I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the word “retail” as a neighborhood concept. It makes me feel like I have no identity other than “customer”, when actually I would prefer that project planners think of me as a pedestrian, a neighbor, or even a character. “Retail” implies some pressure for me to hold up my end of the deal.

Contrast that with the exciting potential of the words “town center” — just think about it! A real town center in Lake Highlands would be a beautiful sight.

At this writing, construction of the park and streets at the Skillman and Walnut Hill town center development is underway, but the residential and retail sections won’t begin until managers secure solid commitments in the form of leases. It’s likely the retail will not be “upscale” as originally planned.

I can live with that. What I can’t live with is the pressure the vacancy rate will put on our older, already struggling shopping centers. The problem with strip malls is more in their design than in their age. None of them are pedestrian friendly, teen-friendly, date-friendly, or even family-friendly.

At least, at the town center, we have the opportunity to get something right. If the developers aren’t getting the retail they want, then I propose we take advantage of this lull and imagine the town center we want. Who knows, they might even listen to us.

In my dreams, I want easy-access parking, but I also want an attractive landscape for walking. I want dedicated bike paths and racks, which would serve teens and all bike riders.

I will be thrilled if the town center secures a commitment from Sprouts, the no-frills health food chain. Finally, locavores like me will be able to find a Texas peach without crossing any major highways.

In my fantasy, I might even live in the town center. I would gladly give up yard work if I could walk to a nearby bagel shop or French bakery for breakfast. Take-out would be available from the delicatessen and sidewalk café just a few doors down. For dessert, we would have an ice cream parlor.

In the evening we could visit the bookstore and music shop (for poetry readings and small concerts). At the opposite end of the site, I would love to see a Fun Fest (recreation for families and teens), and a skateboard recreation park.

And of course, enough security to keep it all safe.

For another perspective, I talked to Ondrie Rogers, who lives in the Huntington Lake apartments, next to the development site. She expressed mixed feelings. She’s happy the problems of the old Whisper Creek apartments are gone (crime, kids throwing rocks) but she worries about the people who were displaced. Now the construction is noisy and dusty, but she is excited about one thing: “The train station between LBJ/Skillman and White Rock, I am looking forward to that.” Rogers will be able to walk to the station from her front door.

“I live across from L.A. Fitness and CVS. I could walk there, but I never do.” The reason, she says, is because it’s not pedestrian friendly. “Nobody else is walking. I want to be where everybody else is walking, families and kids.”

Rogers’ fantasy town center would be similar to mine in some ways, but she says, “I would be happy with a regular grocery — Kroger, Albertson’s, or Tom Thumb. I don’t want things that are too big like Walmart.” She hopes the town center will have the feel of Mockingbird Station, with ethnic restaurants, smaller shops and a movie theater.

Rogers brings up another struggling development. “They made Victory Park too upscale. In an area down there, you don’t want to be too expensive.” Developers of the town center should take note of her observations.

We must not allow another Lake Highlands development to go awry because the lofty plans of the developer don’t match reality. The proximity of Nordstrom at NorthPark Center and Nordstrom Rack at Park Lane makes me giddy when I’m looking for shoes, but in my neighborhood, I crave charm and community, within a development that is built to attract people first, and customers second.

If you could imagine your own town center, what would you like to see there?

What are your dreams for the Lake Highlands Town Center? Email us your thoughts at buildyourowntowncenter@advocatemag.com, and visit advocatemag.com weekly to read Back Talk blog posts on this topic from columnist Ellen Raff.