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Newcomer’s Guide to Dallas

Why I Love Lake Highlands

The once hidden gem of Northeast Dallas is no longer hidden.
By Adam McGill |
Photography by Leah Clausen

I grew up in Richardson in the ’70s, down the street and within walking distance of the elementary school I attended. My childhood memories are inextricably tied to the neighborhood — its geography and residents. There weren’t a lot of trees then, as I picture it now, but enough to mark end zones for front-yard football games. Some were tall enough for tree forts, but lower limbs were easily within reach for climbing.

My best friend had the same first name as me and lived two doors down. My other best friend lived right next-door. My parents were friends with the other kids’ parents. Everyone knew just about everyone, and a neighborhood stranger was just a neighborhood friend they hadn’t met yet.

That’s the memory I have of growing up, which is similar to my wife’s recollection of growing up just south of Fort Worth. Naturally, that’s the memory we sought to create for our kids, cliché though it may be. Not because we hold that type of upbringing up as the ideal, but because it’s the one we’re familiar and comfortable with. And so, with our oldest child nearing kindergarten age, we set out to find it. Based on word of mouth and anecdotal evidence, we set our sights on Lake Highlands.

Lake Highlands isn’t a time machine. It isn’t stuck in the past. Far from it. New houses are rapidly replacing old ones, second stories are being added seemingly everywhere, and real estate conversation increasingly includes the words “lot value.” But Lake Highlands — where I live at the southern tip of it, at least — feels somehow familiar and comfortable in a time-tested, organic, welcoming way. It feels like my memories of 30-plus years ago.

The geography is different than the flatlands of north Richardson in the ’70s, to be sure. Lake Highlands has hills and valleys and roads that bend. Friends who have visited us — friends who have lived in Dallas for years but never ventured so far east — are surprised but just how steep our street and the others around it are. Trees are abundant and mature: live oaks, cedar elms. Red oaks and pecans. The Texas staple, crape myrtles.

The scenery may be different, but the vibe is familiar, and it’s felt that way from the day we moved in, thanks in large part to our neighbors, who are now — already — close friends. They, too, are about the same age as my wife and me with kids about the same age as ours. They, too, were drawn by the charms of Lake Highlands, or more likely by the schools. We rotate from one front yard to the next, one weekend to the next, sitting in chairs and watching our kids keep themselves occupied.

There are older residents there, as well, who have been in the neighborhood for a generation at least. They are eagerly helpful and quick to chat up newbies like us, sharing stories about this house here or the history of that tree there or the colleges that their old neighbors’ kids attended.

Lake Highlands is Dallas’ once-hidden gem that’s no longer hidden. Lake Highlands is the affordable version of University Park. There’s neighborhood pride, but not much pretension. It’s like the sprawled-out cousin of Lakewood. The scaled-down and closer Southlake. The suburb for people who don’t want to move all the way out to the suburbs.

Lake Highland’s borders are ill-defined, dipping almost south enough to touch White Rock Lake and reaching north into Richardson. But importantly for many, including us, the schools in Lake Highlands are part of Richardson ISD. The triumvirate of elementary schools — White Rock, Lake Highlands, and Merriman Park — serves as a powerful draw. Each one is the centerpiece of the neighborhood that surrounds it.

The school is the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is the school. We have friends in MPE and LHE who say the same about their corner of Lake Highlands, but WRE seems to stand out, and not only because we live there. In nice weather, there are more moms and dads walking their kids to school than driving through carpool. The PTA is strong, active, engaged, and successful. Its annual auction is the highlight of the social calendar, where tickets to smaller parties thrown throughout the year get snatched up quickly. Moms volunteer for Writers’ Workshop, Clothes Closet, and more. The Dad’s Club is full of dads who actually want to be at its events and who actually have fun.

There are block parties galore that aren’t school-sponsored but might as well be, where an entire street is blocked off for the hundreds of parents and kids who show up, almost all on foot, some on golf carts. Notable among them: the Buzz Party on the last day of school, where there are bounce houses, foursquare games and basketball, an outdoor movie screening, a sno cone truck for kids, beer kegs for adults, and a tent where anyone who wants one can get a buzz haircut.

The point isn’t that this sort of thing only happens in Lake Highlands, or even that it only happens in our corner of it. The point is that this sort of thing seems to happen in our neighborhood a lot.

I only hope, years from now, my son and daughter will remember and appreciate how truly special their neighborhood was.

Adam McGill used to be an editor at D Magazine and now keeps regular hours. He moved to Lake Highlands in 2014.

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