Joe Cook Heating and Air Conditioning – located on Avenue A, just off Main Street in the proposed
Walkable Main Street neighborhood of Garland Texas. This neighborhood is already a mixed-use neighborhood of residences and businesses. Now we have several folks who are looking at it and asking WHAT IF: What if we make this area walkable? What if we add Makerspaces in some of the existing businesses? What if we pave the stretch of .30 miles of Main Street that passes through the heart of this neighborhood with a sustainable surface such as crushed granite? What if we turn Main Street into one giant sidewalk (allowing for two-lane path down the middle for auto and bicycle traffic at 20 miles per hour and no cellphone use)? What if we add new portable businesses to this area? What if we add a micro-village of tiny homes within the larger Walkable Main Street Village and another pocket neighborhood of eight to ten, 1000 square foot cottages, all sharing some common areas?
What does it take to build a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood?
It takes imagination, hard work, a willingness to discard old molds and rules governing how things should look, and most of all it takes a willingness and dedication of the people who live in the neighborhood to embrace and participate in the change. It also takes the involvement of elected government officials who make rules and design the codes that govern and control how that neighborhood can develop.
A vibrant neighborhood is one that is interesting and one that attracts visitors and people who want to live there. A mixed-use neighborhood is one in which residents share their homes with nearby spaces where commercial businesses are located. A sustainable neighborhood is one in which the people who live, work and visit the area observe environmentally sustainable practices to keep the neighborhood safe and clean.
What exactly is a neighborhood?
There are many ways a neighborhood can be defined. Usually it is defined as a geographically localized community within a larger city, town, suburb, or rural area. Neighborhoods come in all sizes from large to small and can be defined according to all types of criteria.
Existing Mixed-Use Neighborhoods Can be Transformed with a Bold Plan
One of the first steps leading to the transformation of an existing mixed-use neighborhood is to put the vision in writing with a bold plan that will get others excited--existing residents and business owners as well as possible investors. No plan will be exactly like another; however, all bold plans have some of the same elements:
Elements of a Bold Plan for a Mixed Neighborhood
- Vision is Achievable - At least some information serves to show how some of the suggestions are achievable to those reviewing the plan. An example might be the cost of certain materials related to implementing the plan. ("At fifty cents a square foot, crushed granite is an affordable surface, for a roadway that is less than half a mile.") The initial purpose of the first draft of the bold plan is to communicate the vision and inspire--not to lay out all the statistical detail related to the project. However, in order to attract people to the bandwagon of the vision, you need to provide a few facts to keep the proposal grounded.
- Bold Plan is Collaborative - The first draft of the bold plan is presented as a document that is subject to modification from resulting collaborations with others into a completed form.
- Walkable is Emphasized - Bold Plans for Mixed Use Neighborhoods emphasize walkable. Not only is walking healthy, it is also another example of sustainable living. If there are no sidewalks, or if they are in bad repair in the targeted area for the mixed-use neighborhood, the plan should include suggestions for making walkable sustainable paths. Most often these days those paths are not asphalt or concrete but rather more sustainable materials such as crushed granite.
- Connected is Emphasized - The sustainable neighborhood is a neighborhood that is connected in many ways. First of all, of course it is physically connected with its various paths and roadways. It is also connected in the shared interests of those who live and work in the neighborhood. In the example we are building with the project, Walkable Main, the businesses share marketing of each other’s products and services. Our model is also connected to the larger community outside the neighborhood though makerspaces in several of the existing businesses. Makerspaces make it possible for people to come and learn new job skills.
Activities Associated with a Bold Plan for a Mixed Neighborhood
1. Map the borders of the particular neighborhood.
The first step to building a viable sustainable mixed-use neighborhood is to clearly define the borders of the neighborhood to be enhanced. To provide an example of a neighborhood transformation project, we are defining a particular neighborhood in Garland located just east of its downtown square. 0.30 miles of Main Street dissect this neighborhood from east to west. Think of this particular neighborhood as a village and this stretch of Main Street as one would think of any stretch of Main Street running through a small town or community. The borders of this neighborhood are as follows:
Railroad tracks mark the western border of this neighborhood.
First Street marks the eastern border of this neighborhood.
Austin Street marks the northern border of this neighborhood.
Avenue A marks the southern border of this neighborhood.
2. Walk through the Neighborhood.
Walk through the neighborhood you have designated and record as much information as possible for every single business unit and residence located in the area in addition to information about the people who live and work in this area. Talk to them. Who are they? What do they want? What are their hopes and dreams? Record all the positive and negative aspects of each building in the area (residences and commercial). Observe the physical connectivity of the streets to the various units. Observe how easy it is to walk through this area. Think about what changes might be implemented to improve walkability. A sustainable neighborhood is one in which the people who live and work there also walk around their neighborhood.
Be sure to identify the things that do seem to be working along with those that appear not to be working so well. Aim for a balanced picture of the neighborhood, as it exists. Few places are all bad or all good.
3. Identify the heart of the area and begin writing the bold plan by focusing on that area.
In most instances when writing bold plans for a mixed-use neighborhood, the heart will be the area where mosts of the business are located as it is changes to these elements that will lead the transformation of the neighborhood.
Initially free your mind from thinking in terms of strategies and tactical manipulations and what ifs and the codes and the political implications, and other limitations before you even start.
Just look at this area as it is and dream how it might look if it better served the people who live and work in this area. Plans that are built from the heart inspire others to want to be part of the vision and make it happen. Inspired plans follow the same nature of optimism expressed by JFK when he proposed and projected the vision that we could land a man on the moon and return him to earth. It is with our words that we prophesize our own future so let’s choose them well.
Note: Walkable Main (the goal of which is to create collection of malleable suggestions for building vibrant, sustainable mixed used neighborhoods) has begun with a walk-through of the 0.30-mile of Main Street that dissects this area. The results of this walk-through have yielded a list of the 27 businesses located on this stretch of Main Street.
In another phase of the study we will look at all the businesses and churches within the neighborhood that are located off Main.
4. Make your plans public.
Get people talking and excited about the possibilities. Human beings are social creatures and most of us love to create things together. An important key to achieving these social acts of creativity is to rebrand the neighborhood with an attention-getting name that also highlights one of the key features of the area. For this project, we have chosen the name “Walkable Main.”
Sustainable Mixed Use Neighborhoods are beginning to get serious traction. Sustainable mixed-use neighborhoods are the way neighborhoods were designed before World War II. After World War II, Americans stopped walking and began driving automobiles. Our neighborhoods changed and with this change, our zoning laws and codes. We became separated from the place where we work.
Today many of us get in our cars and drive miles to get to work, returning home at night to our isolated fortresses in the suburbs. Many of us don’t even know or speak to our neighbors, the people who live right next door to us. We are isolated in our own neighborhoods.
But things are changing. Part of this change is coming on the wings of the aging Baby Boomer generation. Always an adventuresome generation willing to try new things, many Boomers are now exploring new ways of living and new requirements are cropping up in the literature defining residential areas and neighborhoods.
After people, the heart of all sustainable neighborhoods is the garden and urban agriculture.
And that is where Loving Garland Green fits into the picture of promoting mixed-use sustainable neighborhoods!
We would like to see every home in Garland growing at least some of the food their household consumes. We would like to see an uptick in the movement of our local economy toward that of a plant-based economy.
MORE AT LOVINGGARLANDGREEN.ORG
Building Paths to Sustainable Communities
Explore a growing body of knowledge about an exciting ongoing project to create a plan for building a vibrant sustainable mixed-use neighborhood!
If you live in Garland and would like to add information to this collaborative effort, please send your related offerings to Loving Garland Green. Contact Us.