And America’s Healthiest Community Is…
For decades, the educated and affluent have flocked to communities in northern Virginia, which boasts excellent schools, high-quality health care and easy access to the nation’s capital.
But of all the communities in the region – and indeed, the country – one tops the rest when it comes to measuring the crucial social and physical factors that combine to shape the health and well-being of its residents.
That community is Falls Church, a roughly 2-square-mile city nestled between the much larger counties of Arlington and Fairfax that holds the No. 1 spot in the inaugural U.S. News rankings of the Healthiest Communities in America. The project, created in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, scores nearly 3,000 communities across 80 metrics that extend beyond health coverage and doctors’ visits to social determinants like income, housing and public safety, aiming to determine how location and circumstances affect the overall health of Americans across the country.
A strong economy, top-notch school system and safe neighborhoods helped Falls Church – originally settled more than 300 years ago and incorporated as an independent city in 1948 – trump top 10 places in Colorado, Massachusetts and elsewhere in Virginia to earn the title of America’s Healthiest Community. Home to more than 14,000 people and branding itself “The Little City,” it’s striving to preserve its small-town feel amid a shift from sleepy Virginia suburb to bustling burg on the outskirts of Washington.
“It’s a small place that a lot of people don’t know about really, but it’s got a great quality of life, and it’s just a little bit like Mayberry,” Mayor David Tarter says. “It’s a place that still has that feel, maybe from a bygone day, where people walk and they talk to each other, they know each other, they know each other’s kids and families, they look out for each other. Yet they have the nation’s capital just a short train ride away.”
“It’s a small place that a lot of people don’t know about really, but it’s got a great quality of life, and it’s just a little bit like Mayberry”
…It doesn’t hurt that Falls Church is among the wealthiest and most highly educated cities in the country. Around a quarter of its households earn $200,000 or more annually, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, and the poverty rate is around 3 percent. About 80 percent of adults 25 or older hold at least a bachelor’s degree, more than double the rate in Virginia and the rest of the U.S.
…In Falls Church, nearly a third of households are severely cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing or rent costs each month. And there are issues of income inequality and racial gaps in educational attainment in the increasingly diverse city, which is about 70 percent non-Hispanic white.