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Lubbock's neighborhood planning program starts work in four communities, opportunities for others

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Sarah Self-Walbrick/Texas Tech Public Media
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The City of Lubbock’s comprehensive plan for the future, Plan Lubbock 2040, called for a neighborhood planning program to help areas of town that have been underserved in the past. Wilson Bowling was hired to be the city's neighborhood planner last year, and recently announced the first neighborhoods that will be a part of this program.

He recently visited the Texas Tech Public Media studio to talk about the program. This conversation has been lightly edited for accuracy and clarity.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: First, tell us about the goal of the neighborhood planning department.

Wilson Bowling: This is something that came out of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Really, the goal is to come up with individual action plans, think of the comprehensive plan itself, and then tailor that to an actual neighborhood level. We have been working very hard to try to get this program up and running, doing a lot of the groundwork. And this all came into fruition just a few weeks ago with council passing actually two separate resolutions for our program.

Self-Walbrick: And let's break those down a little bit more. We have some good projects going on now. Talk to me about the first neighborhoods that were chosen for the neighborhood planning program.

Bowling: When I first presented to council back last October, that would been October 2021, the mayor set up a neighborhood planning subcommittee with then Councilmen Jeff Griffith, Juan Chadis and Councilwoman Shelia Patterson Harris. They tasked us to try to figure out what is going to be the first few neighborhoods. I collected a lot of data throughout the city so that we can number one, pick these neighborhoods. But also use these as key performance indicators. Use these to track the progress of the neighborhoods. Whether that's after the plan is complete, How are the neighborhoods doing in 5-10 years. But also watching the conditions of the neighborhoods who haven't gotten the plan so we can perhaps nip the problems in the bud to make sure that these neighborhoods don't start declining.

Through those efforts, we came up with our first four neighborhoods. I said this at Council, I'm gonna say this here. I feel this is very, very important: There's not a bad neighborhood in Lubbock. The neighborhoods chosen are those that need the most help based on those criteria that we selected. But those first four neighborhoods are the Dunbar Manhattan Heights neighborhood in East Lubbock, is our first one. The Jackson and the Mahon neighborhood together in North Lubbock, the Parkway Cherry Point neighborhood in East Lubbock, and the Arnett Benson neighborhood in North Lubbock.

Self-Walbrick: So what comes next, now that these neighborhoods have been identified? What's the next part in this process for them?

Bowling: Because this is a brand new program, and right now, I am a department of one, we were able to get some grant funding, with partnership with our health department, to hire some consultants to come in and help us with the first two neighborhoods, but also to lay out the guidelines so that we can do every other plan in house. We have already put out that request for proposal. And so hopefully soon, we're gonna have those consultants hired, and we will begin working with the Dunbar Manhattan Heights neighborhood, getting the community involved, and getting a good plan going.

Self-Walbrick: It sounds like community involvement has already started. But what has the overall response been from the folks in these neighborhoods?

Bowling: Great response. Many of these neighborhoods have wanted something to happen for a while, not necessarily a plan, but something. And the fact that there are now people in the city - not just myself, but people in the city - listening and making an effort to do something. It's been a great response, particularly our first neighborhood Dunbar Manhattan Heights. I've gotten to know many of the members of that neighborhood and they are absolutely incredible. Not only for the warm welcome I've received and how they've made me feel at home, but the work that they have put in themselves. They are fantastic. I cannot wait to get to work with them.

Self-Walbrick: Tell us a little bit more about some of the projects that you see coming to fruition in these neighborhoods, and then, we'll get into the separate project opportunities.

Bowling: That's actually really hard for me to say. Though I've seen some things and heard about some issues, what really is going to come out of these plans is going to be what they tell us throughout this whole process. So, unfortunately, right now, I can't give you a clear answer to that. But in a few months, we should have a great idea and in a couple of years we're gonna start seeing the first of these efforts come true.

Self-Walbrick: I think that's a perfectly fine answer for right now. I love that this is a citizen-led opportunity. So I can't wait to see what does come of it, though. I do want to talk a little bit more about a separate program that you have going on that can give some funds to some other neighborhoods in town. Explain that to us.

Bowling: So the second resolution that council passed was actually a project program. What that is, is we understand that as we're doing these plans, they take time, traditionally take six to 12 months per plan. So to start getting into neighborhoods that aren't a part of these first four, that's going to take two, three years. How can we go ahead and start helping not only the neighborhoods that are in northeast Lubbock, the ones that you would traditionally think of, but every neighborhood in the city? So we have created what we call the neighborhood project program. And these are small projects. What they are, are capital projects, staff projects, except the ideas of these projects are going to come from the community members themselves. So whether it's a neighborhood association, another neighboring association, organization, or an individual resident, they have a small project, they would like to see come to fruition, they can apply. And we're going to go through all of our applications to pick some of these out.

There are two main criteria: they have to be for the public benefit. So not individual or a couple of homeowners, for the general public. The second is these have to be on the city-owned public property. But some of the ideas, and this is not an all-inclusive list. So if you have other ideas, we want to hear them. Things like public art, or landscaping in the right-of-ways for beautification, benches, bicycle racks, bus stop improvements, or those neighborhood street sign toppers that have the name of your neighborhood above the actual street signs, or even a neighborhood saw entry sign as you come in. These are all ideas that we would love to see.

Again, these are projects up to $10,000. We're going to have two application periods. One is going on right now and it's going to close on June 30. The other is going to open Nov. 1 and end Dec. 31. So a summer and winter cycle. So if you have ideas, please, I would love to hear them.

The applications can be found one of two ways. Number one stop by Citizens Tower, my office is on the first floor. If you go down the long hallway beside the council chambers, I'm back there. Come see me I would love to print out an application, multiple applications. The other way is we have launched the neighborhoods’ website as a part of the city website. You can find all of the information, both the guidelines that go over all the ins and outs of this program, plus the application there. You can scan it, email, drop it off to me. We're going to be looking at every single one.

Now, I also understand there are a lot of good ideas. We may not be able to get to your idea yet. But we're not just going to throw the application away, they are going to stay within the cycles for two full years. So you don't have to keep writing that application every single time. We want to make sure that when we see a proposal, we're going to look at it and consider it every single time.

Self-Walbrick: Absolutely, that's really helpful. And we'll be sure to link to that website on the web post version of this interview. You've spent the past year researching the city, talking with folks and attending neighborhood meetings. You're also new to town, so, I think you have a really interesting perspective on this. What a great way to get to know the city. What did you learn about Lubbock through this research process of neighborhood planning?

Bowling: This might sound like a cliche response, but it really is just the people I've met here have been the most welcoming. Especially as a white man going into minority neighborhoods, I have felt nothing but love and respect. I love the people that I've met, but also the passion and the willingness to go out, to go canvass on doors, to actually put in the work. Lubbockites are incredible. I have been absolutely blessed being here.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.