Warrenton and Culpeper have, for some time now, been considered bedroom communities. Basically the people who have been moving here were commuting to someplace far away to work each day and coming home to sleep.
As more and more families couldn't afford homes closer to their jobs, they came looking out this way. Often they put up with miserable commutes in order to get that new house for their family.
This was part of what fueled the boom in real estate in our communities. And, the end of that flock of commuters moving here has had much to do with the real estate bust, at a local level.
Even with the recent decline in the price of oil, a real long-term reduction in gas prices now seems unlikely. And, as long as gas is at or above $4/gallon, those commuters are probably not coming back.
So, what's next? Who is going to buy these homes?
It seems clear to me that both Warrenton and Culpeper are going to need to reinvent themselves. Whatever we're going to be in the future, it's probably not what we've been in the past.
It's probably unrealistic to think that we're going to bulldoze all those new subdivisions and go back to the sleepy small towns that we once were.
It's equally unrealistic to believe that the commuters are coming back and that we can thrive as a bedroom community.
So, who do we want to be? Clearly we're going to need to attract businesses that pay high enough wages that families can afford to buy homes. What kind of businesses do we want to attract? What's a good fit with who we are today, our history and who we want to be in the future?
I'm not sure our local governments have yet figured out that we need to re-imagine ourselves as something different. Although I see signs of hope in each community.
Warrenton is talking about turning trash into energy. Might this be the start of becoming a green city and a push to attract green industry?
Culpeper is building new condos downtown next to the train depot where they hope to soon have another train headed into DC. This could be the start of the new Culpeper.
These are clearly seeds of something new. Now let's start public discussion and brainstorming around this challenge and potential solutions. It's going to take years to figure this all out and to begin to make these changes. Let's get started now!