Friday, December 19, 2008

Overcoming the Obstacles to Neighborhood Redevelopment

The area in South Dallas where I served as pastor for nearly 25 years is undergoing redevelopment that currently totals more than $10 million and will include town homes, infrastructure improvements and increased single family housing plans by non-profits, Dallas Housing Authority and soon for profit builders.

Less than 3 miles from there is an area called the Lamar Street Corridor.

For more than a year, I've represented Central Dallas Ministries working with a group of community leaders, residents, religious leaders, a world class city planner and a group of committed technical advisers to make sure that this neighborhood doesn't get left out of a more than $300 million highway, toll road improvement associated with the Trinity River Project.

People say that South Dallas needs economic development. South Dallas proper is about a 13 square mile area in which there are more than 300 liquor related businesses. On the Lamar Street corridor, in about 215 acres, alongside and down the street from churches and houses, vacant and inhabited, are 5 night clubs, 11 liquor stores, 5 scrap metal yards, 6 truck and warehouse facilities and a dairy factory! Combine that with the addicts selling stolen copper to the scrap metal yards, drugs and prostitution, there's plenty of 'economic development'! Just not the right kind.

Would anyone in his or her right mind think that what is needed to bring economic development and restoration of the health and wholeness of this community is a sports bar that serves alcohol?

Dallas' Plan Commission, obviously believes that the one thing needed to return this neighborhood to viability is the aforementioned sports bar which will add an additional liquor related establishment to the 16 current ones. They approved a Special Use Permit to serve alcohol for the business because they felt sorry for the owner who had invested some $75,000 in getting this venture underway. I have a former member who lives about five blocks away from the 'sports bar'. She's been in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. I wonder what she deserves for her considerable investment.

Of course no one asked the people brave enough to stay there if they want their area continually depressed by blight, crime and businesses that bring down the value of their neighborhood.

But this is a new day. Earlier this week, braving bitter cold, rain and snow, more than 60 church members, residents, neighborhoods leaders met with the city planners to review the plans which they will recommend to city for their neighborhood next month. There will be more meetings and more, many more residents, involved in the effort. They will be at City Hall to oppose the granting of this SUP and to promote the plan that they've helped to develop. It involves healthy retail, it involves new housing, common spaces for gathering and recreation and walking.
It does not include one liquor store, or one night club, or one sports bar. It is designed to be a neighborhood that attracts mixed income families and those who want to be a part of something enhances the life of the community and the city. And despite the economic crisis in this country there is the passion, the move and the growing commitment on the part of this community not to give up on their neighborhood.

These residents, these citizens will create the political will necessary to change their neighborhood. I'm proud to work among them.

I look forward to celebrating victory with them!

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