Eight years ago I decided to move to Dallas and with that came many changes for me. The first of which was selling my car. Seems like a bold thing to do when moving to a car-loving Texas city, right? Hear me out. I knew that there were at least some neighborhoods where I could walk around and if I ever needed to go any further, I could use the public transit system, which – while not as advanced many other cities in the U.S. – was light years ahead of where I was leaving. I mean, there’s a train for goodness sake! Maybe it was bold, maybe it was plain naïve, or maybe I’m just that stubborn and was hell-bent on being a pedestrian-and-public-transit-savvy urbanite.
When you think about the city structure of Dallas, you probably don’t think of pedestrian-friendly areas, bustling sidewalks and bike lanes, city plazas and urban parks. In fact, you probably think of massive highways and traffic. Oh the traffic. I know this is the perception, I’ve always known this, but still I see the potential for a walkable Dallas.
Walkability is a hot issue in Dallas – one that has increased in relevance recently, it seems. For people living in and near the heart of the city, suburban and even urban sprawl is no longer desirable and there is more of an inclination to generate connectivity in and between communities, making accessibility a priority over vehicular convenience. Our pedestrian unfriendliness was even noted by an out of town guest speaker during June’s New Cities Summit, which caught the eye of many and spurred some intriguing responses. Walkable Dallas noted that “Those things tend to happen when the most powerful transportation official thinks infrastructure responds to land use (rather than vice versa) and that urban design is about decorating the fringe around transportation decisions already made,” an observation more and more apparent throughout our fair city.
This issue has been a focal point of many recent efforts in Dallas proper. There has been much buzz around a proposal to tear down I-345, creating a stronger connection between Downtown and Deep Ellum. More recently, the proposal of building a Sam’s Club near CityPlace has caught the attention of neighbors and they have rallied to stop this development by any means possible. The Sam’s Club was proposed to the city under an apparent ruse of building an “East Village,” presumably creating cohesion with Uptown’s West Village, ultimately creating a flourishing, accessible community that would essentially tie the two neighborhoods together. On July 11th the East Village Neighborhood Association heralded a small but impactful victory when the judge issued a temporary restraining order on the project for at least two weeks.
In addition to individual instances, the neighborhoods of Deep Ellum, Farmers Market and Cedars have joined forces to be better heard at City Hall, ultimately creating a better downtown community. This resonates with me, as I am a longtime fan and current resident of Deep Ellum. Since moving to Dallas in 2006, I’ve lived in Lakewood, Downtown, Oak Lawn and Midway Hollow – I finally feel at home in Deep Ellum. I feel a sense of community; there are vocal activists, friendly neighbors, business owners, artists…and yes, walkability. I realize this is not the only neighborhood in Dallas with these traits, and I love and admire the others in this realm, but Deep Ellum holds a special place in my heart, the same way Oak Cliff, Lower Greenville, Cedars, Downtown and others feel about their neighborhoods. The most vital part of making a city more walkable and accessible is the people. Because, you can build the infrastructure – the sidewalks, bike lanes, parks, plazas, etc. – but without the people, it’s just a bunch of urban space with stuff that nobody uses. So as Dallas attempts to move toward more walkable communities, the residents these areas need to express their pride in their neighborhood and voice their drive for change in their community.
For the record, I did give in and buy my (second ever) car about three years ago. Most of the time I use it for road trips and treks across town, save for rainy days. I try to commute to work on bike or foot, a mere .7 miles door to door. When approached today and over the years with questions and statements of “Why?” or “I don’t know how you go without a car!” or “How do you do that?” or even “That’s just not something I could do…” my response is easy: This is what I want. So this is what I do. You want change? BE it.
- Stephanie Norsworthy | MSC 2013-2014