GOOD Idea for Cities: Re-Energizing a Neighborhood's Pride

An update from Dallas: The Elmwood Neighborhood Revitalization team works with a local community to create a renewed sense of vibrancy in its streets.

Just outside of Dallas, Texas lies Elmwood, a large community with a small-town vibe. Established in 1924, Elmwood now faces problems familiar to many cities of its size. Through growing pains and economic recessions, the city's small commercial district had dwindled, resulting in vacant storefronts that attract vandalism. The result is a civic image that doesn't represent the active and vibrant surrounding neighborhood.

With a push from GOOD Ideas for Cities Dallas, the Elmwood Neighborhood Revitalization team focused on bringing local businesses back to Elmwood by transforming the area to a street art destination where pop-up shops and street fairs could take place. The team focused on cleaning up the business district, enforcing basic code violations—such as contacting absentee business owners with unkempt properties—and beautifying neglected pockets of the city, like a mural they painted on a building (above). To immediately reenergize the area, the team organized the Elmwood Street Fair in October, featuring local art, music and food.

Local restaurants sold food at the street fair, showing the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood

Daniel Oney, who represents the Office of Economic Development for the city of Dallas, feels Elmwood is in a unique position. "Elmwood is near neighborhoods that are already being revitalized, so a little push might be the tipping point the commercial area needs to take off," says Oney. Now that traffic and high gas prices have lead area residents to seek public transportation, the two DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) stations in Elmwood have become a boon for the city.

Mark Lea, assistant vice president of Spire Realty Group, was one of the members of the Elmwood Neighborhood Revitalization team. Though all of the team members lived in other areas of Dallas, Lea, whose grandparents lived in Elmwood, had a foot in the door. His family ties immediately made him less of an outsider. Lea's presence has been so welcomed, local residents want him to stay. "They are strongly urging me to move the neighborhood, to the point where they send me home listings and offer to help me move," says Lea.

As a passionate volunteer, Lea realizes the importance of bringing a new set of ideas to any scenario. Yet as an outsider, he researched and worked hard to understand the specific problems Elmwood faces. "New blood and fresh perspectives bring about a renewed interest, but only when you're respectful of existing views," says Lea. "Community and a sense of ownership are huge for getting people invested and motivated to be a part of the process."

A pop-up dog park allowed local pet owners to meet each other

Not everyone was on board initially. "I was a little skeptical at first," said local resident Brian Walker. "I thought, 'Who is this guy that doesn't live here that keeps showing up to our meetings?' As I got to know Mark over time it was clear that he possessed a legitimate—and unique—non-resident interest in Elmwood." Another local resident, Karla Garcia, agrees. "Speaking to someone like Mark, exchanging ideas, and getting everyone involved really sparked the neighborhood to become more active in improving the area," says Garcia.

After months of focusing on beautifying the city, Lea was struck with a moment of clarity. "I realized that all the changes we are focusing on implementing are somewhat cosmetic. Complete economic revitalization, I believe, begins with the schools," says Lea. Much of Elmwood's growth relies on the health of the Dallas Independent School District, which has had its ups and downs. Seeing this as the biggest challenge the project faces, Lea signed up for Leadership D.I.S.D., a year-long crash course that educates those admitted on the structure and struggles of the school district, eventually preparing them to take over a leadership role. "Within this program, I will be pushing for a project that incorporate community involvement with project-based learning within Elmwood's schools," Lea adds.

Members of the Elmwood Neighborhood Revitalization team

With several opinions at play, residents realize there are many more obstacles in the way of the city's growth. "Since Elmwood is so big—about a thousand homes I believe—and demographically diverse, I think getting everyone to embrace the cultural diversity is one of the challenges we face," says Garcia. For Lea, it's just the beginning of a great communal journey. "The improvements are the direct result of dozens of people sacrificing their time," Lea explains. "For most, it has been a breeze. Some feathers were ruffled early on because not enough attention was paid to the existing chain of command." Now that he's completely steeped in the Elmwood community, Lea plans to push the city forward without stepping on anyone's toes.

Photos by Patrick McDonnell

GOOD Ideas for Cities pairs creative problem-solvers with real urban challenges proposed by civic leaders. To learn more visit Watch more videos of recent GOOD Ideas for Cities events, and if you'd like to talk about bringing the program to your city or school, email alissa[at]goodinc[dot]com or follow us at @IdeasforCities

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less