Reston @ 50: Community Mindedness
Robert Simon wanted Reston to be a different kind of place. It was to embody the best features of city and country living. Having lived in both settings, Simon observed the impact of city versus country life on how people form and behave in a community. To Robert Simon, community was important to quality of life. It was a key part of life itself. From the very beginning, Simon intended community-orientation to be a cornerstone of Reston. In 1962 Simon created the Reston Foundation for Community Programs. It was a tax-exempt fund raising organization with the goal of securing money from grants and other sources to fund health educational cultural, recreational, and community programs in Reston early on in its development. Early initiatives of the Foundation included the Lake Anne Community Hall, the Reston Childrens’ Center, the Nature Center, the Music Center at Reston, and a grant from the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development to design low-income housing in Reston.
Simon brought in people, such as Dr. Carol Lubin, who could organize community groups and activities. A consultant who assisted the master planners in designing the new town, Dr. Lubin was a lawyer from New York who had a background in labor, social, economic, and urban studies. She provided insight on social, administrative, education, transportation, health, and religious issues; advised the Rossant firm as to what types of structures were needed for programs in Reston; and made recommendations to Simon and his employees on how to get community programs up and running. She instituted the Reston Communities Fund, which helped generate grant and charitable funding to begin social programs in Reston. Other Lubin initiatives include a Ford Foundation Grant to hire an architect to design Reston’s first elementary school and a branch of the Fairfax County Library System in Reston. She also laid the groundwork for a hospital complex in Reston, and worked with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Churches to organize the building of churches in Reston.
Reston’s first Community Relations Director, Jane Gilmer Wilhelm, initiated other community services, organizing and supervising Reston’s first daycare center, the Lake Anne Kindergarden and Nursery (LANK). Wilhelm and Simon also began the tradition of supplying groceries needed to prepare dinner and the next day’s breakfast to new families on the night they moved in.
Reston’s early years were marked by the emergence of socially conscious citizens who organized and served their community. Embry Rucker, the first pastor of the Episcopal congregation at Reston, organized the Common Ground Foundation of Reston, a faith-based community group which established a coffee house at Lake Anne Village and organized local projects, such as an employment office, counseling center, daycare center, a local bus service, and an early commuter bus which took passengers into Washington, D.C. and back with the help of volunteer drivers.
The Reston Community Association (RCA) was established in the wake of the Gulf takeover of the management of Reston in the fall of 1967. The RCA’s mission was to make sure that the new developer in Reston did not abandon Simon’s original principles, particularly affordable housing for low to moderate income earners and a fair housing policy toward minorities. Reston was one of the few communities in Virginia who held to these practices. Members of the RCA formed committees to address issues important to Restonians and maintain a dialogue with the developer.
Unlike neighboring locales during the 1960s, Reston welcomed and celebrated diversity. A 1967 Ebony Magazine feature article praised Reston for its open housing policy and its forward-thinking residents. A familiar poster featuring an image with both Caucasian and African American faces proclaiming: “Welcome to Reston: An Open Community” was often seen at various locations around town. In 1969 African American residents formed Reston Black Focus, a group dedicated to celebrating and promoting a better understanding of African American culture. The group sponsored the Reston Black Arts Festival during the late 1960s through the late 1970s. The festival was a three-day celebration featuring African art, dance, music, poetry, and food. Guest speakers from both inside and outside of Reston gave talks and led workshops about culture, community service, and other topics. In 1983, with the help of Reston Black Focus, Nyeri, Kenya became Reston’s “sister city” as part of the Sister Cities International organization.
A meeting place is very important to any community-focused place. Reston’s original meeting place was the E. DeLong Bowman House located on Reston Avenue. Next came the Lake Anne Community Hall on Washington Plaza. Built among Reston’s first structures at Lake Anne Village in 1965, the Community Hall was in the small space next door to the Common Ground Coffee House. It served as a place of worship on Sundays, a meeting place, and a site for lectures, workshops, and parties, among other events. Reston continued to expand in size and population, and it became clear to community leaders that a new community center was needed to serve the growing town. Not only did they need a larger, free-standing, and more flexible space, but one that was more centrally located to all of the villages. In 1979 the new Reston Community Center was completed after a design period of about seven years. The center, located in the Hunter’s Woods Village Center, features a theater, pool, and other amenities for clubs, hobbyists, artists, and others.