Many of the Northern Virginia communities I’ve profiled today have long histories, going back two hundred years or more. Not so Reston, one of our thriving communities which has been in place for less than 50 years.
Reston’s population was 58,404, according to the 2010 Census. An internationally-known planned community, it was built with the goal of revolutionizing post-World War II concepts of land use and residential/corporate development in American suburbia.
Reston was conceived as a planned community by Robert E. Simon. Founded on April 20, 1964 (Simon’s 50th birthday) and named for his initials, it was the first modern, post-war planned community in America, sparking a revival of the planned community concept. Simon’s family had recently sold Carnegie Hall, and Simon used the funds to create Reston.
The careful planning and zoning within Reston allows for common grounds, several parks, large swaths of wooded areas with picturesque runs (streams), wildflower meadows, two golf courses, nearly 20 public swimming pools, bridle paths, a bike path, four lakes, tennis courts, and extensive foot pathways. These pathways, combined with bridges and tunnels, help to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic and increase safety at certain street crossings.
Reston is one of just a handful of communities in the U.S. that has been designated a backyard wildlife habitat community. Usually this designation is for single-family homes.
Part of the New Town movement, from the beginning Reston was designed to follow “guiding principles” in its development that would stress quality of life. Citizens would be able to live in the same community while going through different life cycles with different housing needs as they age. It was hoped that Restonians could live, work, and have recreation in their own community, with common grounds and scenic beauty shared equally regardless of income level.
Beyond the influence of the New Town movement, Reston was part of a back-to-the-land movement popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. The principles incorporated in the community can be seen as a reaction to the new suburban communities of the post-war era (e.g., Levittown). [Blogger’s note: I grew up in one of the Levittowns. I have to admit it was not as classy as Reston]. Among the problems in these communities that Reston responded to included income segregation, a lack of natural preservation, suburbs that served only as bedroom communities for commuters, a lack of public space in new developments, and a lack of community ties in new developments. Many early residents settled in Reston because of the ideals of the community.
Reston was planned with the following principles, as stated by Robert E. Simon in 1962:
- That the widest choice of opportunities be made available for the full use of leisure time. This means that the New Town should provide a wide range of cultural and recreational facilities as well as an environment for privacy.
- That it be possible for anyone to remain in a single neighborhood throughout his life, uprooting being neither inevitable nor always desirable. By providing the fullest range of housing styles and prices – from high-rise efficiencies to 6-bedroom townhouses and detached houses – housing needs can be met at a variety of income levels and at different stages of family life. This kind of mixture permits residents to remain rooted in the community if they so choose – as their particular housing needs change. As a by-product, this also results in the heterogeneity that spells a lively and varied community.
- That the importance and dignity of each individual be the focal point for all planning, and take precedence for large-scale concepts.
- That the people be able to live and work in the same community.
- That commercial, cultural and recreational facilities be made available to the residents from the outset of the development – not years later.
- That beauty – structural and natural – is a necessity of the good life and should be fostered.
- Since Reston is being developed from private enterprise, in order to be completed as conceived it must also, of course, be a financial success.