I grew up in the afterglow of an older, middle-ring post-war suburb of Dallas called Garland, TX. The area I grew up in, with its 900 square foot blue collar houses and endless sea of mostly-empty strip malls, was caught somewhere between the nostalgia-tinged Main Streets of prewar small town America and the ocean of asphalt and big box stores swallowing up the modern countryside. We still lived close enough to walk to school and the post office, but not to stroll to the grocery store or to buy some new shoes. All the neighborhood kids still rode their bikes to the corner store, the park, and each other's houses, but most important trips still involved getting into the car. We definitely played our share of video games, but only if it was too hot or too dark outside to finish our never-ending games of hide-and-seek and ill-conceived padless full-contact football matches. I had a small taste of "neighborhood life," even though we were kind of far from the big city.
|Poetry Place, a restaurant/special event space in the former home of Main St. Coffeehaus|
Garland is famous--well, at least far more famous than it probably should be, and not necessarily for flattering reasons. Garland has been touted in pop culture media for appearing to have absolutely nothing interesting going on. Perhaps its most famous reference point would be Mike Judge's long-running animated series "King of the Hill." It has been hinted at with all-but-certain confirmation that Judge's fictional small-town suburban setting of "Arlen, TX" is heavily inspired by my hometown of Garland. In "King of the Hill" the people of Arlen are presented with a kind of "aw-shucks" simplicity, showing them as uneducated and unworldly people who nonetheless lead fulfilling lives of barbecue, block parties, cheap beer, and family values. The movie "Zombieland" is decidedly less kind in it's very brief description of Garland. In addition to these unflattering portrayals, Garland has had some very real things happen that have taken away some of its prior appeal. When I was a little kid, there was a Wet 'n Wild water park and a great little farmers market where there now stands a CarMax. The city moved its huge, locally-famous 4th of July celebration "Star-Spangled 4th" from it's charming downtown square to the new outdoor mall at the edge of town, getting rid of the carnival rides and fair-type midway just because the mall could accommodate a little more parking. This move is perhaps the worst, because it took away the potential business opportunities the celebration brought to locally owned downtown businesses in favor of giving Old Navy and Gamestop a little more foot traffic.
|The Generator: great coffee, local art, free WiFi, and live music|
Despite all of the things Garland doesn't have, there is one huge thing it does have: potential. Specifically potential to attract the millennial cohort that cities and towns all over the country seem to be competing for. The generation (my generation) that grew up watching Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City tends to prefer smaller homes close to a walkable town center and rail transit over an exurban landscape of clover leaves and big box stores. Big things have been happening in Garland, albeit slowly, to lay the groundwork for an influx of 20-30 year olds, and if the city leadership and current residents are open to new ideas and personalities in their community, downtown Garland could be the next Bishop Arts District--a thriving, hip, artistic community that attracts nightlife, new residents, and an economic revival. Here are some of the reasons Garland is poised for a millennial boom:
- The DART commuter rail. Downtown Garland is connected to downtown Dallas, Plano, Las Colinas, Deep Ellum, Fair Park, and now even DFW airport by a cheap, short train ride. Since downtown Dallas has also been undergoing a huge revitalization in the last decade, millennials who want to rely less on their cars but not pay the insane downtown rents will find downtown Garland a great choice.
- Bike-friendly. Downtown Garland has always been an easy place to ride a bike, given the gridded streets and wide lanes. But the city has recently shown their intentions of making the town center even more bike friendly, by adding dedicated bike lanes along both sides of Glenbrook, a major road through town running North and South. As millennials ditch cars for alternate modes of transportation, making it easy to get around by bicycle is a smart move for Garland.
- Great local businesses. While Garland has not yet seen the culinary resurgence of places like downtown Plano (Urban Crust is amazing), it is home to a few great little casual haunts. Whether its burgers and craft beer at Salvage Pub and Grill, killer Tex-Mex at Dos Banderas, delicious diner fare at Hubbard's Café, or a gyro sandwich at Main St. Deli, millennials will always have something tasty within walking distance in downtown Garland.
- Modern, urban-style apartments. A few short years ago 5th Street Crossing, a modern urban-style apartment building with ground floor space for retail and professional services was built right next to the DART station. The second such project is currently underway across the street. In these beautiful apartments, millennials will find high ceilings, bright colors, hardwood floors, a great fitness center, and all the other amenities they often look for in a place to live.
- Downtown Garland has character. While the town center is small, the buildings are old and beautiful. The square is a great public space that, given foot-traffic, would be a perfect venue for musicians (Garland Square Pickers, anyone?), art shows, board game afternoons, outdoor yoga classes, and all the other things Gen Y-ers do at parks. If there's one thing my generation values more than anything else, its authenticity--and downtown Garland bleeds it. It feels like a small town because it is a small town; it just happens to be one of the biggest small towns in the US, and is a short drive (and even shorter train ride) from a major city.
|Great food and local craft beer at Salvage Pub and Grill|
While I am under no illusions that the transition will be automatic or overnight, I do think that, with some intelligent planning and community support, downtown Garland could easily be the next suburban area in Dallas to undergo an urban renaissance, bringing millennials to the area, along with their young families and their money as well.