Find a back issue

Making Dallas Even Better

Highways Are Bleeding Dallas. So Why Are You Surprised We Want to Kill One?

Maybe you love your car. Maybe you love driving. Maybe you love the highways that allow you to have your big home in a lovely neighborhood miles and miles (and maybe even miles more) from downtown. Maybe you even love your commute, getting to spend a couple hours each day listening to the latest Radiolab episode or working your way through the Game of Thrones audiobooks or whatever. Bully for you. Those of us who live in and care about the city’s central core are generally happy to let you be. We don’t tread on you, not normally.

Except now. You’re killing us. You and your neighbors in the Stonehollow Creek Meadow on Townlake Castle Village II subdivision. I’ll let Patrick Kennedy explain:

In the 1950’s before the highways were built through the heart of Dallas, tearing up community fabric and displacing their social and economic bonds into disaggregated detritus strewn about a now 16-county metropolitan area, the city of Dallas comprised 60% of the region’s population.  Do you know what that percentage is now?  19% and falling.

Also in the 1950’s, Detroit composed 56% of its metro population.  Today, that number sits at 17%.  That may very well be the bottoming out because their region has now finally flatlined despite decades of continued growth while the city of Detroit is showing signs of green shoots as a city of affordable opportunity.

If we hit 17% perhaps it’s time to sound the alarms.  Why?  Because the core city inevitably gets larded up with all of the infrastructure, amenity and cost burden of the larger city while we’re actively subsidizing life outside the core, pushing tax base to live outside and commute in.

Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the metro gained 1.2 million people.  The city of Dallas gained 9,000.  Less than 1% of the growth.  That’s the least the city of Dallas has grown during a 10-year span since we grew from 3,000 to 10,000 in 1880.  1880.  Now, I’m not the type to say “growth is king!” Or even always a good thing.  But it’s a bad thing when the core city gets all cost of growth and no benefit.

Let’s roll those numbers forward because extending trend lines to infinity is fun.  If the region gains another 1.2 million by 2020 and the city grows from 1.2 million to 1.3 million, that puts us at 17.3%.  If it wasn’t for uptown adding about 20,000 people (due to being the most walkable place in the ENTIRE metropolitan area), I suspect Dallas would still be in complete free-fall.

Not that we’re holding you accountable. We’re holding ourselves accountable. Really. We allowed the state highway planners to build a noose around the neck of the central business district, and it wouldn’t be fair just to point a finger in your direction.

But we’re trying to clean up our act. We know we need to make some changes, maybe some pretty radical changes, and some of those might cause you some pain. We’ll understand if you want to pour one out for I-345. Take your time. It’s hard to say goodbye.

We’re sorry, but something’s got to be done. We all should really be on the same team here. We can’t imagine you want to live in Detroit any more than we do.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Indeed. If you want to see something REALLY crazy, look at TxDOT’s 1967 official highway plan for Dallas. The original idea seemed to have been to turn Dallas into one monster interchange, connecting all the surrounding suburbs to each other via Dallas in the most direct routes possible. The city was to be literally covered via a spider web of highways spaced 1 – 2 miles apart.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Indeed. If you want to see something REALLY crazy, look at TxDOT’s 1967 official highway plan for Dallas. The original idea seemed to have been to turn Dallas into one monster interchange, connecting all the surrounding suburbs to each other via Dallas in the most direct routes possible. The city was to be literally covered via a spider web of highways spaced 1 – 2 miles apart.

    See Messr. Kennedy’s site for details:

    http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2014/02/disconnection-no-reconnection.html

  • Ed Woodson

    My God. Lack of population growth. Cities’ populations don’t grow significantly (especially compared to suburbs) because their is less available real estate. Especially cheap real estate. And people prefer houses. And they like good schools. Will tearing down I-345 improve DISD? And Detroit? Really?

  • CSP

    “In the 1950′s before the highways were built through the heart of Dallas, tearing up community fabric and displacing their social and economic bonds into disaggregated detritus strewn about a now 16-county metropolitan area, the city of Dallas comprised 60% of the region’s population. Do you know what that percentage is now? 19% and falling.

    Also in the 1950′s, Detroit composed 56% of its metro population. Today, that number sits at 17%.”

    Based on these stats, I’d say there’s about zero correlation between (1) how great a percentage of a metropolitan region’s population has moved from the core city to the suburbs over the past 60 years and (2) the economic health of that core city and/or metropolitan region in 2014.

  • AmyS

    I few observations from a former Michigander.

    “Green shoots” in mud are pretty, until the mud crushes their roots and swallows them back into the mud. Weeds grow pretty good in mud, and are tough, but they are weeds. Those same green shoots have been coming up for decades in Detroit, and they never seem to bloom.

    When discussing the detrius of Detroit, you have to grasp the concept that 95% of what lies within Detroit’s city limits has been severely economically downgraded over the last several decades. Not to mention that their crumbling 1950’s industrial structure comprised much of the decay, both economically and residentially. Comparing it to Dallas ignores the middle-to-upper class neighborhoods that are still strong inside Dallas’ city limits. Sometimes it feels (to those of us living in Dallas not in the urban areas) that this type of discussion of Dallas is about how to make our urban areas better not how to make the entire city better.

    I would argue Dallas stands little chance of becoming Detroit. Interstate highway or not. I am not opposed to the concept of tearing down the interstate, I think it’s a great idea. I’d personally love to see Hillcrest made into 2 lanes with a nice bike lane. Why stop at the interstates to make Dallas better?

    Detroit spent too much time worrying about Detroit. But highways didn’t kill Detroit. Taxes, unions, and graft melded with city politics, creating a noxious mess that covers everything there 50 years later. The suburbs had fresh land, lower taxes, and good schools. That’s what made people leave Detroit.

    If we tore down the highway and built thousands upon thousands of apartments to boost our population growth, would that make Dallas “better”? Would it only be “better” if this occurred in the urban areas of Dallas, as opposed to the more “suburbanized” far north Dallas? What’s not to love about Frankford and Preston?

    In other words, if trash bags are so bad, why do we assume that a City of Dallas ordinance is going to solve the problem? As if bags from Richardson and Garland will stop blowing at the city border? As if the miserly shopper who will drive miles for gas 5 cents per gallon cheaper won’t drive further to Cedar Hill to shop for groceries? As if the next grocery chain entering this market won’t look a half mile across the city line to locate instead of messing with this singular, pain in the a$$ tax? This is the kind of “Detroit think” that killed Detroit.

    But I love that they have a 10 cent deposit on drink containers in the state of Michigan. It costs you nothing if you return your empties.

  • TheBlaydes

    Agreed. No sense buying a ten year old 2,500 SF home if I can buy a 3,000 SF brand new home for the same price ten minutes north.

    People live in Dallas for factors other than cheap real estate or good schools. Capitalizing on those urban amenities helps drive population growth in Dallas.

    And one in Dallas lives here because I-345 helps them get from Corsicana to Sherman quicker, or because it helps them leave downtown faster.

  • Ed Woodson

    I have discovered that the difference between causation and correlation has no place is this discussion, so I doubt a lack of even correlation will matter either.

  • Ed Woodson

    There are mountains of books about what went wrong in Detroit. If highways made any of the lists in those books, they aren’t near the top of those lists.

  • jasonheid

    But Detroit is an older city than Dallas. The development of its region is decades ahead of North Texas. It reached its population peak in 1950 and then declined. The concern when we look at the Dallas numbers is that, despite robust population increases across for the metropolitan region as a whole, the city proper has seen its growth stagnate.

    And you’re lumping together the economic health of the core city with that of the metropolitan region as a whole. Much of this is a debate of the needs of the core city vs. needs of the suburbs, questioning whether the core city’s development potential should be stunted through the building and rebuilding of highways that subsidize exurban lifestyles.

  • Ed Woodson

    This is so unscientific. You are looking at two data points, and trying to find some stats that are similar to project similar fates. Look at cities generally. There are many fundamental differences between Dallas and Detroit. What you are describing is a statistic that could be applied to almost any major city in America.

  • Brandon
  • jasonheid

    Any major city in America? No. Dallas-Fort Worth was one of five metropolitan areas in the United States with at least 5 million people as of 2010 Census. The population-weighted densities of the other four are: 31,251 (NY); 12,113 (LA); 8,613 (Chicago); and (Philly) 7,773. Ours is 3,909.

    We are the undisputed champs of mega-sprawl.

  • Ed Woodson

    Atlanta is over $5mm and is at 2,173. Houston is 4,109. Phoenix is 4,394. All cites (unlike CA and the Northeast) with lots of cheap real estate to enable sprawl. We are not a unique situation. Detroit, meanwhile, is a true “worst-case” scenario. A city reliant on fading heavy industry, plagued with violent crime, race riots, rampant corruption, etc. This is classic scare mongering, and given the rhetoric is not really limited to I-345. This is about re-imagining Dallas.

    You essentially want to make highways less prevalent, so as to force a more urban apartment-based lifestyle on a largely unwilling population. If that theory had existed over the last 50 years, Dallas as know it would not exist. The population would be much lower, as costs (for housing, etc.) would be much higher. The decades of population growth fueled by migration from other high cost areas (like the more urban Northeast) would have been sharply blunted. Maybe the core of Dallas would be healthier, but it would also be a relatively small town (certainly not on your list of top 5 metropolitan areas referenced above).

    Luckily, that logic did not prevail. Now, could it have been done better? Absolutely. Is a ring of interstates directly around the CBD ideal? Of course not. But urban planning with a blank slate and urban planning with a city of millions already in place are two very different things.

    Cutting out some highways now might have very different effects. For example, the CBD not is chocked full of lawyers, accountants, etc. Many large employers have already shifted their operations northward, to be closer to their employees. If you make the highway situation worse, might more of those CBD jobs move farther north to be closer to their clients? You might have more bar and restaurants near downtown, but little else.

  • Ed Woodson

    Atlanta is over 5mm and is at 2,173. Houston is 4,109. Phoenix is 4,394. All cites (unlike CA and the Northeast) with lots of cheap real estate to enable sprawl. We are not a unique situation. Detroit, meanwhile, is a true “worst-case” scenario. A city reliant on fading heavy industry, plagued with violent crime, race riots, rampant corruption, etc. This is classic scare mongering. Given the rhetoric this is also not really limited to I-345. This is about re-imagining Dallas.

    You essentially want to make highways less prevalent, so as to force a more urban apartment-based lifestyle on a largely unwilling population. If that theory had existed over the last 50 years, Dallas as know it would not exist. The population would be much lower, as costs (for housing, etc.) would be much higher. The decades of population growth fueled by migration from other high cost areas (like the more urban Northeast) would have been sharply blunted. Maybe the core of Dallas would be healthier, but it would also be a relatively small town (certainly not on your list of top 5 metropolitan areas referenced above).

    Luckily, that logic did not prevail. Now, could it have been done better? Absolutely. Is a ring of interstates directly around the CBD ideal? Of course not. But urban planning with a blank slate and urban planning with a city of millions already in place are two very different things.

    Cutting out some highways now might have very different effects. For example, the CBD is now chock full of lawyers, accountants, etc. Many large employers have already shifted their operations northward, to be closer to their employees. If you make the highway situation worse, might more of those CBD jobs move farther north to be closer to their clients? You might have more bar and restaurants near downtown, but little else.

  • jasonheid

    Apologies. I meant to write 6 million as the cutoff, not 5 million, and Philly only makes the list because of rounding up. Houston and Phoenix are both denser than we are, with fewer people. Atlanta’s certainly far less dense than we are, but they’ve got a million fewer people too. So, we’re definitely out ahead of the pack for mega-sprawl.

    You’re right: This isn’t really about I-345. This is about re-imagining Dallas.

  • RAB

    Except that Krugman is wrong on everything he says and writes — and given the choice between a free punch on Tim Rogers or Paul Krugman, I would punch Krugman.

  • AmyS

    Sorry, meant detritus.

    RAB is not humble. But scored a laugh.

  • Dubious Brother

    I will begin to worry when there are reports of bumber stickers in Detroit saying “The Last one out of Dallas (Texas) turn out the lights.”

  • Ted

    You know, I’ll bet Krugman’s Nobel for obscure trade economics lands him a fair number of upfront chances to get laid, too, but I don’t think it guarantees his performance after the fact on anything beyond obscure trade economics.

  • keith

    I moved to Dallas from the East Coast to get away from ideas like this. I love being able to come from anywhere and get to my uptown condo in a matter of a few minutes, although now Klyde Warren Park is an unfortunate slowdown. The editorial position of D Magazine is such a negative that I often think of stopping my subscription

  • Matt Wilken

    The real issue is not roads or housing but jobs! The employment center of Dallas continues to march north. One only has to look at all the office buildings along the tollway to see that the employment center is moving north. Fort Worth on the other hand was able to strip annex its path to sustained growth and has kept its employment center at the CBD. Dallas cannot grow population without significant political changes towards substantially higher densities, which residents will not tolerate. Only in areas like uptown will higher densities be allowed and even there it faces political pressures.