Blogs > Cliopatria > Journey south (part 1 of ?)

Jul 21, 2004 7:32 pm

Journey south (part 1 of ?)

Growing up and out.

My wife and I just spent a couple of weeks visiting relatives. First a week in Oklahoma and then a week in the Dallas area. We camped in an old Best Western on Stemmons Freeway in Farmer’s Branch, an older suburb, just north of the LBJ Freeway (but well south of the President George Bush Freeway). By an odd freeway logic, it was a central location for visiting a number of friends and relatives.

Sue and I grew up in Dallas. (Or, more precisely, in the suburbs of Irving and University Park, respectively). Each time we visit, the contrast between the continuities and the changes is stunning.

That was true while growing up. In one of my high school English classes, we read Silas Marner. I remember the kinship I felt when he returned to the village of his youth and it was gone, wiped out by the Industrial Revolution. Only to Marner, the reason was not explicable. It was more like a natural disaster, a hurricane, maybe, or a “leaf storm” (a wonderful image of Gabriel Marquez that’s applicable here).

Like Marner, I did not understand the process around me as I grew up and dead-end streets were built through to new houses, new shopping centers grew out of old fields, and a nearby railroad track became the Dallas North Tollway. Nor was the pain that I sometimes felt particularly ecological or political. I was saddened when fields disappeared, but it was more a dislike of change itself than a concern that something beyond that field or that railroad was lost.

Now I enter the far north Dallas area rather like someone reading tree rings. I see how far out urbanity has spread. I note where the major streets of my youth have been extended farther and farther north.

An example of change. Sue and I visited our niece in one of these newer suburbs, Frisco. Frisco is an old town located on a north-south state highway that passes less than a block from where I grew up. In the early1970s, when I first saw Frisco, it had one gas station.

Statistics can tell the next part of the story. The Handbook of Texas lets us know that its population was roughly 1800 people in 1970, 3500 in 1980, and 6100 in 1990. The North Central Texas Council of Governments takes us to the present. The 2000 census found 34,000 people. The 2004 estimated population is 66,000. The projected population in 2010 is just over 112,000.

The scale of construction is astonishing: acres of fields, to foundations, to thousands of new houses with tall roofs, postage stamp yards, and trees that I pray will grow quickly. On the inside they are quite nice.

Karen, our niece, lives in one of those houses. She teaches psychology and is the varsity girl’s soccer coach in Allen Texas, about ten miles to the east. Her husband, Eric, has a job that actually requires him to enter the city of Dallas itself. That’s a long and chewy commute, made easier (though costly) by the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.

They have good lives, and they are happy. They know there is a fundamental absurdity to this expansion, but Karen (and I think Eric, too) grew up with this, just as I did, so it’s a natural absurdity, part of life. If they feel a twinge of sadness for fields lost, they did not mention it, and I did not think to ask.

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