Highland Park’s Outdoor Roots Yielded Unique Suburban Plan

river oaksToday, Highland Park can hardly be considered Far North Dallas. Only four miles away from the iconic downtown skyline, the haven from the hustle and bustle of city life finds itself right in the thick of it.

In 1913, Dallas residents were singing a different song.

What became of that land was one of Texas’ first garden suburbs, where architecture, parks, and health played integral parts in the planning and upkeep of the space.

Dr. Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson’s Highland Park and River Oaks: The Origins of Garden Suburban Community Planning in Texas recounts the rise of the prestigious suburb.

“Developers bought land and put some aside for community spaces, leaving room for ample gardens. They paid a lot of attention to health and fresh air,” Ferguson said.

The curvilinear streets and strict controls on trash, architecture, and noise are still mainstays in the area, and set the neighborhood apart from its surroundings.

“Highland Park stands out not only because of the commitment to clients to the styling and architectural detailing of their homes, but the commitment that has extended to the garden,” said Tom Nugent, design manager with Lambert’s, Dallas’ first landscape architecture firm. “We’re not just planting. We’re [working] within the aesthetic.”

That Highland Park aesthetic, which Nugent describes as a “certain green feeling,” is monitored by a planning board, one of the main factors Ferguson cites in keeping the neighborhood alive and well-maintained all of these years.

But looks alone have not kept Highland Park successful since it’s incorporation 101 years ago.

“[The developers] made a community where people interacted with each other,” said Ferguson, who lives in Austin.

At its inception, the area was far enough away from Dallas that it needed to be self-sufficient.

While strong school systems are a part of garden suburbs around the country, Ferguson’s book highlights Highland Park Village, the nation’s first self-contained shopping center, as a key to its success.

“They were very cautious with their money. They had the drawings but they weren’t able to build it all at once,” she said. “It’s quite amazing that they were able to pull it off.”

Even now, the planned openness and greenery of Highland Park set it apart from the neighboring areas like Preston Hollow and Lakewood.

“Everyone felt like a part of the community and that is still true and lingers today,” Ferguson said. “It’s a little oasis.”

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