The national profile of the modest and petite City of Falls Church, Virginia, has shot up from practically non-existent to the heady leader of the pack in no less than three relevant quality-of-life categories in just the last two months.
We’re talking first place in the whole U.S., top of the list, king of the hill, or to wax poetic with the lyrics of Cole Porter: Falls Church, ‘You’re the top, You’re the Colosseum, You’re the top, You’re the Louvre Museum!,” and so on.
This all began with the designation by the 24/7 Wall St. website for Best Places to Live in the U.S. that the City of Falls Church was ranked first in the entire U.S., reported in the Feb. 7, 2018 edition of the News-Press.
Then, last week came the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual update which showed that the City of Falls Church tops the list of ‘Fastest Growing Jurisdictions in the U.S.”
Then this Monday, U.S. News and World Report broke the story that it, in conjunction with the Aetna Foundation, found the City of Falls Church to be the No. 1 jurisdiction in the country in its inaugural Healthiest Communities rankings.
And, in a let-down, a ranking by SmartAsset placed the City of Falls Church second (second, humph!) among the best places to retire in Virginia based on factors such as doctor offices, recreation centers and retirement centers per 1,000 people. Assuming there wasn’t some sort of mistake, the City of Fairfax edged out the City in the rankings.
But, seriously, these developments are awesome for the City of Falls Church, surely helpful for its upcoming effort to seek top bond rating status from Wall Street as it undertakes to borrow for the construction of three major capital improvement projects — a new high school and renovated City Hall and public library — in the immediate period.
U.S. News and World Report accompanied the release of its Healthiest Community rankings Monday with a lengthy profile of the City of Falls Church.
The report evaluated nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories, from education and population health to infrastructure and economy. In addition to assessing which communities offer their citizens the greatest opportunity to live a productive, healthy life, the rankings offer insight into the best approaches for improving public health that can be shared and implemented across the country.
“For nearly 30 years, U.S. News has evaluated hospitals, colleges and other sectors for the benefit of consumers, recognizing the importance of access to trusted, in-depth information,” said Eric Gertler, chairman of U.S. News. “Healthiest communities is an extension of that effort, giving citizens, community leaders and policy-makers the tools to assess health in their communities and develop a blueprint for positive change.”
According to Monday’s announcement, in addition to an overall ranking of the top 500 communities, four peer groupings were developed based on counties’ urban-rural status as tied to population density and the robustness of their economies. The peer groups assured fair comparisons between communities and are categorized as: urban high performing, urban up-and-coming, rural high-performing and rural up-and-coming. An Honor Roll was also developed to highlight 36 top-performing communities in each peer group from the nine U.S. Census regions.
“Research has shown that in the United States, a ZIP code is a greater predictor of your life expectancy than your genetic code. In other words, where you live has a significant impact on your overall health,” said Mark T. Bertolini, chairman of the Aetna Foundation and chairman and CEO of Aetna.
“Our work with U.S. News will provide communities with data that can help them better understand opportunities for improvement, as well as inspire ideas for change by showcasing the best practices of communities across the country.”
Mayor David Tarter was quoted in the U.S. News report saying about Falls Church “‘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,” he said. ‘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.”
Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly was also interviewed and said “For many years the school system was the primary draw, but as the city has become more walkable, more friendly, a better place to live, there’s other draws, too, now. People come here who don’t have kids, who just want to live in a community where they can walk and go out to dinner. We really are actively trying to get people like that to come here.”
The article cited city partnerships with local businesses, community groups and the school system to promote wellness initiatives and the schools’ focus on mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating and physical fitness including George Mason High School’s annual “Stress Less Week” with therapy dogs and yoga classes.
Falls Church’s affluence was also mentioned with U.S. News stating around a quarter of City households earn $200,000 or more annually, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, and has a poverty rate of around 3 percent.
The article also noted, “As new residents are drawn by the city’s schools and sense of community, its growth has tested it in areas of equity and housing affordability…. 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.”
It quoted Nancy Vincent, head of the City’s Housing and Human Services Division, who said, “This is a very high-income area, and the poverty rate is low, but it’s not nonexistent. “There’s a group of low-income folks, and quite a few low-income seniors in the city. These folks are an important part of the community and culture of the city, and it would be a huge loss for them not to live here.”
In comments to the News-Press, Dr. Gordon Theisz, who runs the Family Medicine in Falls Church practice said, “We are fortunate to live in an area where people have both access to care and good healthcare benefits which can improve wellness. We are nearly equidistant between two major high quality systems in INOVA and the Virginia Hospital Center. We also have a community that values recreational opportunity, a clean environments, and green space which encourages citizens to get out and be active. A healthy community can be contagious with friends encouraging friends to get out and be active.”
But it is all not sweetness and light, Theisz added, saying, “But we have people who suffer from the common problems of humanity, including heart disease, diabetes, cancers, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and hunger, and there are people without health insurance and those who can’t afford it. My hope is that we can do even better.”
Among the key findings in the 2018 Healthiest Communities rankings, according to Monday’s U.S. News announcement, are that the top five Healthiest Communities all score above the national average in at least nine of the 10 categories evaluated. Falls Church is No. 1, ranking in the top three communities nationally for education, economy and public safety.
To compile the rankings, U.S. News said it worked with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES), a research institution skilled in community health assessment, and consulted with members of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.
The rankings are based on 80 metrics drawn from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.