Ramblings about a Downtown Stroll

Last week, all of us went to the Arlington, Texas 4th of July parade. The parade passes only about 1/2 miles from home every year, but doing it the American way, we piled in the car, and drove, it being hot and all, you know. Since most Arlingtonians are good Americans, they drove, too, and parking spaces were a dear commodity. I ended up dropping everybody off and then drove all over the place till I finally snuck into a McDonald’s parking lot.

After living in Arlington for nearly 7 years, I think I know my way around. But what I am essentially familiar with is 5 major thoroughfares running north and south and as many running east-west. This is all you need to know to get from A to B within my daily universe. The first time I tried certain inroads into the in-between, the islands between the thoroughfares, was when we started looking for a house in ’05. I discovered neighborhoods I had never even seen before or heard of. Those explorations of course were all by car. The only walks around town for me – with the exception of walks across campus when I took a class at UTA a few years ago – have always been in our immediate neighborhood.

To get back to last week, I started walking from McDonald’s and headed towards where I had dropped of my folks near the parade. I crossed streets, parking lots, empty lots, sidewalks, yards, alleys… I took the shortest route, a hypothenuse, and made a major discovery – that walking around downtown Arlington is actually kind of neat ! Not because there are fancy stores or beautiful, stone paved sidewalks, parks or fountains but because you get a strange new sense of space of the place, one that you’ve crossed a zillion times by car yet feel no sense of connection with because your feet never touch the ground or breathe the air. Like with travel on the interstate, there is only A and B and the road in between, and everything else just flies by. That may not seem a dilemma when you’re driving from North Texas to Colorado. Heck, all you can think about is skiing or rock climbing, and the miles in between are just a hassle. But when it comes to moving around your own backyard, it’s kind of sad.

Living in Texas, of course, people will tell you that it’s hot, too hot for walking outdoors. But it’s a fact that keeping your home thermostat set at 65F will turn you into a whimp. Walking around in even 90+F weather won’t kill you. The more often you do it, the more quickly you’ll get used to it. We’ve simply gotten too lazy and comfortable with our A-to-B-in-5min life style. What a place like Arlington, Texas, needs downtown is shady trees, stores, free parking.. unlike many others cities of this size, central Arlington isn’t a dead-by-night commercial district. People like myself actually live half a mile from downtown. I think a place like this could really be turned around by making a few minor improvements. Having the UTA campus next door (where walking is the way to get around and students aren’t dying of the heat) might serve as a nucleus…

Well, I am no city planner. I have noticed that ever since the Dallas Cowboys decided to come to town, there have been many changes happening downtown. New construction, road improvements, new stores… most of this of course will cater to the onslaught of future football seasons. But maybe some crumbs will fall off the multil-billion dollar Cowboys plate and give us a more useful downtown. I guess the way to find out is to stick around rather than move somewhere else.

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