Single Home Living: Please Hold While I Connect You
When my husband and I bought our house, we wanted to be as close to our jobs as possible. We had lived in rentals in The Village and Oak Lawn and both of these are close to restaurants, shops, and a grocery store that we walked to on the weekends. Both rentals were adjacent to main thoroughfares with stores lining the edge of the neighborhood. We wanted to replicate this experience as much as we could with what we could afford and settled on a 1950s East Dallas neighborhood adjacent to Garland Road.
Like the other two places we lived, our home requires cars as our primary transportation for work. Unlike the other two, there are very limited destinations close enough to walk. The primary destinations in our neighborhood are a park, an elementary school, a library, and a home improvement store, but that is about it. Everything else requires a vehicle (or determination).
When the neighborhood was built, it had a corner anchor: Lochwood Village Shopping Center, built in 1957. It was an outdoor mall with parking on the outside and a pedestrian mall in the center. There were a variety of businesses situated here including a movie theater, a drycleaners, Goff’s Hamburgers, J.C. Penney’s, Woolworth Store, Tom Thumb, Gordon’s Jewelers, and Walgreens. There was also an adjacent bank and a few other restaurants and bars. At the time, it was the place to be and it attracted customers from Dallas, Garland and Mesquite. You could eat, shop, watch a movie, or quickly grab a few things needed for dinner that night.
Now it is a Home Depot.
The shopping center could not survive the opening of nearby malls like that of Northpark in 1965 (the largest air-conditioned retail space in the world at the time) and other social, economic, and political changes that occurred in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It underwent ownership change and the last owner tried to enclose the open walkway, creating an undesirable place to be and ultimately the center remained empty until it was torn down in the early 1990’s to make room for the big box home improvement store.
Dallas has evolved into a car dependent city through its poorly planned growth, zoning and sprawl. The result has been very car dependent suburbs and neighborhoods of Dallas. Our neighborhood was once a better connected area that was gutted by the exodus to the suburbs. When younger people moved to the suburbs, the businesses soon followed and the public schools suffered. These events left retirees to all sit tight and get passed by. In the past 5 years the area has started to evolve. There are now babies and children around. That is a true indicator of improvement. People are starting to feel comfortable raising children in the area and the neighborhood’s elementary school has been improving. While steps are happening, there could be ways to help facilitate change.
Some new small businesses are moving back into the Garland Road area. There are Good 2 Go Tacos and GoodFriend Beer Garden and Burger House near Peavy Road and a new anchor with HEB is proposed for the Gaston intersection. Even so, right now when you drive down Garland Road, you can get your car oil changed, tires fixed, car washed, your teeth cleaned and then go to church. While these businesses are fine, the overwhelming car-oriented businesses don’t lend themselves to a well rounded community.
One of the biggest challenges with the Good 2 Go Tacos and a few other restaurants and bars that line Garland Road is there is a lack of connectivity to the neighborhoods behind. Unlike Uptown, Knox/Henderson Street, and Lower Greenville Avenue, customers cannot park along the side residential streets and walk to their destination when the parking lot is full. There is a lack of connectivity to the neighborhoods so it forces residents to drive to these businesses and there is not enough parking for a car-only situation. Despite the lack of off-site parking options, the new restaurants and bars in the neighborhood have been popular and enjoyed by many.
Garland Road is car oriented with little accommodations for pedestrians. About once a year, you hear of a pedestrian involved in a hit and run on Garland Road. There are sidewalks adjacent to the six lane road in some areas and then no sidewalk at all in others. Even with the lack of pedestrian friendly options, it does not facilitate the traffic it has as best as it could, either. Some stretches of Garland Road have no median or turn lanes so vehicles turning left onto residential streets or businesses located between signalized intersections cause the left and middle lanes to back up during peak times. It serves as a major artery for Downtown Commuters that come as far as Wylie and Garland, while also attempting to provide access to the businesses that serve the adjacent neighborhoods. It is only fair at achieving both. Or, as Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns would say, it is a STROAD.
Engineers and other professional involved in community infrastructure should be looking for opportunities like this to reconnect neighborhoods to nearby businesses and help promote the walkability and pedestrian-friendly environments like those found in Oak Lawn, Uptown and other areas of Dallas. We can help by creating alternative street sections for Garland Road that would enable the businesses and residents that are already enjoying the area to do so even more. Maybe there can be a bicycle lane instead of a third lane in each direction and creating clearer definition for pedestrians. Maybe there could be zoning changes that enable more connectivity between the neighborhoods and businesses. Maybe the businesses will focus on access through the neighborhood streets instead Garland Road itself. Maybe a study can be done to see if the roadway was indeed narrowed if it would make traffic worse or if it would limit through traffic and make the area the destination, not the corridor. There are a lot of options that engineers, architects, politicians, developers, and citizens can pursue to improve the life of the road itself, promote community in our neighborhoods, and to allow for the change that the residents so badly want. We just need to put traditional approaches and design standards aside and be willing to try some new things.