Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ashburn, Virginia

Years ago, when our kiddiewinks were toddlers, Wonder Woman and I explored the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, looking for a home that was close to work and that promised decent public schooling for the sproutlings. Someone directed us to Ashburn, a new development that was going up between Sterling and Leesburg. Skeptically -- regular readers of these pages will know my feelings about suburban housing developments -- we drove out there one Sunday to take it in.

What greeted us was a sea of mud, every tree for miles ripped out by the roots and bulldozed into piles like genocide victims in some horror-documentary, newly dammed ponds of shit-colored water awaiting stocks of mud-loving bluegill and carp, a labyrinth of curved culs-de-sac knotted into each other so as, when seen from the air, to resemble a fractal vision of Hell.

And houses under construction. Thousands and thousands and thousands of boxes, single-family castles on an eighth of an acre with laughable, piss-elegant brick fronts and identical pus-yellow vinyl sides and back, the sides discreetly blank, windowless, so as not to expose private goings-on to neighbors four, five feet away. Seas of ChemLawn grass sprayed from a hose blanketed the mud.

We drove on, mute. Horrified.

I have many friends who live in Ashburn, and I can't in any way hold it against them. It is convenient for the thousands of people who work at the enormous local campuses of Verizon and AOL and the countless streamlined buildings that line the Dulles Technology Corridor. Unlike many other suburban hells, Ashburn does offer housing in a wide range of prices, and the faces in the grocery stores and strip malls come in a huge variety of colors and shapes. People from crumbling Annandale, Falls Church, Baileys Crossroads, aspire to Ashburn.

Still, it was undeniably surreal to open yesterday's WashPost to find a Metro-section feature that informed us -- unironically, without a hint of surprise -- that Wilson Pickett had lived out his final years in Ashburn.

Wilson Pickett lived in Ashburn.


Pickett lived on this street. We had to go look, right?

I'm not sure how to process this information. An erstwhile rowdy partyboy R&B soul-shouter with a checkered past and scores of classic recordings in his repertoire has to quietly live out his final years somewhere, I suppose. The Post says Ashburn's proximity to Dulles Airport factored into Pickett's decision.

But what a strange, strange choice. A soul singer, living in the most soulless place in the universe. The place is so utterly devoid of funk, so bereft of the pelvic-swinging sweaty abandon burned into every groove of his records.... Just thinking of Pickett living there boggles the mind.

The neighbors quoted in the Post piece attest that his last years were serene, that he was a friendly and personable neighbor who fished with the fellow next door and sweetly sent baby-shower gifts. But the idea of this rock-n-roll Bacchante -- who gave us "In the Midnight Hour," for all love -- living his twilight years in a plastic bedroom development in the big-box exurbs is profoundly depressing.

God, we've lost so much. We've lost wooden siding, slate roofs, plaster walls, mullioned double-hung windows and modesty of scale. Front porches that are actually used. We've lost walking to school. Children able to play outside for hours, parents cheerfully unconcerned about their whereabouts. Trees older than any living person. Wainscoting. Streetcars. Sleeping-porches with a roll-out divan. Wood-burning fireplaces, the smell of hickory smoke, skating on a frozen pond. The smell of butter on ice in a restaurant, lemon-water, fresh iced tea. White gloves and hats on women at garden-parties. Endless neighborhood games of kick-the-can, touch football, capture-the-flag, on wide and sun-dappled lawns. Real Volkswagen Beetles. Pipe-smoke -- when was the last time you smelled pipe-smoke?

A sense that entertainment, absence of boredom, was a reward and not a right.

Perhaps the thing we miss the most is people with firsthand knowledge, born of dire experience, of what life was like before everything became coated with a layer of melted polyethylene. People that actually give a shit that their lives are stuffed to the brim with useless shiny dazzling plastic crap. Goddammit, those things up there were taken from us.

I feel like a jibbering street-loon even mentioning their loss, though.

I think people accept a life shackled to a house, a car, an office, a car, and a house -- all climate-controlled, wirelessly accessed, and double-redundant so that if God forbid the endless stream of entertainment suddenly went down something would immediately jump in and fill the void -- because any alternative is simply inconceivable. Who's going to tell them any different? Tim Russert? Billy Bush? Joy Behar? Jeff Probst?

Hell, what other information is going in?

Universities train hopeful kids: Fuck the Humanities! That's for fags and losers, not Real Men like you! Learn Symbolic Analysis and you will be free! And the youths (Marks?), all trig and chipper in their little paper Trainee hats, their spouses and children at home gobbling down Zoloft and Ritalin by the bucketful and weeping their eyes out in front of Oprah or Spongebob, sit in choking traffic at 7:30 AM on the Dulles Toll Road on the way to a junior project-management gig at Oracle and contemplate the blessings of the infinite freedom they enjoy.

After all, hell, they live next door to Wilson Pickett. That's got to count for something.

33 comments:

Wren said...

Neddie, Neddie ...
My heart breaks over all those plastic folks, living plastic lives in plastic houses while running the endless treadmill. But you've chosen a different sort of life for yourself. Lots of us have. Be of good cheer. There is hope.
Today my neighbor called to offer me half of a still-warm, fresh-baked carrot cake. The only reason? She wanted to bake, didn't want to eat the whole cake herself and thought maybe my family and I might enjoy it, too. She was right. We met outside at the low chain-link fence that separates our gardens, she handed the cake over the fence and we jawed a bit, both of us bouncing a little and flapping our arms because it's gray and quite cold out today, and we didn't wear coats. We talked about the redtail hawk pair we've both noticed up at the top of a nearby fir snag, wondering if they've returned to start raising their fourth-season hawklings here. We talked about how nice Sundays are, how we enjoy the treacly slowness of them, and how little we like going back to work on Monday.
When I got back inside, I noticed that the woodstove fire was almost out, and the wood ring on the hearth was empty. So back outside I went to the stacked wood, breathing in its dry, cinammony scent, and carried in enough heavy almond stovelengths to keep us warm until tomorrow morning. I spent some time, getting the stove blazing again. It's a chore, but one I don't mind.
It's quiet here now. The TV is off (it usually is), and there's a pot of coffee brewing. I'm playing on the computer at the moment, but pretty soon I have a date with Sam Harris and his book, "The End of Faith." It's a bit of a downer, that book, but full of wisdom, and if I start feeling too blue, well, the dog comes over and bumps me for a pat just in time. And the cat will be up on my admittedly overly-cushy belly, kneading until he has it just right for a long snooze as I turn the pages, oblivious to the fact that he's rising and falling as I breathe.
It's a gift.
Yes, we've lost a lot, here in America. But for all the plastic people, there are just as many like you, and like me, who still know how to live the old way. And you know what? If any of those plastic folks ever ask me, I'll teach them how to live, too.
Be of good cheer.
-Wren

Decatur Dem said...

Millions of Americans move to, or get born into, a place like Ashburn without a thought other than more house/less mortgage, and the tradeoffs that most of us see as insurmountable apparently aren't even visible to them.

Today was a beautiful day in Decatur, once the clouds blew away. An uncharacteristically balmy late January day. After a late breakfast, I put a leash on Belle and went for a walk over by the railroad tracks, down past the high school, and through the town square where we said hello to a frisky French bulldog pup and a fine-looking pair of greyhounds. By the old courthouse a Korean-American man let Belle say hello to his 16-month old daughter, who was just as thrilled at the meeting as Belle was. We went past people eating a leisurely brunch at sidewalk cafe tables.

On the other side of the square, we went on to the old municipal cemetery for a scenic walk past some of Decatur's permanent residents, many of whom took up in these parts in the early 19th C.
I hope to join them some day-- just not too soon.

We live in a brick house built in 1928. Several years ago we stripped the living room wallpaper down to the original plaster. And there by the front windows, in pencil too faint to photograph, one of the original workmen had inscribed "Shorty Buice done this".

One of these days we'll have to move. But by God, if we stay in Georgia, we'll move to a smaller house, or maybe a condo, right here by downtown Decatur. I can walk to my favorite pub or any of several good restaurants. And I'll usually see someone I know. I could no more move to one of the exurbs like Ashburn than I could--- well, I just couldn't, that's all.


-A propos of a discussion of place and rootedness, permit me to recommend reading James Agee's Knoxville Summer 1914, which is the prologue to A Death in the Family.

fgfdsg said...

However, on the upside Neddie, such mind-numbing conformity and digust that this seems to be everyone's pinnacle of aspiration is bound to get into the heads of a few of the young, creative minds in the suburb who realise there is no entertainment and set out to create their own.

Wilson Pickett might have ended up somewhere souless, but i'm sure there's a kid there now who will turn to music or art in the effort to create something beautiful as an antidote to the sterility.

That gives me hope.

Carl said...

I did enjoy the fact that Wilson Pickett liked to go fishing with the Vietnamese dude next door. Bet he never imagined that back in the 70s.

fgfdsg said...

I've got to wonder if there isn't just a little bit of snobbism happening here though. I imagine a fair amount of people who live these little boxes aren't particuarly enthralled with it either. It's simply a matter of financial choice.

Hey, i'd love a big old homestead with a history and a wide verandah somewhere in the mountains but i'm about half a million short of that kind of dream, so dreams stay in my head and i simply live with what's affordable.

helmut said...

On the other hand... I live in DC where many - including myself - try to find authenticity in rundown Victorians with sculpted fireplaces and trim, sometimes bungalows from the 30s with front porches, the farmer's market within a 5 minute walk. The thing is that I can't afford that because these places are all full of lawyers and doctors and lobbyists and young professionals at places like Oracle, etc. who are in search of a modicum of authenticity. Sometimes they've come from suburban Virginia in search of the authentic urban life. But me, I'm just a professor. I rent.

As for Wilson Pickett, that is depressing indeed. But I know him as the wild and sweet soul singer, not as whatever it was he desired to be in old age. Maybe he just wanted easy, thoughtless quiet.

roxtar said...

I was watching a documentary in which a fellow pointed out that people 5000 years ago didn't have to work as hard as we do. Food, clothing, shelter. That was their entire nut. They didn't have to cover anyone's profit.

Places like Ashburn (and they are legion) make the eager and anxious homebuyer the prime Mark whose pockets will be picked for profit. The developer profits, of course. But so does the contractor whose bulldozers ripped out all those trees, and the vinyl siding factory, and the Chemlawn guy, and DuPont, whose Tyvek sheath insulates each home from the outer world like a discreet white and blue condom, and the bank who profits from the interest on your unreasonably large mortgage.

When you buy in Ashburn, you take all of these entities onto your back and assume responsibility for their well being, as well as the well being of your family.

My wife and I lived in just such a place. Painted Desert, in Las Vegas. From our upstairs windows, we could watch the inexorable progress of an even larger development as it stripped, then scaled, then supplanted the mountain foothills to the west of the city. It was like watching a flesh-eating virus devouring a healthy host.

One day we were idly talking about what we should do about retirement planning, 20 hears hence. We agreed that we wanted some rural acreage where we could raise Lab puppies, closer to her kids in Eastern Pennsylvania (who were about to start producing grandchildren damn near as cute as our pups), where I could pick up a client here and there, taking only cases that interested me while at the same time turning away from the soul-sucking agony factory where I feasted on the pain of others as a Las Vegas divorce attorney.

So we ended up in West Virginia. 2700 square feet plus outbuildings. 5 wooded acres on top of a hill. The gravel road ends in my garage. We're not responsible for a daisy chain of other people's profits. I gather up deadfalls for our stove. Our oil bill this winter so far is $0.00.

We're not retired yet, and our income is less than it was in Las Vegas. But our efforts, and their fruits, are our own. And on a freakishly warm January day, while thunder rumbles through the valley below, I have the leisure to idly page through the By Neddie Jingo archive, grateful that Our Neddie gave himself time to write, and that I gave myself time to read.

Anonymous said...

One view, able to be taken at many turns and altitudes:

Why would anyone want to travel from this small room to see the world when there is not adequate time in a whole lifetime to experience all that is within this room?

"Who are the brain police?"

Decatur Dem said...

I've got to wonder if there isn't just a little bit of snobbism happening here though. I imagine a fair amount of people who live these little boxes aren't particuarly enthralled with it either.

Valid point, Simon. I sounded a little like a snob. So I should modify my statement to say, I don't feel superior to people because they live in those places (unless they're Republicans, of course). It's more that, like Neddie, I lament so much that we've lost. In my childhood, back in the 50s and early 60s, I could walk up to the grocery or drugstore two blocks away for a bag of sugar or whatever my mother might need. I could ride my bike damn near anywhere in Atlanta, as long as I was back in time for supper. I could catch the bus at the end of my block and go shopping downtown.

Back then, when we would go to visit my Uncle Carl and Aunt Leah on the farm, we would drive west through the city neighborhoods, through downtown, through the west side, and soon we were in the country. All on two- or four-lane asphalt roads. There was a fairly clear demarcation between "city" and "country".

Now that area is all urban and exurban sprawl, connected to Atlanta by interstate highways, a landscape much like Ashburn or any other sprawling area in the country.

The sprawl was caused or abetted by the interstates, the mortgage tax deduction, the loss of what Neddie aptly terms modesty of scale, school desegregation in the wake of Brown v. Board, artificially low gasoline prices that never appropriately reflected the costs of more and more driving, the desire of many Americans for larger and larger plots of land. (For additional reasons, see Kunstler's rants). Some of the reasons were perfectly innocent, but many of them made people very large fortunes: highway contractors, building contractors, crooked politicians, landscapers, you name it.

So my apologies to any dweller in one of those blighted communities if I sounded snobbish. I hope you get out of there soon. I hope you know there's another choice.

Anonymous said...

You know, I do agree with you about soulless plaster palaces (having lived as a 20-something renter in a "townhouse" development later condo-ized), but I also take issue with some of your points.

First off, don't be dissing Spongebob. I'm a long-time cartoon watcher, everything from black & white Looney Toons ("yes, I'm the last of the dodos!") through 60s stuff like Superchicken, and Spongebob is a bona fide good cartoon. The animation is pretty good, the character is funny, and the action is genuinely comic. You want to pick on a modern cartoon, go sh*t all over Dexter's Laboratory or something.

Second, I grew up in a postwar suburb of 50x100 lots in south Jersey until the age of 11 (a house my dad was able to buy because of GI benefits), and we were literally connected to half the town by friendships with kids in the surrounding grid of streets. Our parents had no qualms at all about kicking us out to play all summer long, and winters too. There were trees to climb, ice cream trucks rolled through the streets, we caught fireflies in the summer, camped and swam in the Pineys and spent vacations on the Jersey shore, and my favorite thing to do was to go to the library and take out the limit on books every two weeks.

Then we moved to rural Maine because my dad, like you, had some idea of getting back to his farm-boy roots, and I'll tell you on no uncertain terms rural life can be really. wacked. out. We had 2.5 acres about 2 miles out of the nearest town, and I found a kiddie porn book in the woods nearby, got flashed at least twice while jogging by a lunatic who jumped out of the woods wearing only socks, my first job was at a local restaurant and the first time one of the cooks gave me a ride home a syringe rolled out from under the passenger's side seat (and I don't think he was diabetic). My sister's best friend committed suicide in their senior year of high school, and my brother worked at a place where the owner had to take out his secretary's ex-husband with a 12-gauge because the guy showed up to work and tried to take her hostage.

This region was also one of the first to host alcohol-free graduation parties mainly because there's nothing to do there except sit around in parking lots drinking Bud (and maybe abducting your estranged wife).

I still live in Maine, but it's in the middle of a town with thousands of people, on a street very much like the one where I grew up, with lots of cookie-cutter housing from the 1920s and 30s that was probably low-cost when it was built. There are huge trees, probably also 75-80 years old, and either a sharp-shinned or a Cooper's hawk regularly stalks our "urban" bird feeders.

So while I sympathize with your aversion to modern suburbs and I'm not happy about bulldozer developments either, jeez lou-eez don't make the same mistake in reverse, puhleeze.

Some day, somewhere, some future blogger is going to look back on Ashburn and reminisce fondly, and say, you know, Wilson Pickett lived there ... those were the good old days.

teh l4m3 said...

Meh. You kinda lost me with the gloves and hats bit.

Some things we're better off without, unless they're in a John Waters movie.

Neddie said...

Decatur Dem puts the finger on the nub of the issue and tickles it till it giggles.

In 1970, in Reston, Virginia, I and a gang of my bhoyos could bash through the woods adjacent Tom Moore's back yard, cross Baron Cameron Road, and be immediately swallowed up in thousands of square miles of Boyhood Paradise -- woods, streams, fields, ponds, and strange signs of backwoods human activity: an abandoned steeplechase practice track, some tumbledown empty houses.

That Paradise, that Wonderland, is now North Reston, ChemLawnTyvekDuPont Central. This makes me profoundly sad.

R. Crumb's A Short History of America

cfzygkrx, the sound of a bulldozer hitting a 300-year-old oak tree.

XTCfan said...

Ned, I would have said that was a fine post, but the annotations turned it into a great post (one of the hallmarks of greatness being the quality of other work that it inspires).

Nice writin', everyone. I raise my glass to you all and say biavjdr

helmut said...

Ned and others, Jim Kunstler and I had a little email exchange on legitimacy today that gets at similar themes to your post, Ned. See his post at Clusterfuck Chronicle. And then see also my attempt to sort out some further issues here:
http://phronesisaical.blogspot.com/2006/01/decline-of-myths.html

And, please, comments are more than welcome....

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Let's just jump headfirst into a huge radioactive mountain of shit and get it over with.

We'll be doing the beasts of the forest an immeasurable service.

Kevin Wolf said...

This is what jumped out at me:

Perhaps the thing we miss the most is people with firsthand knowledge, born of dire experience, of what life was like before everything became coated with a layer of melted polyethylene. People that actually give a shit that their lives are stuffed to the brim with useless shiny dazzling plastic crap.

I hang out with a somehwat older crowd at work. These are people who know several languages, or how to sail (I mean, really sail), or in the case of one guy how to shoe a horse and make his own dobros. These folks don't watch a lot of TV.

The pang that passes through me when I think of what I don't know I just can't describe.

Growing up in the suburbs doesn't include any of this. There's no real world, real-time knowledge of this sort (or wasn't for me).

With all due respect to Simon, the forms of rebellion available today (almost entirely commodified versions of actions and attitudes from a few decades ago) aren't the same. I'm with Neddie: something is missing.

Aw, now my blusqa hurts...

Matt said...

While I'm definitely sympathetic to the view that today's generation of kids has lost an important connection to the land, every generation thinks that the following generation has lost touch with what's important in life.

You see only what is lost, but much is gained. What must it be like to grow up in the age of computers? So much knowledge and experience out there...and yes, so much bad stuff, too. But think about what it would be like to be a young writer, with a whole universe of knowledge at one's fingertips. . . by age twenty, one could have already been writing publicly for five years. The next generation may not grow up to be pond-hockey champions, but perhaps it will contain the greatest generation of writers the world has ever seen.

I look to Emerson, in all of his rawness and complexity:

"Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship."

helmut said...

Right on, Matt. I turn to Emerson too for solace and wisdom.

On the other hand, I also have Bobby Lightfoot tendencies.

The way of life is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

But think about what it would be like to be a young writer, with a whole universe of knowledge at one's fingertips. . . by age twenty, one could have already been writing publicly for five years.

Hi. How's it going. ^^

I'm not a great writer in any sense of the word, but I've been jotting down little penny dreadfuls online for about five years, and it's gotten me pretty far.

I got to move to Texas and Boston because I met a friend through writing on the Internet who needed a roommate. I have a co-writer who I talk with nearly every night who lives in a different state. I often talk with people from Australia and England and Germany.

I know a few really good online artists pushing their own webcomics, and a fantastic number of creative people I never would have met in the real world (though we have all met face-to-face since then).

Do not despair. I think technology is bringing people together at least as much as it is nudging them apart.

-twig

Anonymous said...

I grieve when I see a nice stand of trees bulldozed for a row of townhouses, too.

But, I live in the real world, not some idealized Norman Rockwell painting. The fact is, there are an awful lot of us human beings on this planet, more every day, and we all have to live somewhere. Not everyone, not even most, can live in your vision of Utopia.

I would love to have about 40 acres of wooded land, with a nice stream and pond, to retire on. Probably not gonna happen, though. As for my house, I live in one of those plastic boxes you revile. It's my home, and whether the walls are made of plaster or drywall, the roof of slate or asphalt matters little to me. My priorities are different, my life a lot bigger than what my house happens to be made of.

I've made a choice about where I live based on my priorities. I don't take offense at your opinion (though you could have left politics out of it) but there definitely is the smell of snobbery in your comments.

I happen to live in Ashburn, and most of the lots are actually 1/4 acre. (Yippee!) There are lots of old trees too, though I wish there were more.

Anonymous said...

Okay, forget my comment just above suggesting snobbery. That's not the right word. You simply value different things than I. And I apologize for attributing the politics to you, that was one of your commenters.

I ran across this entry by chance while searching for a news article, and read it just out of curiosity. I have since read some of your other entries, and have a greater appreciation of where you are coming from. You and I would have very few interests in common, I suspect. I am not a person who is fascinated by “John Kalb, 22lbs. hide for leather" scrawled on a plaster wall. In fact, I am not the kind of person who would lift a finger to preserve the house you describe in your March 3 entry. I guess I just don’t appreciate history. No, that isn’t true, I do appreciate the actual events of history, I just don’t place great value on the human artifacts that are left after history moves on. So that’s why I would rather live in a new house than a 200 year old one. I value practicality over sentiment. I guess that makes me “soulless” in your view.

And that’s just fine with me. I’m glad we’re not all alike, and I accept, indeed am grateful, that we all have different tastes and viewpoints. Still, something about this screed about Ashburn disturbed me enough that I felt compelled to comment. After reading it through a second time, I think I know what it is.

I don’t expect you to love Ashburn. I don’t expect you to even like it. To me, it’s just a place to live, better in some respects than other places, worse in other respects. What bothers me though, is having it mischaracterized and described inaccurately. You don’t need to stretch the facts in order to make your point.

‘every tree for miles ripped out by the roots’ – Really, every tree? Most of Ashburn was farm and pasture land, so many areas were already devoid of trees, but lots of the treelines were preserved. Many trees were destroyed, that’s just the nature of subdivision development, but certainly not every tree for miles.

‘eighth of an acre’ – As I said above, quarter acre lots.

‘neighbors four, five feet away’ – again, an exaggeration, as that wouldn’t be legal. Even the houses that look like they are practically on top of each other are 12-15 feet apart.

‘We drove on, mute. Horrified.’ – You don’t expect me to believe you’ve never visited a suburban subdivision before. If Ashburn horrified you, most cities would probably kill you instantly.

‘the most soulless place in the universe’ – Maybe you really don’t get out much.

‘The place is so utterly devoid of funk’ – Yes, this is true, thank God. Funk is not a word I want describing my home.

You don’t like suburbia. I get it. But please don’t play fast and loose with the facts just to drive the point home.

The rest of your entry bemoans what we’ve lost. Now, I’ll be the first to admit the world is much different for my kids than it was for me. Kids don’t spend enough time outdoors, and we worry about their safety when they do. Kickball and climbing trees aren’t as popular as they used to be. Life is more hectic. But I think it’s funny that you, and your first two commenters, seem to think you have the market cornered on simple pleasures and neighborliness. As I read the response from “Wren”, I’m trying to figure out why she seems to think this scene can’t happen in the suburbs. You may not realize this, but we bake cookies and cakes for each other here too, and chat over the fence (ours are wood, though, not chain link). We have a neighborhood hawk that preys on smaller creatures, and I usually have a few nesting birds in our yard each year. Wood burns here too, and many of us have wood burning stoves, though we have to buy our wood instead of cutting it ourselves. You’d probably be amazed to discover we can read as well, and also keep dogs and cats as companions. In fact, I can’t find a single thing described by Wren or Decatur Dem that couldn’t happen in my neighborhood, except for the walk down by the railroad tracks. They’ve been replaced by a bike path.

Last year I visited the area where I grew up. I hadn’t been back in more than a decade. Everything just looked so… old. I wouldn’t want to live there anymore. But that's just me. Soulless.

Neddie said...

Anonymous: First off, the courtesy of a name would be appreciated.

Secondly, you know nothing about my life or why I hold the opinions I do. You're jousting with a strawman here.

Third, the description I gave of Ashburn in 1996 ("years ago," as I said in the very first words of my post) is absolutely accurate. I stand by every word. Whatever resemblance the land had to the rolling farmland it once was was completely destroyed. Utterly. And uprooted trees stood in gigantic mounds everywhere. If you'd care to drive out to Round Hill, you'll get a very good idea of what Ashburn looked like as the bulldozers began their destruction. It is now succumbing to the same fate, because its government doesn't have the stones to stand up to Toll Brothers.

I don't at all for one instant agree with your contention that people are gonna just have to live somewhere. Eastern Loudoun is a huge, glowing wart of an example of what happens when government fails to protect the interests of its constituents and allows rapacious development to proceed utterly without check.

Tell me this, Nonny: Who benefited from Ashburn's lack of even rudimentary civic planning? Was it you? I don't think so. OK, you've got your quarter-acre with a wooden -- not chain-link -- fence (talk about snobbery!) So how much gas are you obligated to use to get to your grocery store? Do you actually think you could walk to your grocery store even if you wanted to? There may well be walking paths around Ashburn -- do you think you could cross Ashburn Farm Road on foot without taking your life in your hands? There aren't even sidewalks on long stretches of it. How people-friendly is that kind of town design? Take a drive past the new townhouse and condo construction in Broadlands on the Loudoun County Parkway, and try -- just try -- to imagine somebody trying to walk to a grocery store from there.

Your home traps you in your car.

The design of your home traps you in your car. You can't walk even if you wanted to.

This is sickness, Nonny. Sickness. Sickness from Bad Design.

So who, I ask, benefited from that hands-off civic planning? Your children, who risk being flattened if they stray away from your neighborhood and too near a road? You, who can't ride a bicycle on any major road? You, stuck in the already choking traffic on Waxpool Road? (I was in it tonight. It's there absolutely every night of the working week.)

If you value practicality so highly, ponder that one.

Fourth, it is not necessary to destroy forests to build housing. The parts of old Reston that predated the Gulf+Western buyout are proof of this. The original developers of the older parts of Reston were careful not to cut down trees as they built. It can be done. It isn't done any more because, well, it's inconvenient for the developers. Who don't, trust me, Pass the Savings On to You.

I never said the residents of Ashburn were without neighborliness or fellow-feeling. I do, however, contend that your neighborliness comes in spite of, and not because of, the place you live.

Oh, and your sarcasm about historical preservation? Go ram it up your snout.

I hope you're forgotten one day.

Anonymous said...

Wow, such hostility. I'm not sure what I did to deserve that. Hold a different opinion? I thought I was being civil. I'll give it one more try.

First things first, my name is Joe.

I never claimed to know anything about you. Obviously I only know what you posted here, in the half-dozen or so entries that I read. I don't even know if those entries are representative of how you think.

I know people are going to have different opinions about what's important to them in their lifestyle, and that you couldn't bear to live in a place like Ashburn. That's great, good for you. In truth, I'd like to live further out where I could afford a larger piece of land with more buffer between me and my neighbors. For me, however, the trade off of a longer commute isn't worth it (that would truly make me a prisoner of my car.) I'm trading a smaller lot for a 20 minute commute.

I moved here in 1989, years before your visit when the first houses were going up in Ashburn, so I have a pretty good idea of its transformation. In general, I agree with much of your assessment this time around. It doesn't resemble farmland anymore. Reston and Round Hill don't either. As soon as you start putting up houses closer than a quarter mile to each other, you lose that.

The entire area is very poorly planned for the number of houses that are being built. You will not get any argument from me on that. The traffic on Waxpool is a direct result of this, and I rail against the stupidity of our local government and greed of the developers myself. This situation is true throughout Northern Virginia. The road system could hardly be worse. I grew up in the Midwest, where roads are more intelligently layed out, and it's extremely frustrating to see almost everything being done wrong here. So we are in absolute agreement there.

However, the reality is that people really do have to live somewhere. By jamming everyone close together in one area, there's more room elsewhere. So be grateful that (so far) Western Loudoun hasn't suffered the same fate. The older part of Reston did preserve more trees close to roads, but those areas can't support as many houses. It's a tradeoff.

Wood vs. chain-link wasn't meant to be snobbery at all, but I can see how if you start out combative, you could take it that way.

I really don't understand your contention that I'm a prisoner of my car. Because everything is jammed as close as possible together, you really can walk to many things, much more so than if I lived in a small town or in the country. As it so happens, where I live one grocery store is a couple hundred yards from my house, and another is a quarter mile away, so both are within walking distance. There are four grocery stores within or very close to the relatively small area of Ashburn Farm. I generally don't walk to them because when I shop I buy for several weeks, too much to carry home, but I do cross Ashburn Farm Parkway on foot frequently. It's busy, but I don't feel like I'm taking my life in my hands by doing so. My kids cross Ashburn Road daily as they walk to the High School. I don't know of any roads near my house that don't have sidewalks or asphalt paths along them, although often only on one side of the road.

>Oh, and your sarcasm about historical preservation? Go ram it up your snout.
I'm sorry you took it as sarcasm. All I meant is that it's not important to me. Everyone has different interests and priorities. To me, the physical structure of a house is just a box to live in. I understand that you feel differently.

>I hope you're forgotten one day.
I'm sure I will be. If that was meant to hurt me, you missed.

It seems I'm not welcome here, so I'll return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Ashburn, Virginia is an unincorporated area located in Loudoun County, Virginia, 30 miles west of Washington, D.C., and is part of the Washington Metropolitan Area. The area serves as headquarters for the internet service provider Verizon Business, Old Dominion Brewing Company, and the Janelia Farm Research Campus (HHMI). Redskins Park, sportsbook, the headquarters for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, is also located in Ashburn. In addition, Ashburn has for decades been the home to many small businesses including Weller Tile and Mosaics, Carolina Brothers (formerly "Partlows Grocery Store"), Mastercraft Custom Carpentry, and Jack Lawlor Realty Company. http://www.enterbet.com

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