Meet Northern Virginia

Washington. D.C. gets somewhat overlooked when you consider that it’s the nation’s capital. With a population of nearly 700,000, it’s one of the biggest cities in the country. But at 68.3 square miles, it’s also pretty compact as far as cities go, and it got even smaller after returning Alexandria to Virginia in 1846. But D.C. isn’t a state so much as a, well, district. The residents of D.C. don’t have a representative in the U.S. Senate, and the only member D.C. has in the House of Representatives can’t even vote. For that and other reasons, the capital’s sphere of influence also extends to parts of Maryland and Virginia. In fact, the name “DMV” has become a popular way to refer to the area in recent years, and it has nothing to do with the place where drivers go to get their license renewed. D stands for D.C. (which, in turn, stands for District of Columbia), M for Maryland, and V for Virginia. Northern Virginia (sometimes referred to as NOVA) is the most-populated part of the Greater D.C. area.

A Growing Population

Northern Virginia’s population keeps growing at an impressive clip. In 2018, researchers announced that Loudon County had grown by a whopping 26.8 percent since 2010, making it the fastest-growing jurisdiction in all of Virginia. Prince William County and Fairfax County also experienced steady growth. Taken together, those are three of the top four counties in the state as ranked by population.

The people who live in Northern Virginia also tend to be both younger than average and pretty well-off financially. You can thank the federal government for a large part of that, as the D.C. economy attracts plenty of well-educated people who are very interested in secure jobs with a high salary. People who work as lobbyists, lawyers, or defense contractors can make good money if they live and work near the nation’s capital. If you’re visiting Alexandria or Arlington and find that your cell phone keeps dropping calls, check the news: it could be that everyone is calling each other to talk about the latest government shutdown. If that’s not what’s happening, look for a cell phone store in Virginia. Their staff can get your phone up and running with plenty of time left for you to hop on the Metro’s Orange Line and make your 7 o’clock dinner reservation at a farm-to-table restaurant in Fairfax County.

NOVA and The Rest of the State

All that wealth in the Washington metro area is great for the people making money hand-over-fist, but critics say it contributes to the idea that Washington elites are out-of-touch with the rest of the country. In some ways, the wealth disparity is indicative of a problem that’s being faced by people all over the nation. There’s a sense that the rich are getting richer and leaving the middle and lower classes behind, even though it’s hard for people to agree on exactly how the middle-class should be defined nowadays.

There’s also some tension between NoVA and the rest of Virginia, sometimes referred to as RoVA. Northern Virginia is technically located in a Southern state, but it doesn’t really feel Southern when you compare it to its cities located farther south. It’s more diverse and educated, and, unlike the rest of the state, the people near the capital tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. Of course, a lot of states have internal divisions over which part of the state represents the “real” state. Texans argue about Austin versus East Texas the same way that Virginians argue about NoVA versus RoVA. Both sides have their preferences, and there’s pretty much no way to settle the argument definitively. If you’re visiting the area, it’s a good idea to be aware of the dynamics, but don’t feel like you have to take a side. Just enjoy Northern Virginia’s culture, history, and, of course, restaurants. DMV’s diverse population means the area has some of the best ethnic cuisine in all of the United States or maybe even the world.

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