Bridge to Somewhere

Across the new Trinity bridge, a long-neglected but suddenly desirable neighborhood waits and hopes.

Losada is among many residents who have heard a rumor that local developers have knocked on doors offering to take over elderly people's mortgages in exchange for acquiring the properties when the homeowner dies. Eva Elvove, the co-chair of the La Bajada Neighborhood Association, says she's noticed that developers have stopped knocking on neighborhood doors since neighbors supporting the overlay have become more vocal.

Though Losada is concerned about staying put for the remainder of his life, he is not against progress. "It's going to be a lot of fun for those who will get to enjoy it," he says of the neighborhood's imminent growth. He just doesn't want to be blindsided. "I've got one foot on the grave, and another on a banana peel," he says, smiling.


The part of West Dallas across the river from downtown is unknown to many and extremely dear to some. From the time Losada moved to the area—about the time the area's most infamous residents, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, were making their names—the largely industrial neighborhood had been written off as high-crime and generally undesirable. Few people who don't live there go there, and with few businesses, there has never been much reason to venture across the river. Throughout its troubled history, West Dallas has been consistently overlooked by mainstream business-minded Dallasites. That's why critics of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, have often dismissed it by asking "Where is this bridge going?" ("Nowhere" is the unspoken answer.)

Danny Fulgencio
Many properties owned by West Dallas Investments are easy to spot because they're painted in neon colors.
Danny Fulgencio
Many properties owned by West Dallas Investments are easy to spot because they're painted in neon colors.

"Nowhere" is now both a business opportunity and a neighborhood to preserve at all costs. At the very least, all agree the area harbors much room for growth. With that in mind, the city designated the area bordered by Canada Drive along the river, Interstate 30 to the south and Sylvan Avenue to the west as the first project of a new City Hall-based urban design initiative, CityDesign Studio, started in October 2009. The studio's plan for West Dallas is a guideline for development and was unanimously adopted by city council on March 9.

Funded by donors and intended to focus on neighborhoods along the Trinity, CityDesign Studio is led by architect Brent Brown of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a nonprofit aimed at designing "livable" communities. Brown is known for his bcWORKSHOP Congo Street project, for which his team joined with neighborhood residents to renovate homes along a rundown area a few blocks north of Fair Park. That project included residents in the process, a move that seemed almost revolutionary in a city where development often means pushing out poor people in favor of sky-high buildings with pretty views of other sky-high buildings. As the director of CityDesign Studio, Brown must balance the needs of residents, real estate investors and entrepreneurs. It's as though this initiative is meant to right the city's past wrongs.

"I don't think we think a whole lot about sustainable communities," Suhm says of the city's history. With CityDesign Studio putting a new process in motion, she hopes development will increasingly take into account streets, transportation and "sustainable relationships."

"It's participatory," she says of the approach.

Sitting at a planning table in the studio's City Hall office, an open light-filled space lined with colorful drawings of what West Dallas could be, Brown speaks with the measured assurance and depth of knowledge of someone who listens closely and reflects before acting. "It's a vibrant small neighborhood. We took the time before planning to engage in public discourse," from "living rooms to boardrooms," Brown says of La Bajada, looking the part of the progressive architect from his thick-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses to his striped socks and leather clogs.

To preserve La Bajada, the plan creates a north to south "spine" of businesses and higher-density residential buildings running from Singleton Avenue along Herbert Street to West Commerce Street. Expansion is positioned to run from east to west, keeping the higher density area from encroaching on La Bajada. The area south of Singleton Avenue would also host high-rise buildings with businesses on the ground level, and just south of Commerce Street, along Beckley Avenue, would be a high-density residential area (i.e. apartments). The plan focuses on usable public space and includes three underpasses for cars and pedestrians to cross the Union Pacific Railroad. The CityDesign Studio's "urban structure and guidelines" is a mixed-use model where people will live, work and play in close proximity.

Larry Beasley, a renowned urban designer credited with revitalizing Vancouver, is a CityDesign Studio consultant. Also assisting is Chalonda Jackson-Mangwiro, the community engagement coordinator who describes her job as translating design-speak into language the community can understand.

"There was maybe, I don't want to say 'fear'...uncertainty, because of things that happened before," Jackson-Mangwiro says, acknowledging the worries that West Dallas would become the new Little Mexico or Freedmans Town, once vibrant low-income minority neighborhoods near downtown that development wiped away seemingly overnight.

The 18-month process of trying to balance the desires of residents and developers didn't start smoothly. "It was set up where somebody's going to win, and somebody's going to lose," Brown says. The studio's role was to ensure everyone benefits. The defensive undercurrent to the initial meetings dissipated when the studio presented drawings of plans for the area. Brown also had to overcome community backlash over the controversial bridge. In the early stages of the project, he remembers having to flat-out tell a group at one meeting, "We didn't ask for that bridge." CityDesign Studio is charged with making the best of the plans already in place and countering the perception that it's a bridge to nowhere.

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19 comments
BishopArtsBud
BishopArtsBud

A very balanced, fair and thoughtful accounting of what is happening in West Dallas. The CityDesign Studio is to be given a standing ovation for their smart, inclusive, win/win vision for evolving the area in a senstive way.

In contrast, I live in North Oak Cliff in the heart of something I read about in the paper several months back as the new Bishop Arts Village Something or Other. I had never heard a thing about it until I read about it in the paper. Havent heard anything about it since. Was never invited to participate in its design and if I had not liked some of it, probably would have been ostracized like the people who challenged the Davis Street land use plan were.

There will always be greedy, scheming, behind-the curtain good old boys in Oak Cliff and West Dallas who are out for their own good and couldn't develop in an ethical way if their lives depended on it.

Even if the final result of this skews off-target, at least the target was noble and the people who designed and put up the target had everyone's best interests at heart. It will be the leadership of West Dallas and Oak Cliff, not the CityDesign Studio, we all can blame.

John Finley
John Finley

I was thinking this was going to happen when plans for the bridge were announced. The city should have thought about the people in that neighborhood first. The same thing is happening along Samuels Blvd. in Fort Worth with the new developments there.

Steve
Steve

I just read the entire damn thing at work.

Excellent.

I hope Pagoda makes it. :)

Guest
Guest

The zoning restrictions Losada supports would restrict the heights of new buildings in his neighborhood.

What's the point of that when "the ground" has been shown to be a very flexible concept in Dallas real estate?

Art101
Art101

"Cartoon" in the sense that Larry Beasley referred to it is a common technical term for a large preliminary drawing for a fresco painting; Michelangelo and Leonardo drew them, not Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. One might have assumed that Dallas had long ago evolved to the point where its movers and shakers -- and writers -- would understand the distinction, but evidently not...

sheik yerbouti
sheik yerbouti

The City of Dallas sees only one color and it is GREEN...the poor of any color need not apply.

craig
craig

Everytime I hear the words "signature bridge" I chuckle.

It's SOOOOO Dallas.

cheapoldgeezer
cheapoldgeezer

Bridge to somewhere....like maybe to a Mexican drug cartel. Who the hell would want to live in an apartment on Singleton Ave.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Yep when the city is not trying to close existing established business they can focus on forcing people from their homes by raising property values so the resident's tax bill will sky rocket. And to think that last legislative session the city (along with the county of Dallas and Collin county) spent around $600.000.00 of tax payer money with former rep turned lobbyist Fred Hill (the darling of municipal spending enabling) to lobby the leg about property taxes. Remember that Fred won awards from municipalities on his work against the proposed lowering of the cap that the appraisal district can raise the taxable value of your homes from 10 percent to 5 percent per year. The city loves it when they drive people out of their homes all for more squandering of tax dollars.

Catbird
Catbird

I hope it works out for the residents but I really think that the "donors" who pay Brent Brown and his little crew down at city hall probably have ideas of their own for the "front door" of Dallas and aren't worried so much about people like Mr. Losada. Nice story though.

Sharon Boyd
Sharon Boyd

Good for Mr. Losada. Your home doesn't have to be in Preston Hollow for it to be precious to you. La Bajada and the community around the old Bataan Rec Ctr are the same kind of neighborhoods that Jerry Jones wiped out in Arlington. Generations of memories mean nothing to politicians. If Rawlings is elected Mayor, Mr. Losada will be forced to move and paid pennies for his home. With Arlington's Mayor & council's help, Jones paid "residential" prices for taking people's homes and land that was going to be used for commercial development. That's what will happen to Mr. Losada, and Rawlings and his cronies will say it's good for Dallas. Homeowners like Mr. Losada are good for Dallas -- people who have roots, commitments and memories. Thanks for posting this thoughtful story.

Coleman
Coleman

*coughstanleeisn'tanartistcough*

BishopArtsBud
BishopArtsBud

Yeah I agree. Sort of like saying "It is SOOOOOO...". Cause you really hear people in Chicago and Boston talk that way.

Monicaannetterodriguez
Monicaannetterodriguez

Look mister old geezer,I live in West Dallas, grew up there all my life in my grandfather's house and still live there to this day. I go to college (SMU), work hard to pay for my tuition, and tutor kids from the neighborhood to encourage them to do the same. If you took your head out of the ground and quit stereotyping all Mexican neighborhoods as drug havens, you would realize that things have changed and there's a new generation coming up. We will do something with our lives despite all the bad mouthing from you!

Rderrickwhite
Rderrickwhite

what a rascist load of crap. not all poor people are criminals. get out of north dallas once in a while, would you...

Catbird
Catbird

Sharon Boyd is accurate - the eminent domain "taking" process is supposed to be governed by an unbiased panel of appointed citizens.

The big problem in Dallas County (everywhere really) is that the politicians who appoint the panel who decides how much a contested property is worth are obligated to the people who want the take the property in the first place...and many of whom are paying Brent Brown's salary and providing him free office space in city hall.

Its the same circle jerk that went on with the old "Dallas Plan". Don't believe that anyone has your back because nobody does.

If I could say anything at all to the individual land owners in West Dallas,I'd say that they should see their end of the Margaret Hill Hunt Bridge (the bridge to somewhere?) as the business end of a shotgun held by a twitchy thug in a brazen armed robery.

It can't get anymore serious than this people - you are about to lose your homes. The only thing in question is how much money you can leverage out of the public/private developer class holding the gun.

Band together now and get yourself the best lawyer you can afford...and not Domingo Garcia either, he and his wife are not on your side.

If you don't you'll be on the street very soon with nothing to show for your decades of hard work.

The is true.

Bob
Bob

uhhh not all racists are from north dallas

also, there wasnt really any indication of racism, I believe YOU are the one linking socioeconomic level/location to race

not really in agreement with OP, but your response was just as weak/lame/stereotypical...gotta work on your trolling brah! :)

Its so sad
Its so sad

Absolutely true. You won't be able to stop "progress" but you can get enough out of it to survive. The Arlington folk that held out the longest made the most money.

So Mr Losada & friends, band together, retain counsel, threaten lawsuits and stall, stall, stall. You will eventually get paid your millions!

Sorry about the memories, but life goes on.

BishopArtsBud
BishopArtsBud

Uh Bob heal thyself. Rderrickwhite's point is that there are Caucasians and Blacks living all around Singleton and West Dallas not to mention Latinos from Guatemala, Costa Rica etc.. To describe the area solely as Mexican...and then say it is Mexican drug cartel.

Yeah, dude, that would be racist. Like saying Preston Hollow is nothing but Italian mobsters.

 
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