As a commercial real estate brokerage professional, I spend a lot of time helping clients develop a real estate strategic plan. The process involves organizing meetings, obtaining lots of input from a variety of people, and then putting that plan into action. With our nonprofit clients we also spend a lot of time discussing sources of funds for their projects and, in many cases, assist them in making calls on potential donors. So I figured why not apply those same skills in my neighborhood?
You probably have driven by our neighborhood many times. It’s comprised of about 130 homes in the area around Inwood Road, just south of Forest Lane across from Lamplighter School. The neighborhood is bordered by Inwood Parkway, with a long row of Live Oak and Red Oak trees, and Eastern Avenue, running next to the Tollway.
One of the things I have learned in commercial real estate is never allow graffiti to stay on a building. It just promotes more vandalism. Last year graffiti artists really hit the Tollway wall facing the neighborhood. I kept assuming someone would notify the city, but as more and more graffiti appeared, I realized I needed to take action. Calls and emails to then Councilmember Ann Margolin and her assistant got the graffiti addressed, but then there was all the debris and overgrown shrubbery.
One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was negotiating with Oncor over maintaining the shrubbery. Oncor’s position is that it is not in the landscape maintenance business. If we wanted the landscaping to remain, the neighborhood had to assume responsibility. The neighborhood has an unincorporated garden club, but no association. The only way to accomplish maintaining the landscaping is to have an informal group of neighbors take responsibility. Guess who ended up leading the effort!
Once again those organizing skills used so much in commercial real estate really came in handy. A morning “grooming project” one Saturday a month was established. One of my neighbors in the landscape design business, Denise Koval of “Art That Grows,” took over the details for the landscaping. Neighbors showed up with gardening tools, people were assigned to different tasks, and a lot was accomplished.
We got such a great group of volunteers working on eastern that everyone wanted to focus on the Inwood Boulevard landscaping. Most important, the 25 Red Oaks and Live Oaks located along there desperately needed trimming. The parkway is owned by the City of Dallas. Permission had to be obtained for trimming the trees and a licensed tree service had to be willing to sign City liability documents. Now we were talking about real money.
Again, organizing and consensus-building skills had to be used. Neighbors were invited to come over for a Saturday morning planning session. I led the meeting and got support from the group for the selecting a tree service from the four bids various neighbors had obtained. They also agreed that we should attempt to raise $15,000 from the 130 neighbors to cover the cost of the trimming and future landscape projects.
Guess who it was assumed would lead the effort raise the money? Once again, those commercial real estate skills for following up and not easily giving up were very useful. There were many, many emails, one direct mail campaign, and additional letters hand delivered with assistance from several neighbors.
And, success! We raised more than $16,000, including participation by Lamplighter School located across the street. The trees have been trimmed along Inwood, and neighborhood volunteers removed the scraggly bushes. There is much more work to be done. However, the appearance of the neighborhood is already significantly improved.
Commercial real estate professionals have so many valuable skills. Using them to improve our own neighborhoods is just one of the many ways we can give back to the community.
Eliza Solender is president of Solender/Hall Inc., a commercial real estate and consulting firm. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.