No, this isn’t a personal question about your belly button. Buyers moving to Northern Virginia often see the phrase “inside” or “outside” the beltway in MLS descriptions and wonder where are these locations on the map. For those who have lived in the Northern Virginia most of our lives we have watched “outside” the beltway on the Virginia side expand far west and south of DC.
Just as the term “slugging” started as a phrase to describe riders using counterfeit tokens, the term inside or outside the beltway started with a different meaning in our area as well. The phrase was originally used politically to describe the fact that most of the power in the DC area was located inside the beltway where the Federal Government is located.
The first written reference to the term is found with the Warren Commission Report about Watergate printed in 1975:
“In the White House of Richard M. Nixon, it was said that Watergate would become serious only if it “got outside the Washington Beltway.” Guess we know how that turned out!
Neighborhoods in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and McLean are some examples of neighborhoods inside the beltway in Northern Virginia. Neighborhoods inside the beltway used to lean towards smaller older homes on tree lined lots however there has been a boom of condo developments inside the beltway. With the metro and buses within walking distance, many of the newer neighborhoods quickly gained popularity with buyers wanting to ditch their car for their daily commute.
Outside the beltway has expanded significantly over the past 10 years and some might say that it extends all the way to the Shenandoah Valley where you can find commuter lots for van pools to DC. The selection of neighborhoods outside the beltway is generally more diverse if for no other reason than the space constraints of trying to squeeze homes within a smaller geographic area has been removed. There has been significant new home development outside the beltway in recent years in the western part of Fairfax County, Prince William County and Loudoun County.
So another mystery of local terminology is revealed. If you want to know more about living either inside or outside the beltway give a native of the area a call. I’ve got a few other localisms I can clue you into as well!