Founded as the seat of the federal government, the form of Washington, D.C. has always reflected security concerns. Since the sacking of the capital during the War of 1812, the government has taken increasingly extensive measures to ensure its self-protection, including 68 defensive forts during the Civil War, a beltway beyond the blast radius of an atomic bomb during the Cold War, and bollards and checkpoints today. Defense has often meant distance, and today geographer Deborah Natsios has observed the vast metropolitan region is embedded with “artifacts of the national security infrastructure” including communications equipment, defense contractors offices, and military facilities.
Now distant Spotsylvania County hopes to benefit from what Natsios terms ‘national security sprawl,’ boasting in a recent advertisement in the Washington Business Journal their county is the first jurisdiction along I-95 south of Washington, D.C.’s 50-mile Homeland Security Zone, near several military installations, and boasting offices meeting anti-terrorism requirements. Is the federal government pushing agencies and contractors to locate beyond 50 miles from Washington, or does the distance simply come as an added bonus to an exurban location? For now the issue is unclear. Information about the security zone on the web is scant, but the Washington Post reported a year ago about federal agencies quietly snapping up offices in Winchester, Virginia, which local boosters quickly noted was 75 miles from Washington, well outside the nuclear “strike zone.” The newspaper even helpfully printed a diagram illustrating just where such a boundary falls. Regardless of the precise nature of the cause, it seems security concerns are pushing government facilities into a new frontier far beyond the existing metropolitan area. Needless to say, the trend runs counter to local government efforts to cultivate smart growth in existing urban areas in order to economize on infrastructure and protect environmental quality.
There is some evidence Spotsylvania’s hopes to capitalize on security sprawl is coming true: the Census estimates the county has added some 30,000 residents since 2000, bringing their population to some 120,000. Capital Region urban observers may want to begin to study the names of a new ring of suburban counties.
> Previously: D.C.’s National Security Sprawl
> Washington Post: “New Rural Sales Pitch: Work Outside D.C.’s Fallout Zone”