Density Isn’t a Hipster Conspiracy. It’s About Bringing Jobs Closer to the Workforce.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the last week, this entire debate over the idea of tearing down I-345 has gone completely bonkers. What started as an idea aimed to stimulate dense growth, investment, and social vitality in Dallas’ perennially stagnant and economically stubborn urban core, the teardown of I-345 has prompted an attempt to bury it under the threat of the Trinity Tollroad; resurrected the ludicrous idea of building an “inner loop” highway through the Park Cities, M-Streets, and Lakewood; and raised claims that the very highways that function as agents of steady disinvestment, disenfranchisement, and social and economic erosion are now, in fact, arbiters of social and economic justice. What bothers me the most is this last claim. Not only is it a cheap attempt to turn an important civic debate into a racial stalemate, it is brazenly and willfully ignorant.

To save ourselves from the bluster, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Somewhere along the way this conversation about civic revitalization turns into a discussion of class. When you say words like “urban” or “density” people imagine legions of Sarah Jessica Parker-zombies leading a petite bourgeois takeover of Dallas (one over-priced cupcake at a time), while the imaginary everyman weeps, keeled-over in the shadow of his beloved highway in ruins. It’s pure fantasy. The highway is the reason why growth tends to create distance between workforces and places of employment. And the goal of stimulating dense development in Dallas’ urban core is precisely to bring the workplace closer to the workforce by bringing new jobs back to the inner city.

A New Dallas estimates that the development stirred-on by the I-345 teardown will create 22,559 jobs and around 27,540 new residents downtown. Of these, A New Dallas says 5,414 will be retail, 16,242 will be office, and 902 will be hotel and hospitality jobs. To put these numbers in perspective, South Dallas is home to around 35,537 people.

And new development downtown doesn’t necessarily mean creating a new Uptown. Just look at Mathews Southwest’s 1400 Bellview in the Cedars. Not only does the new development include housing units set aside for future residents with various income levels, but the mixed-use, multi-family development is exploring adding in-house day care as well as on site job training with the hope that it can network residents at 1400 Bellview with the hotel service sector in downtown. The goal: create a mixed-income residential development close to its residents’ place of employment that accommodates the needs of low income families, while promoting neighborhood development that features a diverse and supportive population. This is pattern of development that Dallas needs to follow in order to truly address the issues of inequality that are suddenly being raised in opposition to the I-345 teardown. 

4 comments on “Density Isn’t a Hipster Conspiracy. It’s About Bringing Jobs Closer to the Workforce.

  1. OK, here’s my counter proposal: Let’s get rid of DART.

    The entire DART system each day handles about as many people as use I-345. So any argument that users “will just find another way” is equally applicable.

    DART rail is much more of a Berlin Wall between downtown and East Dallas/Deep Ellum. All those “No Pedestrian” signs around Bryan street were put up for DART. No such signs for I-345 — far more pedestrian friendly. The plan for another DART rail wye along Good-Latimer will add yet pedestrian no-mans land between downtown and Deep Ellum. Funny how you never see folks getting jaywalking tickets along Main, Commerce or Elm under the bridge, yet writing those tickets downtown seems to be one of the DART police force’s primary responsibilities. I’d say that bridge is far more pedestrian friendly than DART.

    The I-345 bridge improves traffic flow on the city streets between East Dallas and downtown by removing cross traffic. The construction of DART’s rail line, on the other hand, removed two grade-separated intersections and replaced them with traffic lights. Several other totally unnecessary traffic lights were added near the stations. And that’s not even including all those damn at grade crossings that tie up traffic.

    The tear-down advocates claim that removing the highway will lead to all kinds of new development. By the way, I love the “5,414 will be retail, 16,242 will be office, and 902 will be hotel and hospitality jobs”. Oldest trick in the book — use non-round numbers to make it sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Of course they have no facts to base this on — it’s all smoke and mirrors.

    But let’s say we tear up the DART tracks and replace them with hike-and-bike trails, ala the Katy Trail. Compare development and property evaluation between the DART rail corridors and the Katy Trail. The trail wins hands down. If your main purpose is new development and jobs, you keep I-345 (which actually moves goods in addition to people), you get rid of DART and replace the rail lines with bike trails. And what could be better than bike trails, right?

    (And that doesn’t include the immediate bump to economy by getting rid of the DART sales tax. Imagine the effect of millions of dollars a day circulating in the economy instead of going to taxes).

    So if what you want is a pedestrian-friendly city with more economic development, then target the real enemy: DART!

  2. It’s just mind boggling how many otherwise well-to-do and intelligent people seem incapable of applying even a shred of common sense to this issue.

    It’s said that the highway somehow helps the poor in south Dallas, yet 40+ years after its construction, is south Dallas better off because of it? The poverty rates their have risen, property values have fallen, and the population density is lower than elsewhere in Dallas.

    It’s said that it’s a vital connector between Dallas and its southern sectors, yet a plethora of already existing roads would easily accommodate any traffic flow that arises from tearing down the highway.

    It’s said that time, in excess of 10 years, would be needed to study the effects of tearing down the road, yet how much exhaustive study goes into the planning and building in the first place?

    With all the great efforts Dallas has taken to make itself over as a true, urban city, to see its continued growth and potential so cavalierly disregarded, and for what? So people can maybe get around a little more conveniently? Just a travesty. We can’t give up this struggle.