Dallas minority neighborhoods face major transportation challenges, SMU study finds
Connie Gonzalez’s neighborhood has a general store, but her family can’t walk there because it’s too dangerous without sidewalks.
Gonzalez, who has lived in West Dallas for 40 years, said cars regularly drove into the ditches on the side of the street in front of his house and drivers who parked there often left trash. She spoke to city officials about the waste, but they said it was not their property to maintain.
“Cars park on the side [of the street] and obstruct the view,” making it dangerous for pedestrians and other drivers, she said. “My kids can’t even ride a bike.”
A study by SMU recently determined that the Gonzalez neighborhood is one of 62 “infrastructure deserts” in Dallas: the areas’ small-scale support structures and facilities – sidewalks, crosswalks, transit access – are very deficient.
These infrastructure deserts are concentrated in South Dallas, which is home to many black and Hispanic residents, according to the study. Even in high-income black neighborhoods, infrastructure was worse than in white neighborhoods or neighborhoods with no predominant race, the study found.
Whether they live in high-income or low-income neighborhoods, all Dallas residents should pay attention to this neglect, said Barbara Minsker, lead researcher and Bobby B. Lyle Professor of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship at SMU.
When the city government corrects inequities in infrastructure and tackles the problems that arise – such as health and safety issues – there can be higher taxes for everyone, he said. she stated.
Minsker and his research team examined nearly 800 neighborhoods, rating them as excellent, good, moderate, deficient, or very deficient, based on 12 types of neighborhood infrastructure. These criteria, such as access to medical services and community gathering spaces, contribute to livable and economically viable neighborhoods.
Low-income communities are up to four times more likely to have severely poor infrastructure than their high-income counterparts, the study found.
Some information used for the SMU study was already publicly available. But the SMU researchers also used aerial imagery to detect crosswalks and Google Street View images for noise barriers.
The same research was conducted for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Compared to those cities, Dallas had the worst infrastructure conditions and the most inequality, Minsker said. The study’s findings on racial inequality are the result of redlining and freeway projects in the city that have divided black and brown neighborhoods, among other factors, she said.
“There’s never the resources or the catch-up for those areas that have much worse infrastructure and have kind of been written off,” Minsker said. “We have a history of racially motivated politics, and the legacy of that is still there.”
Residents of these neighborhoods have long known about the issues facing their communities and say there has not been much help to improve their access to quality infrastructure. However, they work together to find solutions, while asking the city to do more.
James McGee, president and chairman of the board of Southern Dallas Progress, said the infrastructure issues facing South Dallas are “extremely frustrating.”
Although it’s only a 10-minute drive from downtown to parts of South Dallas, it takes about an hour by public transit. Internet companies, meanwhile, are underinvesting in the neighborhood, leading to poor internet access or “digital redlining,” McGee said.
Parts of South Dallas are also different from the urban city, with uneven pavement, broken fences, and no sidewalks. Open areas covered in brush are often filled with trash and abandoned equipment.
“It’s been a dumping ground for years,” McGee said. “If you don’t have infrastructure, nobody cares.”
McGee said it would be expensive to install sidewalks in South Dallas — District 8, for example, lacks 246 miles of sidewalks and the estimated cost of building ramps for accessibility is nearly $2 million, according to the final report of the city’s sidewalk master plan. , completed in June 2021.
“They can announce that there is 50 million dollars, for example, for an improvement of the infrastructures, but what is the total necessary? he said. “$50 million is a big number, but it’s tiny compared to what’s really needed.”
McGee said the goal for South Dallas is to work toward revitalization, not gentrification. But it is difficult when the city does not fully invest in these areas. “Residents want better, but unfortunately they are a bit used to it,” he said. “Some of them have been complaining for 30 years and a lot hasn’t changed.”
Mark Mullaney, chief operating officer of Jubilee Park and Community Center, said SMU’s research aligns with what he and other community residents have experienced.
Minsker shared the study results with the Jubilee neighborhood in southeast Dallas, and Mullaney and Minsker walked together in the southern part of the neighborhood. “It helps explain why investing in this… will improve the lives of residents,” Mullaney said. “It will be useful to talk to investors and possibly provide opportunities.”
Jubilee Park as a defined neighborhood is 62 blocks, spread along East Grand Avenue. Mullaney said the southern part of the neighborhood was very different from the northern part. In the northern part of Jubilee, near the community center, there are paved sidewalks, well-maintained fences and tree canopies.
But about five blocks south of the community center, there are no sidewalks. The streets are difficult to cross and navigate, especially for people without a car. Bus stops have no benches or shade. They are only panels, including one on the median in the middle of the street, directly in the sun.
The southern part of the neighborhood has private apartment complexes called Yellow Brick Duplexes, which have no sidewalks, poorly paved streets, and no tree cover. Mullaney noted the irony of the houses having a direct view of Fair Park, which he said was “a striking difference”.
Mullaney said Jubilee Park is currently working on new developments in the southern part of their neighborhood and will potentially build multi-family and affordable homes for seniors, as well as a small resource center that will be pedestrian-accessible.
Jubilee Park plans to work with Southern Dallas Progress to survey vacant lots in the area and determine the best use for them. Mullaney said Jubilee wants to find ways to provide low to moderate income housing.
“The future is mixed income,” Mullaney said. “How can we do this in a way that doesn’t push community members away?”
Debbie Solis, a longtime resident of West Dallas, said that while the Dallas City Council is the “best there is,” the study’s findings are the result of years of redlining and a lack of resources for low-income minority neighborhoods.
Predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods are up to three times more likely than white neighborhoods to have severely poor infrastructure, while black neighborhoods are up to five times more likely.
Former North Dallas City Council members “never walked the streets of South Dallas or West Dallas,” Solis said. “They didn’t see the injustice that was happening here. And if they did, they were blind to it.
She said West Dallas suffers from a lack of access to public transportation, the internet and quality grocery stores.
Solis said his neighborhood was annexed to the city in the 1950s and they had no paved streets unless residents paid for them. Plumbing was a latecomer to West Dallas – it used an outhouse well into the 1960s.
Solis said if the city wants to fix these complicated issues, it needs to work with the county and stop gentrifying the area.
“We need to have people making decisions who care about us and want to help people who have been here for generations,” she said. “Look at Little Mexico. Let’s go. That’s what’s going to happen here if we don’t stop him in West Dallas.