Vickery Meadows, is a hard-bitten but vibrant neighborhood, teeming with a dense mix of cultures and languages unique in the city. It's also very poor, and with poverty comes obesity. With obesity comes corresponding health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Enter an empty plot of land off Park Lane near the Five Points intersection, just east of Greenville Avenue. The city had purchased the property for a library, but the project does not yet have funding, so a group of residents proposed using the land for a small system of walking trails. Angelina Avalos, executive director of the Vickery Meadow Improvement District, said the residents approached Councilwoman Ann Margolin, got the go-ahead from the city, then received a grant from the Community Council of Greater Dallas to install the trails and several benches.
The idea was that the trails would give residents an enjoyable place to walk and encourage physical activity.
"What they had intended for the property really didn't happen," Avalos said.
Part of the problem was simply that it wasn't very inviting. The area is mowed occasionally by the city, but the grass remains fairly high and the trail more closely resembles an empty lot going to seed than a walking path. More worrying, the benches and open area became a magnet for vagrants, drunks, drug dealers, and other individuals doing things they probably shouldn't be doing.
Community members asked police to address the problem, but there was relatively little they could do. They could make arrests when someone was doing something obviously illegal, but, not being an official city park, they couldn't order people not to loiter or to abide by a curfew.
So, Avalos said, someone with the city began putting up trespassing signs around the property. They're not there all the time, and their locations change, but its enough to allow the police to clear off the property if need be. Some of the benches were also removed.
That's been enough to cut down on the vagrant problem, but it's done little to encourage the average Vickery Meadows resident to go for a stroll.
"The trail is still open to the public," Avalos said. "It's not closed, but I'm sure it sends some mixed messages."
Avalos occasionally sees someone walking or sitting on a bench, but it's not terribly often. Most of the time, the land sits empty.
"Right now, for us, our crime has gone up over the past couple of months, and I dont know if people are not out because of that, but people work and -- it's just a different population here," Avalos said. "It's not a stable, well-developed, middle-class neighborhood."