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In the center of things in Midtown

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I live in Midtown, also known as the Hall High neighborhood, where proximity is everything. I enjoy boasting that I can get anywhere I need to be in 15 minutes or less. I'm five minutes from sushi in the Heights and a mere 10 from catfish at the Lassis Inn off Interstate 30. Should I choose to catch a play at the Rep downtown or a movie at the Rave, I can do either with minimal driving time and effort. If I'm feeling sporty, Pinnacle is an accessible 15 minutes away, and the River Trail is even closer. The kids' school is 18 minutes on foot from our house — not that we walk, but we could — and I live too close to our gym to ever use distance as an excuse for not exercising. When my daughter was little, I could walk her down the block to preschool and spy on her during the day on the enclosed playground. Were I so inclined, I could attend a panoply of churches that are a stone's throw from my house — Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran and nondenominational. I'm also just minutes away from a yoga studio on H Street and my favorite library, Fletcher.

And as if things weren't convenient enough, they had to go build a Target on University earlier in the year! So much for my moratorium on buying plastic storage bins, T-shirts and other superfluous sundries. Before Target, the opening of Midtowne shopping center — in what was once dead space across from Park Plaza Mall — marked a new beginning for the business district in this area. Little Rock gained big-city cred with the introduction of retailers like The Container Store, Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma. And many midtown families make a habit of hitting Pei Wei for a fast, inexpensive dinner or Cantina Laredo for a pricier, upscale one. Thankfully, if I don't feel like shelling out big bucks for guacamole, I can skip on down University in no time to one of our favorite Mexican haunts.

To help you get your bearings: Though northern and southern boundaries of the neighborhood are less distinct, heavily traveled Mississippi and University avenues generally are considered as western and eastern boundaries. H Street and Evergreen Drive are among the busier streets carrying traffic between the two avenues.

A bit of history: Originally developed in the late 1940s, Midtown was the suburb for many members of the Greatest Generation who chose to build low-standing, ranch-style homes in the hills west of Hillcrest. We asked a lifelong Little Rock resident who attended Hall High in the '50s about her impression of the neighboring houses at the time, and she replied, "Low." An accurate description, especially when compared with the multi-storied homes in the city's older neighborhoods. Though the Heights and Hillcrest, which border the Hall High area, are technically suburbs themselves, neighborhoods in Little Rock generally become more suburb-like the farther west you travel. Case in point, I have a garage almost half the size of my house — with an automatic door. I also have a pink-tiled bathroom circa 1950. Jealous?

True, there are many nondescript houses in these parts, but there are also several 1960s-'70s gems thrown in the mix. A Fay Jones-esque stone house just blocks from Hall High comes to mind as one particularly shining example of the retro cool architecture you can find here. Another plus is the abundance of trees and rolling hills, though many trees didn't survive a devastating tornado that tore through the neighborhood in the spring of 2011. Evergreen was especially hard hit, losing many of the trees for which it was originally named.

Though it lacks the community feel of, say, Hillcrest, there is much to recommend in Midtown, especially for families who've outgrown their houses and need something both bigger and more affordable. Many young families move from Hillcrest for this very reason. A father of three who relocated from Capitol View says he likes the extra space and also having a creek near his house where his kids can play.

I also like the diversity of this neighborhood. Here are some of the people I know who live here: a therapist, a health care worker, a school teacher, a novelist, a photographer, a bike mechanic, a nurse, a dance teacher, a church administrator and a landscaper. In parts it's solidly middle-class while other streets like Pinnacle Point and Pine Valley veer toward the upper-middle class range.

Another plus is Meriwether Park, which, thanks to the efforts of neighborhood activist Clayton Johnson, has undergone a remarkable transformation. The park that Johnson once described as the "crescent of fear" is now a draw for residents. In the springtime you'll usually find a baseball game in progress and people knocking a tennis ball around on the court. At any time of year, you'll see dog walkers strolling the circular path and kids on the playground, some climbing up the metal rocket at its center (hence the park's alternate moniker, "Rocket Park"). The park sits a block away from one of the city's most desirable magnet schools, Williams Elementary. (Note: Though there's a "shadow zone," living near the school by no means guarantees admittance.) Catholic High is just up the road near Park Plaza, and clean-cut, oxford-wearing young men can often be spotted tearing through surrounding cut-through streets after school.

Streets are, however, for the most part quiet, many with limited roadways in and out. Not only does it make the roads safer, but also more conducive to family play outdoors.

And there is a positive flipside to Midtown's lack of community — anonymity. You can retreat into your garage and close the door behind you. Or, as one single mother who had moved from the Heights put it, "I love having more privacy and not running into people I know at every turn." I prefer to sum it up this way: I feel compelled to put on lipstick before going into the Heights Kroger, but don't even consider it if heading to the Edwards Food Giant in Midtown. Now that's convenience.

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