Last week, fellow Board member Dick Rogers and I were interviewed on John Lovaas’s Reston Impact TV show (which runs on Channel 28). We talked about RCA, what we’re up to, and the issues that we’re pursuing at present. But one of the things that John and I discussed really stuck with me. We were talking about RCA’s history, and I was explaining how RCA’s role in the community has changed over time.
I provided a brief summary in the interview, but it’s a question that deserves a longer answer. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the story of RCA’s evolution is also the story of Reston’s evolution. RCA’s role has changed over time to reflect the changing nature of our community.
As you may know, RCA was formed in 1967 in response to a perceived threat. Gulf Oil had bought Reston and fired Bob Simon as lead developer. Bob’s vision and his founding principles had drawn most of the pioneer Restonians to live here. They wanted to live in the community Bob was creating. Would Gulf care about fulfilling Bob’s vision? What would become of the community that the citizens had dreamed about?
RCA was formed with the express purpose of ensuring that Bob Simon’s vision was carried out as Reston continued to develop. They met with the developer, made the community’s goals and concerns clear, and held community forums to keep the citizens informed. They created the Planning & Zoning Committee to ensure that new development was consistent with the Reston vision. RCA held Gulf’s feet to the fire and ensured that they adhered to Bob’s founding principles in building and shaping Reston.
Also, from its earliest days RCA had another mission. Reston was still largely hypothetical, and it didn’t have many of the civic facilities and institutions that established communities take for granted. There was no town government, and Fairfax County was generally indifferent to tiny little Reston. Our citizens recognized that if Reston was going to become a thriving community, they’d need to make it happen.
So in addition to being a developer watchdog, RCA became the locus for citizens who wanted to build our community’s infrastructure. In some cases – like with schools and hospital facilities – that meant collecting data and advocating with county and state government to get what Reston needed. And sometimes, it meant a do-it-yourself project. Restonians wanted bus service to DC and commercial lines weren’t meeting the demand, so RCA chartered its own commuter bus service. Restonians wanted an event to celebrate our community, so RCA created and operated the Reston Festival. Community building was a hands-on activity in those days, and RCA was right at the heart of it.
RCA was also at the heart of Reston’s pushes for self-government. Whenever Reston has discussed incorporating as a town, RCA has led the charge. It’s no surprise that a group dedicated to active citizen involvement would support bringing government closer to the people, and ensuring that Reston’s citizens have more say in their own destiny.
As Reston grew over the decades, so too did its civic institutions. Reston’s growing population (and the activism of RCA and the citizens) meant that we got more attention and representation from the County. Reston’s homeowner’s association (then RHOA, now RA) became better organized, better funded, and more influential. The Reston Community Center, self-funded by Reston through Small Tax District #5, provided recreation and cultural amenities for our citizens. Reston was growing up.
And as Reston grew, some wondered if RCA still had a role in the community. A group of plucky volunteers operating on a shoestring might have been what Reston needed in the early days, but now Reston had a County Supervisor and a well-funded homeowner’s association. Most of the facilities and institutions RCA had pushed for in the early days were now provided. Had RCA outlived its usefulness?
The answer to that, I’m happy to say, is no. Reston had fulfilled RCA’s early goals of being built out according to Bob’s vision and becoming a thriving community with a full range of amenities, but there was still plenty of room for active citizen volunteers to be involved. RCA has changed its mission over the years to suit a changing community while remaining true to its founding ideals.
The specific projects that RCA has taken on have generally varied depending on the strengths and interests of the Board at any given time. For instance, when I first joined the Board in 2005, Mike Corrigan was President, and he was and is a strong supporter of Reston becoming a town. As a result, RCA devoted its energy to pushing for a referendum on incorporation. Other Boards have prioritized other issues. Since RCA thrives on the strength of its volunteers, it’s no surprise that they have shaped RCA’s priorities.
Not having a set portfolio allows RCA to be flexible in responding to the issues that are most important in the community. If the Reston National golf course becomes a dominant issue in Reston, RCA can focus on that; if the RCC rec center proposal takes center stage, we can shift our attention accordingly.
Right now, Reston is facing a lot of important issues that are right in RCA’s wheelhouse. How do we remain true to Reston’s founding principles as we redevelop to accommodate the Silver Line? How can we maintain the qualities that make Reston special without preserving ourselves in amber, which is a recipe for stagnation and decline? How do we ensure that our coming influx of new residents has the transportation, open space, recreation opportunities, and other amenities that they’ll need? How do we ensure that Reston remains the community our citizens bought into decades ago, in the face of change?
RCA is at home dealing with these issues. We may not be chartering buses any more, but we’re advocating to our elected officials for more bus service. We may not be doing population surveys to prove the need for schools, but we’re working with County planners to ensure that Reston’s future student population has enough room to learn. We may not be running the P&Z Committee, but our Reston 20/20 Committee is doing crucial analysis to push for planning and development that will improve Reston’s quality of life rather than threaten it.
Reston’s about to turn 50, and we’re a mature community now. But there will always be room for active and dedicated citizens to take a hands-on role in shaping Reston’s future. As long as there’s a Reston, there will be an RCA to ensure that the community Bob Simon envisioned and our citizens built remains a special place to live, work, and play.