Photo by: Danny Fulgencio

The self-proclaimed paradise where community is built

With property values in Lake Highlands rising steadily during the past several years, most homeowners here seem ecstatic to be in on one of Dallas’ best-kept secrets. One group of neighbors actually renamed their cul-de-sac Utopia. Tangible trinkets such as a wineglass-adorned street sign toppers and “Utopia” T-shirts christened the designation.

Utopia — an area near Forest Meadow Junior High — hosts holiday parties, crawfish boils, parties for graduating Lake Highlands High School seniors and second-chance proms for grown ups who want a do-over, to name a few. The Utopia identity was founded in about 2000, former resident Doug Throckmorton says. He moved in with wife, Sheri, and children, Caroline and Evan, that year.

It reminds him of childhood, when his mom’s friends would drop in with adult beverages and hang out while all the children ate pizza.

“When I had kids I thought, ‘Isn’t that just what you do?’ ”

It all started with happy hours in the street.

We need to drink local, they reasoned and agreed.

“And that became our slogan,” resident Kelle Shanks explains. “We printed it, with our longitude and latitude coordinates, on the back of ‘Utopia’ T-shirts.”

“Play local” proclaims the kid’s shirts.

“It’s really about belonging and participating, being part of something bigger, building bonds. We take care of each other,” Shanks adds.

“Utopia is like when I was a kid,” Kim Aman says. “It’s a flashback to the ‘60s and ‘70s. You can borrow a cup of sugar or a glass of wine.”

In an era when or private Facebook groups serve as the community gathering place, Utopia is real.

That’s nice, but does Utopia’s shape, ambiance and reputation add to home values? When one home recently hit the market, the Realtor’s description read: “Neighbors call it Utopia. Come find out why.”

Shanks says people regularly ask her to let them know if a homeowner plans to sell.

Though cul-de-sacs fell out of favor with urban planners and architects around 2006, according to a National Public Radio story, “one important group still appears to be in love with the cul-de-sac: homebuyers.”

One Realtor tells NPR: “Buyers still line up to live on dead streets.” The story goes on to cite a study that backs such claims: “Buyers were willing to pay 20 percent more for a home on a cul-de-sac.”

Doug Throckmorton has seen it for himself in Utopia. “Our house sold in about 3 minutes [over list price],” he says.

Ultimately, it’s about people, not place.

“We don’t need this house. But we do need our neighbors,” says Aman, a.k.a. Farmer Aman, who leads the farm project at nearby Moss Haven Elementary.

“Our kids all grew up together and they have great memories,” Sheri Throckmorton says with a nostalgic sigh. “It’s the closest thing to ‘Leave It to Beaver’ you can get in modern-day times.”

Photo by: Danny Fulgencio