Suburban sprawl is nothing new to Texas. But in Lubbock, where developments are pushing at existing boundaries, a new grassroots group has an ambitious plan to preserve a historic part of the city.
“Old Lubbock” has a vibrant music scene in places like The Blue Light. This is where Buddy Holly grew up. It’s home to Texas Tech University. The South Plains is known for its flat, dusty land, but patches of nature can be found here if you look for them. This area of the city is laid out in an incredibly simple grid with a loop – Highway 289 – surrounding it.
“Slowly, we saw over time the city moving southwest,” said Adam Hernandez.
He was born and raised in East Lubbock. Over the years, he’s witnessed development move farther away from his neighborhood and into the southwest.
“The farther it moved southwest, things [in East Lubbock] got more and more decayed, as far as infrastructure of roads, opportunity, schools would close things like that,” he said.
Hernandez is 39 years old and he’s never voted. He didn’t believe it made a difference. But that’s changed. Earlier this summer, he stood in front of the city council for the first time, as part of a group effort to preserve and revitalize Old Lubbock.
He recalled feeling out of place as he walked to the podium, situated in front of the suited councilmembers surrounding the mayor.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not up too much on the technical terms,” Hernandez began.
He was nervous, but his voice never broke.
“I’d like to start by saying I’m speaking for the citizens of Lubbock who are very rarely heard in these meetings,” he said.
Hernandez wears a graphic t-shirt with a picture of a sloth. Above it, the words “be slow to anger.” But he is angry. His anger was sparked after reading the Lubbock Disparity Report, written by another Lubbock native, Nicholas Bergfeld. The 48-page document dives into the history of racist zoning practices and criticizes the city’s southwest expansion, but paints a picture of how the city could be.
“This kind of miraculous south and southwest growth was not because Lubbock had suddenly attracted a bunch of Dallas socialites,” Bergfeld said. “It represented the consolidation of the wealth of the city into defined neighborhoods, whereas historically in Lubbock, something that had been such an essential component of our strength, was the mixed income nature of our neighborhoods.”
Within days of the report’s release in June, a group formed on Facebook called the Lubbock Compact. More than 2.000 people have joined, including Natalie Ayers.
“It’s not just an East Lubbock and a North Lubbock issue, it’s a Lubbock issue,” Ayers said. “It’s bringing truth to the situations and really getting the community engaged.”
Unlike Hernandez, Ayers is no stranger to speaking to city officials. She’s spoken on behalf of East Lubbock regularly since 2017. Now, she’s joined forces with Lubbock Compact. The group’s purpose is to empower the Lubbock community through three things: citizen education, political engagement and public policy research.
They’ve been hard at work holding webinars over Zoom to untangle complex policy issues, workshopping citizen comments to local council members and maintaining an active discussion through the Facebook page.
Many of the members have spoken at city meetings. Earlier in the summer eight of the members, including Hernandez, spoke at a City Council meeting. And members from the group submitted over 50 citizen comments to Lubbock’s Capital Improvements Advisory Committee (CIAC).
Mike Keenum was tasked with reading every comment out loud at one public meeting held on Zoom. It took him over an hour-and-a-half to read them all — he took a break halfway through.
“I think the Compact Lubbock group has in one aspect been effective in their efforts advocating for, in their words I think they call it Old Lubbock,” Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said.
Pope lives in Old Lubbock, and like the group, he cherishes the area.
“But just the idea that you can’t outgrow where you came from…I know now that one of the most difficult parts of this job is how you embrace growth while at the same time taking care of what you have,” he said.
He’s caught in the middle of Old and New Lubbock. He represents not only members of the Lubbock Compact group, but also developers like Jordan Wheatley, who grew up in Lubbock and has seen it grow beyond the cotton fields that surrounded it.
When asked if there are opportunities for development inside the loop, Wheatley explained that it’s not really up to developers.
“Wherever there is a demand you’re going to see builders and developers follow that demand,” he said.
David Driskill is the director of Urban Tech Design center at Texas Tech. He worked as an urban designer in both Washington D.C. and Houston. He challenges the idea that there’s a lack of demand for development in Old Lubbock.
“You don’t have a choice in living in a new house inside the loop, they’re not offering the choices,” Driskill said. “So no, they are not building to the demand, they are the demand…They’re doing what they know how to do and they’re making money off of it.”
Driskill is not critical of the mayor or the city council, but he agrees with the report that ignited Lubbock Compact.
“I’m with the report 100% pretty much,” he said. “We have to develop inside the loop, and within our infrastructure. It’s what makes sense.”
According to Driskill, a vital part of developing the city is listening to what the neighborhoods want. That’s a pretty big part of what Nicholas Bergfeld and the Lubbock Compact are fighting for – for the neighborhoods in their area to be heard.
“I love this city, it has the potential to be one of the best in America,” he said.
In a nod to what the group hopes for, the city’s pending budget includes hiring a neighborhood planner for East and North Lubbock.