OAK LAWN DETENTE

Just when the rest of Dallas was thinking that Oak Lawn was on the verge of self-destruction, word of a master plan began to trickle out. Word that a group was forming to work out the developer vs. homeowner dilemma -a group of developers and homeowners with an unbiased outside planner stepping in to help ease the process, to put the pieces together and to be a catalyst. That outside planner is Jack Diamond, an architect from Canada who was discovered by some Oak Lawn activists when he was helping with a study project in Oak Lawn for the University of Texas at Arlington.

The inception of the group, known as the Oak Lawn Forum, was back in May. This month, the group finishes the first of its three-phase planning effort. This initial phase has been for goal-setting – something Diamond says must be completely separated from the mechanics of a project. It was the time when the members of the forum, all with various interests in Oak Lawn, stated what they wanted in the plan. This was also the time for other Oak Lawn residents to speak up and be heard.

During Phase One, there was one public meeting wherein residents -or anyone interested in the area -could pick Diamond’s brain. At the beginning of that meeting, Diamond said that this was the time to “be completely self-centered,” to “not think of your neighbors.” Many took his advice.

The main concern shown at that meeting was height. As a rule, the residents are opposed to tall buildings in their neighborhoods. Period. Another concern was the Katy railroad line that runs through Oak Lawn. Though neighborhood groups admit that transportation is a major problem in the area -congestion, traffic flow, parking – most were opposed to using the abandoned tracks.

Many residents are also upset by airport noise at Love Field. Even Diamond admits that this situation is a tough one. “Love Field will not go away,” he says, “but is it going to be expanded or controlled?” One suggestion he has is to gradually phase out the loud aircraft, in order to lessen the financial burden placed on the airlines, while at least beginning to appease the homeowners. The trouble with the situation, he says, is that “both sides are right.” Love Field creates many jobs for the community and is convenient for business travel. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to live with the sound of aircraft booming overhead.

While the various groups were busy throwing out their “selfish” suggestions during Phase One, Diamond was forming some opinions of his own – or at least localizing his preconceptions. Oak Lawn, he says, must become more pedestrian. He says there are places in a city where people want to drive through, hoping that all the traffic lights are synchronized, so they won’t have to stop. Then, he says, there are sections where a motorist will want to slow down, window-shop and people-watch. He says that the area of Knox Street between McKinney Avenue and Travis Street is a perfect example of a slow, attractive pedestrian area. Oak Lawn needs to separate the pedestrian areas and the expressways. Oak Lawn is the ideal place for a pedestrian area.

“What’s been done so far [in Dallas] is with the automobile in mind,” Diamond says. “We need areas with the pedestrian in mind. Another 10 high-rises in the downtown area will not increase Dallas’ chances of becoming a world-class city. Pedestrian areas will. Oak Lawn will. The city has been stereotyped. Oak Lawn can offer a choice.”

After Phase One is complete and the goals are set, the forum will begin working on more tangible specifics. After that phase is completed in April, the city planning commission and the city council will vote on the plan.

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