I blogged earlier about the way in which open windows free us from the quarantine of our airsealed homes and reconnect us to our neighborhood surroundings.

Opening windows is a good first step, but because it goes no further than to let the outside seep in seems to invite action far less passive.  It would be a delusion, though, to think that driving through the neighborhood fits the bill.  Most times we are as firmly airsealed into our vehicles as into our homes, consumed by the chatter of passengers, the blare of the radio, or the distraction of a cellphone.  My East Dallas neighborhood sprawls from Mockingbird Station to the lower end of White Rock Lake, and at almost any time of day plenty of dog walkers, joggers, and baby carriage pushers immerse themselves in the neighborhood at a pedestrian pace.

Bicycling, though, seems to strike a balance distinctively well-suited to this neighborhood.  It plunges the rider into the outside at a pace fast enough to deliver ever-changing scenery that’s still revealed slowly enough to be taken in fully.  Here, where most homes were built in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, it produces a particularly rich experience.  Trolleys and early autos and horse-drawn transit all

Home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

still shared these streets in their earliest days, and it’s reflected in the neighborhood’s intimate scale.  Here you can still see storefronts built in small clusters no further away from any home than a few blocks’ walk or a couple of trolley stops; more ambitious shopping in a vibrant downtown was within easy reach.   Here there is no tract housing; houses were still hand-crafted one at a time and today they present block after block of charming architectural diversity.  Here churches and schools are less often located at major crossroads and more often nested deep within the neighborhoods they serve.  Here trees are far older than homeowners, and in summer their filtering canopy renders the Texas heat and glare benign.  The Rustbelt neighborhood into which I was born and where I spent my early childhood was not unlike this, and each time I traverse it I’m also reconnected to a past that holds many warm memories.

Every time I drive through the suburbs there seems to me a sameness to them that throws a bland drape over existence there and I can’t wait to get back to my own turf.  Metropolitan Dallas sprawls across the landscape, continuously filling out and filling in.  Its neighborhoods are diced up by expressways that just as often separate as

Another home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

join together, and inhabited more and more by those born elsewhere who have little sense of Dallas’s soul. I’ve lived in nearly twenty different cities, some with far more going for them than others, but it’s been my experience that where you live in a city is at least as important as what city you live in.  Dallas’ soul is alive and well here in East Dallas, and the lives of those who live here are richer for it.