Lubbock is a Suburb of Itself

I’ve been thinking about the idea of community lately, especially as it relates to Lubbock.

Community can mean lots of things. The sense of community I’m thinking about today is city-sized: the community of Plainview, the community of Lubbock, the community of Austin, the community of Dallas, and so forth. The sense of community I’m thinking of today can tell us how two complete strangers might interact when they meet each other for the first time, if the odds favor them meeting at all.

Lubbock is my hometown, and I enjoy living here. However, I have some concerns about how Lubbock has grown over its 100 years — obstacles that hinder us when it comes to growing as a community-at-large.

First, cars. Lubbock is a city designed from the ground up for the automobile age. We pass strangers all day long in our cars and never know who is sitting behind steel and glass a few feet from us. Because of this, we are missing out on the very basic community knowledge of who lives here. We tend to think Lubbock is populated only with the people we meet at our destinations, which are usually self-selected. Contrast this to a city like New York or Chicago, where one can see all sorts of people on the train, the bus, the street.

Second, space. Part of living in a city built for the automobile age is that our buildings are far apart to accommodate our wide streets. Even residential streets in Lubbock are bigger than business thoroughfares in many cities. Every extra yard between your house and the one across the street makes it less likely that you will ever meet your neighbors.

(There is a positive side to the wide open space, captured beautifully by Molly Ivins: “Once you have been to Lubbock, it feels like freedom and everywhere else feels like jail.”)

Third, residential construction. Lubbock has primarily single-family dwellings, spaced farther apart as you get farther from downtown. Most Lubbock residents will never meet their neighbors in the stairwell or common yard because we don’t tend to have those things.

My point is that these factors make it harder for us to find common cause with those geographically near us, and therefore it is more difficult for Lubbock citizens to organize.

(Lubbock is also a conservative’s paradise for the same reasons. Everyone knows that urban areas tend to be more liberal/progressive than rural areas, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that. I think that the places in which people encounter the most strangers are the most liberal, and the places where people never have to meet anyone new tend to be the most conservative.)

However, Lubbock is not totally adrift as a suburb of itself; some neighborhoods have figured out how to organize in spite of our area’s obstacles. For instance, Heart of Lubbock has a very organized neighborhood association. South Overton, Tech Terrace, and Guadalupe also come to mind as examples of well-organized neighborhoods.

Furthermore, I am hopeful that our isolated/insular community-at-large will improve because of the age we live in. With President Obama as an organizer-in-chief, maybe our detached, separated situation will change for the better. Also, now we can find each other on the internet, which can reconnect us face-to-face. Those of us concerned about our community detachment can find each other online and work together to do something about it offline.


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2 Responses to “Lubbock is a Suburb of Itself”

  1. Ben Says:

    Being a Lubbockite now living in Seattle, I can truely tell you that Geography matters. The Puget Sound on the West, Lake Washington on the East (and the Cascades farther out East) has created a dense city alive with people walking, using mass transit, and shopping in a downtown that stays open past 6pm.

    Growing up in SW Lubbock, I remember in the 80s seeing lots of empty space inside the Loop at 60th and Slide. Visiting last year, my Mom and I were thinking of placing bets on when housing will reach (and be completed) at Quaker and FM1585.

    I never understood what the City’s plans were for the town….and handling its growth. Whereas Seattle has focused on urban renewal in its weak spots through mixed-income housing or other redevelopment, Lubbock keeps pushing South and West…leaving Downtown a business-only center, and other business district (parts of 34th and 50th???) weaker as the residental center pushes further away.

    Areas north and east of downtown do have some positives for mixed-development if you can look through the industrial refuse and any held sterotypes. Overton is really just a start (I think) for what could happen. Geography and Lubbock’s access to relatively cheap land shouldn’t be an excuse for letting other parts of the city stagnate. And as you mentioned, the community will continue to grow more and more distant.

  2. Lubbock Left Says:

    Right on, Ben. I also grew up in SW Lubbock and have scratched my head my whole life, wondering why Lubbock has the eternal capacity to abandon itself for parts South and West.

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