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Planned community Reston, Va., turns 50

Sunday - 4/6/2014, 12:49am  ET

Bob Simon (Ari Ashe)
Bob Simon, founder of Reston, Va., is surrounded by town leaders and well-wishers on Reston's 50th Birthday (and his 100th). (Courtesy of WTOP/Ari Ashe)

WASHINGTON --On April 10, 1964, Robert E. Simon founded the town of Reston. On Thursday, Reston turns 50 and Simon celebrates his 100th birthday.

"It's humbling. It's incredible. It's fantastic. There just aren't enough words," says Simon.

Reston literally is Robert E. Simon's town. Just look at his initials: R-E-S. At a celebration in front of Lake Anne, community leaders and politicians came out to honor his vision.

We asked Simon whether he had any idea that Reston would be so successful when he founded it in 1964.

"Yes, I sure as hell did," he says laughing. "That was the program. The program was for 75,000 people with 7 village center and one town center."

With hundreds on hand, the big names turned out to talk about Simon's vision: Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Gerry Connolly, Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, all praised Simon. April 10 has also been proclaimed Reston Day.

"Bob Simon is an idea guy who followed through. And out of that idea grew a beautiful place with an extraordinary identity. The values that he helped instill in this idea called Reston have now permeated thorough out Fairfax County," says Connolly.

He says he hopes the value of community, giving back and civility are virtues that could become a staple in all of Virginia.

"I venture to say that when the history of Virginia since World War II is written, Bob Simon will be one of the five or six most important visionaries in shaping the Virginia of today," says Kaine.

Like Columbia, Md., Reston is a planned community. Today the term is called smart growth. Another popular term is activity centers, or communities where people can eat, live, work and play. Both are just an extension of the concept from Simon.

"What makes Reston so special is the sense of community we have and just the fact that you have people of all walks of life side by side. There is a vision that this town was built on and we've stuck to that vision," says Tanya Sanders, who has lived in Reston on-and-off since 1986.

She says she hopes her children will remain here and raise their children in Reston as well.

"It's a place I hold close to my heart: Robert E. Simon town. We have lakes, manmade lakes, we go around, we go walking, we go on the paths. And it's now become a mecca with more businesses coming here ," says Gerald Padmore, who has lived in Reston since 1980.

Even political leaders admit that Reston has a different feel than other Fairfax County towns like Springfield or Burke.

"Reston was a pioneer in understanding the need to provide housing and opportunities for people of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds and has been and continues to be a very welcoming place," says Bulova.

Cathy Hudgins represents Reston on the Board of Supervisors. She has lived in the community for nearly 45 years.

"My husband and I celebrate our anniversary of moving here on April 27. It's so important for us because we didn't think very much about Virginia. We thought we didn't want to move to Virginia, it'll be hard to find a home. But once we did, we found that Bob created an opportunity for us. We raised our sons here and engulfed ourselves in this community since," says Hudgins.

As the Lake Anne community center gets redeveloped in the next several years, the vision remains the same and the hope is that Reston will celebrate a 100th birthday in 2064 with a new generation of Restonians.

Simon believes the challenges are great in a society that's changed a lot in recent years. He has some advice to the younger generation growing up now.

"Get out of your rooms where you keep your high-techery. Get outside. Get on a bicycle. Get on the tennis court. Row a boat, paddle a boat, sail a boat. All the things that make life for a fuller life than just exercising your thumbs," says Simon.

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