Falls Church, Virginia, named healthiest community in the nation
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABC7) —
Falls Church, settled in 1699, might just be considered an example of "survival of the fittest."
“The Little City,” as it’s known, is just 2.2 square miles.
Home to about 14,000 people, Falls Church is busy with cyclists, walkers and active kids.
“It’s Mayberry, but it’s also right next to D.C.,” U.S News and World Report journalist Gaby Galvin said. “Health is really at the forefront of everything they do there.”
The trend toward health habits begins early — a jungle gym instead of computer screens. Swings, in favor of video games.
“The equipment is just wonderful, and we were here last week, and it was packed,” said Carol Lowit, who brought her grandchildren, 11-year-old Nora and 6-year-old Beckham, to a new playground at Cherry Hill Park.
“The little ones going around and playing and enjoying the outdoors, rather than sitting in front of the television and computers,” she said.
Galvan researched and wrote a new report that finds Northern Virginia has some of the healthiest communities in the country.
The magazine just released its rankings, after evaluating 3,000 communities nationwide.
The parameters include education, infrastructure, education, and population health.
A partial list includes Fairfax at No. 6; Loudoun County at No. 10; Howard County, Maryland; at No. 20, Fairfax County at No. 21; and Arlington County at No. 31.
Falls Church came in at No. 1.
“They’ve got tons of biking trails. They’re working to make the community very walkable,” Galvan said. “And they have a more vibrant downtown area.”
The W&OD trail cuts through a part of Falls Church.
For some, the storied trail is a commuter route for people on two wheels.
“They've been putting bike trails into long-term transportation plans for years,” said Seth Heminway, a member of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, a transportation advocacy group.
He uses his two-wheeler, with a little help from Metro, to get to work these days.
Severe ice is the only impediment.
“I was able to find a house right off the bike trail so it's been great to be able to commute, essentially just about in any weather,” Heminway said.
For some, leaving the car, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the long delays is kind of a culture shock.
But well worth it.
“I am very aware of how many adults, even grandmothers like myself are walking all the time, riding their bikes,” Lowit says.
Area leaders are trying to take the lead — in a good way.
“Our mayor, just as an example, he walks his kids to school every day,” said Falls Church city manager Wyatt Shields.
He says as health awareness is expanding, political leaders are trying to change the landscape.
“A lot of that car-oriented development, the strip malls that you drive to, a lot of those are redeveloping now, into mixed development,” Shields said.
That means shops, specialty stores, workplaces, and eateries, all within walking distance.
Bike lane-friendly roads.
Destinations that aren’t car-dependent.
“You need to have open space,” Shields said. “You need to have great places where people want to congregate. You’ve got to make it safe and convenient for people to work there.”
The city’s farmer’s market is getting increasingly popular.
Even the schools are getting involved.
“They have a 'stress less week' around finals for the high school,” Galvan said. “So they’ll bring in therapy dogs and they’ll do yoga classes.”
Pete Beers, the manager of “Bikenetic,” a bike store, says his business is gradually expanding year-to-year.
A lot has changed in the 30 years he’s lived in the Falls Church region.
“There's more people moving to the area, but there's not necessarily more room for cars or more room for parking or bigger roads,” he said.
Now, he says, change is coming, for the good.
“Some of it necessity, ease of getting around. But also, the mentality of being healthier, and going places by bicycle or walking.”
Call it a throwback, or maybe a different, healthier way of living — and commuting.
Actions in this case, speaking louder than words.
“You can kind of wake up on your commute, and then have a stress-reducing exercise on your way home,” Heminway said with a smile. “It’s a great way to live.”