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More Families Moving Downtown, Creating Urban Neigborhoods

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Shannon Montgomery and daughters Kensington, 10, and Tate, 7, experience a full, but unusual life downtown.

By Erin Gilmore

When calling the suburbs home, mother of three Heather Huse spent from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the car. Her days were filled with drop-offs, pick-ups, errands and more. “I made meals and snacks to feed in the car every single day,” said Huse. “The kids had to stay at the office with us sometimes and we had no time to just relax and be a family, because we were constantly running everywhere.”

While living in Cedar Hill, Huse ran her husband Josh Huse’s private chiropractic clinic in North Dallas. It took the couple up to an hour and a half to get to work in rush hour traffic.
The Huse family finally got tired of all the driving.

Two years ago, they packed up and moved to the 18th floor of the Mosaic Building on Akard Street in downtown Dallas. The convenience and central location sparked an idea in the family that life doesn’t have to be centered on a commute.

Without the tedious 45-minute trek to work five days a week, the Huses say they have time to enjoy a fuller life. The central location allows friends to visit more often, with activities for 9-year-old Jackson and 6-year-old Sophia never more than a few minutes away. The private school they attend –  Lakewood Presbyterian School – is just 10 minutes away.

These days, the Huses spend less than a quarter of the time they did in the car as when they lived in Cedar Hill.

“More people love coming downtown to visit us and it’s an exciting, high-energy place that the kids love,” said Heather Huse. “When we were in Cedar Hill, it was difficult for our friends to make that 30-minute schlep outside the city, and everything else was a chore.”

The Huses value not only the timely convenience, but the domestic convenience that downtown living has to offer their family. This new found freedom from the old-fashioned American dream has given the Huses more time as a family than ever.

“There’s no yard work and when we need a light bulb changed or something fixed in our home, we make a simple phone call,” said Heather Huse. “With all of this stuff coming off of our shoulders, for the first time, our time is truly our own.”

The city core is offering news amenities for families like the Huses, and there is a plan in place to increase building for the future. Restaurants, retail, “green spaces and softer spaces are a huge focus,” says Dustin Bullard, Cityscape and Design Manager for Downtown Dallas Inc. The group advocates and mobilizes funding for downtown projects.

Current projects underway or near completion include a $338 million Arts District expansion and the Klyde Warren Park. The Main Street Garden park opened almost three years ago. Renovations of historical buildings have begun, and commerce is expanding, say residents and officials.

According to Dallas’ Office of Economic Development, the city’s primary downtown initiatives are residential conversions of obsolete office space, and finding news businesses to open or relocate downtown. Its Downtown Dallas 360 Master Plan focuses on expanding transit, creating vibrant streets, and adding new housing andmore parking.

“The city’s center boasts a strong collection of mutually supportive districts, each with unique character and all easily accessible,” according to the Dallas 360 plan. “Downtown embraces the future with excitement and energy.”

While it’s not clear exactly how many families have moved to the downtown core, it’s progress like this that made the Huses interested in moving there. In addition to the residential development and new parks, there are markets and gas stations popping up around the edge of downtown.

The Dallas Independent School District serves all of downtown, but the Huses have decided to send their students to private schools. “It’s one of the sacrifices you make,” said Huse. “It’s either convenient to live and lack of good public education, or vice versa, but private education is a great option.”

With any family living downtown, safety is also often an issue. Safety issues used to keep Heather Huse up at night, but now an automatic alarm system and a host of other safety perks let her sleep in peace.

“There’s one door in and one door out, so if I lock it, that’s it,” she said. “The building emergency system takes care of that for me, and worrying about break-ins is no more because I’m 18 floors up with a locked door.”

Families living downtown is not a new concept in major cities, like New York or Los Angeles, but it’s new to Dallas. “At first, business owners and people working here were caught by surprise when kids came walking through the door,” says Shannon Montgomery, a downtown resident and mother of two. “It was a constant question of how we do it and if the kids like it, but they love it, and the other residents and business owners do, too.”

The Montgomery’s have resided on the 17th floor of the Gables Republic Tower on Ervay Street fornearly three years. Shannon Montgomery and husband Ken Montgomery knew what an exciting experience living downtown would be for their two daughters, ages 7 and 10.
“We’ve truly embraced the urban lifestyle,” sais Shannon Montgomery. “It’s opened up a whole new world to us.”

The Montgomery’s are comfortable that their children can handle the traffic and other perils of urban life.

“I started becoming more relaxed in situations where other parents would be very nervous,” said Ken Montgomery. “With cars and trains flying by, I know what to expect with my kids because they spent time living around it.”

“It’s important to be alert, stay together and aware of what’s going on around you,” said Shannon Montgomery. “Our girls have learned that, and it makes them grow.”

Bullard of Downtown Dallas Inc. said the city is attentive to green space, public plazas, softer areas and parks, and is “adapting to its audience and who’s living here,” he said.

“We want to keep working on Main Street Gardens, build playgrounds and help downtown family living support groups grow, so this community here will grow,”said Bullard. “Open-space planning, trails and those parks all add to the quality of life down here.”

Keeping these families in the loop long-term is another goal. By giving more old buildings a new use with renovation, new retail, hotels, restaurants and activities, “everything falls into place,” Bullard said. Buildings soon to be renovated include the Dallas Central Library, the old Dallas High School and the Statler Hilton with its plans for redevelopment into a condo-hotel.

“I’ve lived downtown for eight years and all my friends were single, but are now deciding to have children and they want to stay,” said Bullard. “Downtown Dallas is and can be convenient in that way…the convenience of walking to work, daycare and taking care of your family is easy as a few steps.”

Bullard sees the trend of moving to an urban core increasing, as a new generation of “young professionals with a different perspective on raising families” move into the loop instead of leaving for the suburbs.

“There are these young people and the baby-boomer generation realizing they don’t need to maintain a huge house,” says Bullard. “It’s more about the quality of life, and if they’re enjoying that, they’ll stay long-term…that is why we must make this as pleasant as possible, as downtown living already is in its own right.”

Erin Gilmore is a senior majoring in Journalism at Southern Methodist University

  • Downtown-to-South_Dallas

    Great article! I lived Downtown for a year in 2010-2011 and loved it. If I could afford a larger space for my garden I would still live there. Fortunately, South Dallas/Fair Park has some nice “safe” pockets with affordable housing.

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