A better plan for the other side of the tracks
An aerial of the East End vision, above
On the "wrong side of the railroad tracks" from downtown, the East End of Garland, Texas, has significant potential to revitalize. A new plan shows how infrastructure investments could help raise property values closer to those in the adjacent downtown, which are three times higher.
Transformation depends on walkable streets, sidewalks, and pedestrian amenities like street trees—which are hard to find in the East End.
The area is connected to light rail, but the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) also plans a realignment of State Route 78—envisioned as a six-lane arterial—that threatens further damage to the East End urban fabric.
Garland is a sprawling suburban city of 226,000 that has exploded in population since 1950—but is also blessed with a charming downtown.
A new urbanist team led by Van Meter Williams Pollack and sponsored by CNU crafted a vision for economic development based on placemaking. The team, which also included the Texas firms of Verdunity and Ash+Line Strategies and Andrew Laska, offered a tactical approach to creating walkable infrastructure and promoting entrepreneurial activity. Among the ideas: Rebrand the East End as the "Old Embree Neighborhood," a place of home-grown, incremental development.
One major change that will help: City officials plan to adopt a form-based code (FBC) within a few months with the plan of direct new investment in mixed-use walkable patterns.
Garland is part of the “Legacy Charrette” program designed to apply CNU’s renowned placemaking expertise to make a difference in the Congress's host region—-which is Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) in 2015. The program allows municipalities, non-profits, and others to submit proposals for "low-bono" advising from some of the best minds in the field. The goal is to make a lasting difference in the region. New urbanist teams recently led similar charrettes in Burleson and Fort Worth.
Following the charrette, mayor Douglas Athas praised "the amazing work that was done by all in such an incredibly short time to produce a viable concept that my city will be able to leverage into the authentic evolution of an area that had historically remained outside the city's growth center and which had received virtually no new investment for several decades."
A redesigned Main Street, with sidewalks and street trees, provides the framework for new development. The plan also calls for a walkable north-south spine on Third Street, a residential street.
To find a good model for placemaking in Garland, just go two blocks away to downtown:
Below is what Main Street in the East End (proposed Old Embree Neighborhood) looks like now:
According to DOT plans, this street could become worse than it is now. It is proposed to become part of Route 78, a massive urban arterial. The design team brainstormed on ideas on how this road could be designed better as a state highway. "The result of the charrette process was a proposed section for Main that can accommodate the required traffic volumes, but will do so at a more controlled speed," the design teams notes. Here's how it would look:
The streetscapes in the district need radical change to be walkable. Before making long-term, multi-million dollar investments, the planners recommend the tactical testing of prototypes. Demonstration projects on streets can help accomplish these goals, they say:
1) Demonstrate new designs for key streets.
• Main Street–use paint or vinyl to delineate sidewalks, use bollards, bumpers, railroad ties or other temporary structures to separate pedestrians from cars.
• Third Street–Demonstrate bike lanes and functional landscaping (such as bioswales).
• Avenues B and D–temporarily narrow streets or permit on-street parking to show that the narrowed streets are capable of handling current traffic values; test pedestrian crosswalks along Third where it intersects these avenues.
2) Test the potential of opening Austin St through from Third to Fourth Streets by creating a crushed-granite walkway for pedestrians.
3) Use compressed granite where sidewalks are lacking or in need of repair.
Garland is a manufacturing hub where Stetson Hats are made, leading to the city's brand: Texas Made Here. The team played off of this idea by proposing a "makerspace" in the proposed Old Embree Neighborhood.
A Makerspace is a community-directed facility where people share knowledge and resources such as tools, to prototype industrial and technological projects. Depending on local interest, makespaces can cross-pollinate between industries or be focused on a specific niche such as metal working or electronics technology. The creation of a makerspace as a strategic incubator space will be designed to facilitate, encourage, and support local creatives/talents. The Makerspace will leverage the enthusiasm of the Garland community to serve as a point of convergence and landmark for the emerging creative district.
The Garland plan sets seven primary goals:
• Establish connectivity to downtown.
• Create walkability and pedestrian amenities.
• Enhance gateways.
• Establish street patterns.
• Identify compatible and economically feasible land-use patterns.
• Develop a marketing and redevelopment strategy.
• Evaluate options and impacts of a realignment of Texas Route 78, which goes through the area.
The task for Garland is to follow through with infrastructure investments that support the plan. That means substantial changes in existing conditions and long-term plans—but the potential benefits for the community are immense.
For intensive discussions on urban revitalization, CNU 23 will take place April 29 through May 2 in Dallas, Texas.
Robert Steuteville is editor and executive director of Better Cities & Towns