Downtown Waco: What’s it like living downtown?
By Rolando Rodriguez Soto
(This post is part of an on-going series about Downtown Waco. In a sense, Downtown is “everybody’s neighborhood.” In this series of blog posts we hope to contribute to the on-going conversation in Waco about what it takes to have a great downtown, and what we want for our own “Wacotown.” To see all the posts in this series, click here: Downtown Waco. – ABT)
Many people in Waco have begun to forgo suburban homes and apartments for a unique place in Waco we are beginning to rediscover. They have found a place that offers historical value, a lively environment and an opportunity to be a part of a new trend in downtown living. What’s it like to be a part of that trend in Waco?
I spoke with four professionals in the Waco community. They have not only found home in downtown, but also have committed their careers to take action in Waco for the benefit of the city and the great people in it.
Jorge Delgado grew up in south Texas and graduated from Baylor University in 2002. He is currently working with the Salvation Army to help people that are homeless, low-income families and veterans. He grew up in a county heavily populated with welfare dependent families, so he has a good understanding of how to connect with people who have fallen victim to circumstance.
After graduating from Baylor, Delgado lived in Lacy Lakeview outside of Waco for six years. Once new developments such as apartments and restaurants starting appearing in downtown, and with his job only a few blocks away, he decided to make the move. He has lived in Tinsley Place for almost three years now.
“When I graduated from Baylor, it [downtown]was still in its infancy stage,” Delgado said. “Now, when Baylor has homecoming, my former Baylor colleagues come into town, and they say, ‘This is not the same Baylor. This is not the same Waco.’”
Delgado attributes downtown’s growth to McLane Stadium and Magnolia Market. However, he fears this new need to maintain a positive image could affect nonprofits and the citizens that these nonprofits serve.
“My fear is that, with all of this growing and expanding, that the focus shifts away from trying to help lower income folks get the resources they need,” Delgado said. “For example, in downtown you have the Salvation Army, Caritas, My Brother’s Keeper, and Mission Waco,” Delgado said. “My biggest fear is that they try to push those organizations out …this is where all of those people know to come.”
Eric Martin was raised in Michigan. His educational and professional career has allowed him to visit a wide range of places including Colorado for undergraduate school, San Diego for his PhD, and his first job as a researcher in the London. He moved to Waco when he was hired as an assistant professor in Baylor’s Great Texts Program.
Martin has been living in Waco for three years in an old fourplex building near Washington and 18th. With his work so close and his dedication to transit by bicycle, his daily routine revolves around downtown Waco.
“I commute between home and Baylor University along Austin Ave and 8th Street,” Martin said. “I frequent restaurants and cafes in East Waco on Elm, in North Waco near 15th Street, and of course in downtown. I love being near the Brazos River and Cameron Park.”
He noted two major issues with downtown that limit the ability for downtown Waco to truly become a livable and sustainable area—a grocery store and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
“It’s pretty crazy that we need to get on an interstate highway, or cross Valley Mills Dr. on a bicycle just to buy groceries,” Martin said. “If downtown is going to be a pleasant place to be rather than just a place to drive through, we need some investment in basics like sidewalks and bike lanes because car traffic speeds are pretty high along Franklin or Washington Avenues.”
Liz Ligawa lived in Waco and in the surrounding area before graduating from Baylor. She has her Master’s degree in divinity and social work. She currently works at Prosper Waco as the Director of community engagement.
A few months ago, Ligawa moved into an individual condo near the Waco Central Library on Austin Ave, across the street from the Prosper Waco office.
She said living in downtown, surrounded by business and commerce and a variety of people reminds her of the city experience she had in Atlanta. “It’s interesting to see different types of people from all walks of life with lots of interesting stories to tell,” she says.
Ligawa was never interested in a cookie cutter lifestyle. She was more drawn into a space with personality and variety. She fears that because downtown is growing so fast, it may all start to look too similar.
“Downtown needs to slow down to bring in diversity with a more intentional approach”, Ligawa says. “If you want to go far you have to go slow with more Wacoans insight. It needs a good mix,” she continued.
Unlike Eric Martin, Ligawa doesn’t see a great need for a grocery store in downtown just yet, because there are other places in Waco that need one before downtown. Instead, Waco resources should be put into creating a more walkable space, getting more residents and businesses in the area and creating a diverse space for people of all different age groups rather than one demographic.
Ligawa’s main priority for downtown would be creating more sitting areas in downtown. “There needs to be physical investments to encourage people to hang out with sitting areas that invite people to be together outdoors”, Ligawa says.
Cuevas Peacock hails from Port Arthur, Texas. His work with AmeriCorps and City Center Waco led him to downtown Waco where he currently lives in a loft in the Austin Arms building.
He is planning on moving out of the Austin Arms soon because of planned renovations, and he is considering the Waco High Lofts because he wants to stay in the downtown area.
Peacock originally moved into downtown because it is affordable in comparison to living in Austin. He enjoys the energy of the people and attractions in the urban environment, and he wanted to be a part of the movement that is pushing new developments in downtown.
Similar to Jorge Delgado and Eric Martin, Peacock said downtown needs a grocery store. More importantly, however, as each person mentioned before him, downtown needs more sidewalks to encourage people to walk around.
“Downtown needs more ‘placemaking’ items,” Peacock said. “For example, there is a street in downtown Dallas and when you look to the left, there is a big eyeball, just looking at you. Waco needs things like that to make walking in downtown Waco more interesting.”
Walking from Austin Arms to the downtown hub is empty and “a big ugly,” Peacock said. Waco needs ways to connect the various areas of downtown with “placemaking” items or initiatives.
I am graduating from Baylor this weekend, so I will soon be in a place where I can start searching for a place that will become my first home where I can cultivate my career and adulthood.
Through these conversations, I got a broader understanding of what it means to live in downtown. Downtown isn’t perfect yet, but that isn’t the point. Downtown is a great central environment with potential to become amazing in a few years. It only takes people like Jorge, Eric, Liz and Cuevas that are willing to make the first step.
When I asked what advice they would give to someone considering living in downtown, Cuevas said it best. “Do it.”
Rolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.