Centreville Farms Rd” or Franklin Farm Rd, but no farm there.
To me, it seems people don’t want their neighborhood to be changed too quickly. Yet it seems also they are being left behind.
I was thinking, how come our city is not like say New York, or LA. Of course no one wants to be like them, at least not to have their troubles. But there is a good side in how ‘efficient’ city is when it is planed or organized. I have spent most of my running time, running in DC, or around my house in Centreville, and I just love the inner city feel (at least the rich part). I felt Fairfax or Centreville is missing something. It seems they lack a ‘vision’ of having a coherent master city plan. DC is a planned city. Yes, we have ton of growth. And Yes we have people who don’t want changes. But as I ran through the city (Fairfax City), I felt things got built or placed randomly. We do have zoning laws, but it doesn’t seem being done right.
Another thing we lack is an identity. We don’t have something to make Fairfax City unique. We have a lot of streets named after Confederate Soldiers/generals. This little history too I think one day will disappear because there is a movement to push back anything that has to do with the Confederate because of its tie to slavery, and the negative aspect (white supremacy), as seen in recent years’ protests, and antiprotests, and racial killing.
In DC, we have a lot of statutes and monuments and museums and government buildings to showcase – a tourism magnet. But in Fairfax, when someone speaks of Fairfax nothing really comes to mind. People make fun of it by saying we have Bulgogi (Korean Bbq). There is a video out there on Youtube made a few years ago comparing Fairfax with Arlington. Arlington has Starbucks. I think we have more than that!
I felt the city should have visible symbols that they can be proud of. We have a Fairfax Museum. I have been there, but it is nothing anything close to being like a museum in DC. There is nothing we can be proud of. Our identity mainly stems from being a suburb of DC. Fairfax City is even less developed than its surrounding. The whole city is underdeveloped, which is not neccessary a bad thing.
It does have an university, which was actually built outside the city because it couldn’t find enough land in the city (or that people doesn’t want anything to change within), that was where I was going to run to, but changed my mind as I was heading there.
Our county too lack a distinct identity. We are known as having one of the largest school system. We are supposed to be a pretty rich county, something like top 10 or even higher. We have tons of trails, for which I am glad. We have couple well known towns, mainly Reston, Herndon, Tysons, Vienna, Centreville, and Annandale. I leave out Alexandria and Falls Church for a reason (they have their own thing – self rule). I felt we can do better in term of having the infrastructure to support ‘future growth’.
Another example: The county has now a place for all its adminstrative building (in Fairfax Corners). But it seems to be a half baked idea. Not all the government functions are located there. I felt they should. We zoned it as such, why not make it a full blown the seat of the government for the county there? But we have too much money. We have three or for four different locations for the county HQs (headquarters). Might be a good thing. We have divided the county into “areas” by number internally, e.g. Area 1, Area 2, Area 3. Is there area 4? There is the north county, and south county. The government center, is on the west county, but we don’t call it as such. Weird, it is neither north or south. Don’t ask me which area it belongs. The area number seems to be labeled as such by construction people or some engineers/city planners (internally) and was never a name supposed to be used by the public. Schools though are divided by area number (weird right?).
It brought to mind as I ran, that DC has Wards (political sub division). I felt our county would be better if we are divided into wards, like DC. I don’t know why it is better, but at least I felt each Ward then would have its own identity. Ward 1, vs Ward 10. It is a bland identity, but at least it is something. Yes, voting wise, we have district – I am belonging to the Springfield congressional district even though the actual Springfield area is 20-25 miles away! They gerrymandered my area into theirs for historical reason. Don’t remember how many years ago that was. It is meaningless. I don’t vote for Springfield issues. There is probably some wise man, saying I got this wrong.
Another similar thought on identity is we should bid for an olympic event in our area. This actually came up last year or the year before when we tried to submit a bid – I think Baltimore did, they tried to get the Washingtonians to join them, though a lot of people I talked to were laughing at the idea – horrible idea to bring an olympic here to DC with our high security concerns. But we should make the place ‘tourist friendly’, and a successful olympic bid would do that. Also we should have a stadium or two, with at least one for the university. We should help our university to get into div 1 for its football program. Yes everything is about sport, especially football, in our nation. We should have national standing, and even internationally if we have an olympic here. The Washington Redskins were looking for a practice facility. We should have built one for them. However, many people opposed it. Not in our backyard, they say. Imagine every weekend tailgate party; the noise and mess of 40,000-80,000 fans streaming through your quiet neighborhood. No way, they say. I have attended a ‘big’ school with a football program. Ya, you can’t sleep or study with a game on.
I have traveled to couple other countries. I saw how they arranged their cities. There is some desire for my local area to be like that. Fairfax county/city right now feel a bit of being in the backwater.
Those were just some silly reflections. Not sure if they will ever get any where. I am not a politician nor have plan to become one. I see it as quirks or wrinkles of my locale. No one has tried straighten them out. Maybe some did and failed.
I got home after the sun has set. It was a long 41-42 miles run. My watch battery was low and I had to stop the gps tracking 6 miles short.