A group of students spent the last year developing a strategic action plan to revitalize a North Dallas neighborhood. They finished the project this summer.
The city of Dallas contacted the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs’ Institute of Urban Studies to research the Vickery Meadow and create a plan for Neighborhood Plus, a citywide initiative to revitalize several neighborhoods.
Vickery Meadow is among 11 neighborhoods the initiative targets. It is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Dallas and is home to many refugees and immigrants from all over the world. About 40 different languages are spoken within the community, project manager Amanda Kronk said.
Kronk said many refugees and immigrants were distrustful of the institute at first because of the current political climate.
Typically, the institute holds one or two meetings where they invite the neighborhood to attend in a public place. To reach the residents who were afraid to attend a large public meeting, Kronk said the team had six or seven smaller meetings and went to places where people already gather.
“We utilized all the channels that we had access to, to get into specific meetings,” Kronk said.
The institute went to established meetings at schools, religious organizations and nonprofits.
Maria Contreras, architecture graduate student and one of the six graduate research assistants, said the team had to come up with creative ways to gather the information they needed for the plan.
Although they had performed similar research in other neighborhoods, there were too many language barriers for their usual textual approach.
“For most people [in Vickery Meadow], English is their second language,” Contreras said. “So, they have to understand it visually.”
Contreras created the graphics for the plan. She described how the institute created a giant map of the neighborhood’s streets and gave residents red and green stickers. The red marked the danger areas and green marked the safe areas, Contreras said. Even though many residents could not understand the verbal instructions, they soon caught on and were able to mark the areas.
Many of the residents walk the streets every day, so they were familiar with the roads, Contreras said.
Contreras is a native Spanish speaker and translated three of the meetings held in the neighborhood.
Contreras said the children speak English more proficiently than their parents, and they would approach the researchers first.
“They were kind of like the communicators for the parents,” Contreras said.
However, as soon as Contreras started speaking Spanish, the parents would become relieved and began talking, Contreras said.
Graduate research assistant Ahoura Zandiatashbar worked on negotiating the project with the city during its initial phases.
Zandiatashbar said the Vickery Meadow’s unique properties made it a viable location for an innovation district, a type of urban model that uses an anchor model to attract and create knowledge workers and networking.
The community’s diversity is a strength, Zandiatashbar said.
After completing the research phase, the institute compiled the information into a 183-page strategic action plan for the city.
“For us, it’s not over,” said Shima Hamidi, institute director and assistant professor of planning. “We want to work with the city on the implantation phase, as well.”
In the past, studies to improve the community were conducted, but ultimately had no results. To combat this, the institute suggested a combination of short- and long-term solutions.
“Our goal was to make really feasible steps,” Kronk said.
The city formed six committees to implement different areas of the strategic plan. Kronk will represent the institute on one of these committees.
Hamidi said this project resonated with the team, because these types of neighborhoods are often overlooked. The institute’s mission is to “provide quality of life for all,” she said.
Zandiatashbar was involved in the project from the beginning and saw it finalized. He said after all the time and work they put into it, “you feel that you adopted a neighborhood.”