A Taste of Environmental Equity in Mesquite, Texas

Mixed-use affordable housing facility in Dallas area, the Villas at Vanston Park, embraces Silva Cells to grow large trees along adjacent streetscape


The Villas at Vanston Park is the crown jewel of the Thomasson Square revitalization project in Mesquite, Texas — a three-block community in the Dallas Metroplex suburb that underwent a transformation beginning in 2013. The objectives of the initiative were both to spur economic regeneration and to enhance the public space itself, including making the road more pedestrian friendly and improving the streetscape experience. Taking advantage of $3 million in public funding as well as the tax investment reinvestment zone (TIRZ), Sphinx Development built the Villas at Vanston Park: a three-story mixed-use residential facility with dozens of affordable housing units. Along the adjacent Kate Sidran Way streetscape, 22 trees were planted in Silva Cells: a now-thriving urban forestry in which residents of the new villas can enjoy shady respite from the hot sun in an otherwise concrete-centric city space.

Installation Summary

Number of Silva Cells: 200 (3x)

Number of Trees: 22

Total Soil Volume: 9,460 ft3

Type of Project: Streetscape

Project Developer: Sphinx Development

Project Engineer: CEI Engineering

Project Contractor: SPSD Inc.

Installation Date of Silva Cells: Spring 2016

Mesquite and the Thomasson Square Project

Located twenty minutes east of the Dallas city center, Mesquite — the “Rodeo Capital of Texas” — is home to more than 150,000 residents. Thomasson Square, a three-block district of Mesquite situated just north of Highway 30, was in 2010 identified by local officials as an area in serious need of an economic and infrastructure upgrade. The Thomasson Square Project was thus launched in 2013. According to the City of Mesquite’s overview of the project, it had three primary objectives:

  • Transform an aging, distressed commercial area into an engaging place with new businesses and new households
  • Use investment by the City of Mesquite as a catalyst to encourage property owners to re-invest in their own properties
  • Change the current patterns of high-speed, cut-through traffic to an environment which encourages visitors and customers to stop and shop in Mesquite

In essence, Thomasson Square was embarking on a “placemaking” endeavor: creating a new, vibrant sense of space in the neighborhood — one of the cornerstone components of which is often green space, as was embraced in this project.

The Villas at Vanston Park and its Vibrant Urban Forest

One of the initial components of the Thomasson Square project to be complete — done in tandem with public-realm upgrades and serving as a centerpiece for the revamped neighborhood — was the new Villas at Vanston Park, officially opening in 2017. The first major development in the area in decades, the villas feature 155 apartments, a center courtyard swimming pool, and ground-floor retail space. Many of the new apartments, because they were built with tax-credit financing, are earmarked as affordable housing — providing residents with access to modern residential options at an economical price.

The infrastructure surrounding the new villas received a simultaneous facelift. Gus Thomasson Road, the district’s major thoroughfare, was made safer and more pedestrian friendly, downsized from six lanes to four with widened sidewalks and bump-out zones. Richard Gertson, Mesquite’s city community development director, noted that “The area will be more walkable, a place where people can walk through and enjoy and visit the businesses that redevelop along the street.”

Kate Sidran Way, an adjacent street along which the villas’ primary entrance resides, was also given a major green overhaul: 22 trees were planted in 2016, 12 on each side, of the single-block streetscape — each one accessing lightly compacted soil volume thanks to Silva Cells. This strip of urban forest is now flourishing, in contrast to trees planted on the Gus Thomasson Road building edge, which, though planted a few years later, are not in Silva Cells and have in turn not shown much growth.

This project serves as a small sampling of environmental equity — the large trees in front of the villas’ entrance provide great canopy coverage for all residents entering the building as well as those with northwest-facing apartments, who receive cool evening shade within their dwellings. This is an important objective for cities around the world, many of which have demonstrably lower tree canopies in low-income neighborhoods; it’s crucial that city residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds be given access to the services provided by mature trees.

Still, more could be done. The neighborhood, while anchored by the new Villas at Vanston Park, is still largely a gray-dominated district. The Silva Cells-assisted strip of urban forestry on Kate Sidran Way should serve as a testament to what could be done with prioritization and investment in public green space.

Additional Resources

For other DeepRoot projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, check out these case studies:

Pacific Plaza

Trinity Mills

Sundance Square


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