When my husband and I first moved to Little Rock, we knew little about the area and had no preconceived notions about the metro's various neighborhoods. We came here with an open mind, eager to explore our new home, excited to see where our tastes would lead us.
We did, however, have a pretty fixed set of criteria that any potential neighborhood of ours must meet. We wanted to be near good schools, of course. Safety was a must — I don't want to be scared going from my carport to my door at night. An easy commute would be a benefit, and I also wanted to be near plenty of shopping and great restaurants. (My husband, a British expat, particularly wanted to be near an authentic curry house.) And even in the midst of a turbulent real estate market, we were hoping to find housing prices rooted in reality.
After just a little research, it became obvious that one Central Arkansas neighborhood clearly fit the bill — West Little Rock.
For us, West Little Rock is an amalgamation of all we treasure: convenience, comfort, affordability and a sense of being cradled in a community where the people we interact with daily aren't just acquaintances, but our neighbors and friends. Since we've relocated to Little Rock, we've moved twice more, and each time we've made it a point to stay in this part of town we've come to love and call home. Right now we live in the Hillsborough subdivision, just off Hinson Road. It's a lovely neighborhood, featuring a mix of modern and traditional homes, and it's just minutes away from our school, our church and many of our friends.
Sure, there are drawbacks to life on the far side of town. It is, literally, hell on your wheels. There is no non-congested east-west corridor in this city, so if we West Little Rockers want to head downtown in the mornings or head back home from downtown in the evenings, it can be a daunting, stop-and-go proposition. Traffic on a Saturday around the Bowman, Chenal Parkway and Markham Street triangle isn't much fun, either. And despite some of the complaining letters to the editors about how the swanky side of town has well-kept streets, anyone who regularly drives in this area can testify to hitting potholes the size of a Hickory Creek mansion.
West Little Rock, for many, also symbolizes the worst of urban sprawl. Big-box stores. Cookie-cutter tract homes. Nouveau riche white people barreling obliviously through life in their jumbo SUVs with a Fellowship Bible Church sticker on the back. Yep, we've got all that, and for some people, it's enough of a deal breaker to keep them from ever crossing I-430.
We've also got some hot pockets of criminal activity. I find myself intentionally avoiding the Mara Lynn/Green Mountain area at night. And a couple of the apartment complexes on Chenal Parkway (of all places!) have seen crimes against both persons and property in the past couple of years. But all statistical data shows that West Little Rock is, by far, the safest part of town.
But it seems the greatest criticism of those of us who've chosen to live in this community is our glaring lack of diversity. According to anecdotal opinion, we're all upper income Caucasians happily nestled in our 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath homes with our 2 to 3 children, representing the perfect nuclear families. Not so. West Little Rock is, geographically, quite a large community. It's much too large to be pigeonholed, whatever demographic measuring stick one chooses to hold up to it. Although the Chenal Valley neighborhoods, with their faux French names derived by Deltic Timber, are often decried as the embodiment of a typical West Little Rock neighborhood, they represent only a very limited part of this area. West Little Rock has a great deal of apartment and duplex living, bringing with it a younger and more transient population. It has subsidized housing, modest starter homes and neighborhoods that cater to low-income and lower middle class families.
The cultural diversity in West Little Rock is one of my favorite things about this area. In my son's classroom, there are kids of all colors and religions. I've had conversations about Buddhism with the Chinese family across the street. I picked up cooking tips from the Caribbean family in our old subdivision. The Korean women who run one of my favorite local spas also live just around the corner with their two families. And many of the UAMS faculty and staff members have chosen to settle out west, which has contributed even more to the diversity of the area. I have long argued that if you want the best ethnic food in town, you'll most likely find it somewhere on Shackleford, Markham or Rodney Parham.
Ah, the restaurants. We've got some good ones out here. Scott McGehee's Big Orange at the Promenade at Chenal is one of our newest additions. Ya Ya's Bistro, also at the Promenade, is a favorite neighborhood watering hole and gathering place. Chi's and Lilly's both offer excellent Dim Sum menus. Star of India most definitely satisfies my husband's, and many other people's, craving for a good curry. The Pantry and 1620 both keep foodies happy. I could list many more excellent independent restaurants, but let's not forget the chains, either. While many loathe their very existence, let's face it, they're convenient and affordable. And West Little Rock has a plethora of them, catering to any taste.
Our shopping is much the same as our restaurants. There are many successful independent boutiques in West Little Rock, selling everything from baby cribs to upscale clothing to outdoor gear. The aforementioned big box stores are, like the chain restaurants, convenient and popular options. And with the arrival of the Apple store and J. Crew, the Promenade at Chenal is fast becoming a mecca for serious shoppers of all tastes and incomes. That particular stretch of the Parkway, with the recent addition of the upscale Kroger Marketplace and the St. Vincent's medical facilities, has the potential for even more explosive growth.
And that may be what I truly love most about West Little Rock — the potential. It's much like a microcosm of America. It's a place where expansion and newness are good things. Where aspirations are OK, not inauthentic. Where people from all walks of life come together to live, play and work. It's a place I'm proud to call home.