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Making Dallas Even Better

Programming Note: Learn More About The New Urbanism

Throughout much of Dallas’ history, urban planning was a top-down affair. Business leaders, transportation officials, and political folk drew up plans for Dallas, and those plans sat around and got haphazardly implemented. But in recent years, things like the Trinity River Project, the boulevarding of I-345, and development from Oak Cliff to East Dallas to Preston Center have seen more and more groups, developers, organizations, and citizens taking an active role in participating in the broadening dialogue around urban issues, rethinking some of the assumptions that have contributed to the shaping of Dallas as it is today.

And with that interest comes events. The latest is going on today at the Sixth Floor Museum, where AIA Dallas is hosting its 2015 Urban Summit. The theme, “Going BIG with Small Steps,” would have been anathema to the Dallas of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but it is increasingly being understood that small, incisive projects can sometimes be more profoundly transformative than large, very expensive projects like the Trinity River Park.

If you missed out on AIA’s event, then you may want to jump over and register for another event, a three week course on The New Urbanism that the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture will kick-off on September 28. Leading the seminar are a couple of familiar names, Patrick Kennedy and Monte Anderson. Find our more here.

Preservation Dallas Announces 2015 Endangered Places List

As we mentioned last month, Preservation Dallas decided to designate “Most Endangered Historic Places” in the city for the first time in five years. The list has just been announced.

It includes a Swiss Avenue house that’s been in use as a wedding venue (against the wishes of neighbors), Highland Park ISD schools that are set to be rebuilt if a bond is approved this November, the Forest Theater, Norman Brinker’s first restaurant, “historic cemeteries” like McCree in Lake Highlands, and “low-rise” downtown buildings whose protection would help ensure a sense of “human scale” to the city center.

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What Happened to Citizen Oversight of the Trinity River Project?

After reading late last week about Mayor Rawlings’ plan to make more plans for the city’s largest park (without the involvement of the Parks Department or the citizens of Dallas), I thought it was time to check in on the status of the Trinity Citizens’ Oversight Committee. As you may recall, the Trinity Dream Team’s leader, Larry Beasly, stated their proposal needed “public input and confirmation,” and that the design process “needs a conscience that is ‘of the people.'”

Their “suggestion (was) a carefully arranged monitoring of implementation, (then) and on an ongoing basis into the distant future, but an oversight panel of independent professional and citizen monitors who can make sure the concept does not get distorted through the detailed design process.” Peter Simek reported Beasly as stating that the multi-disciplinary team of experts should actually report to the citizens group. In that same piece, Council Member Lee Kleinman was quoted as stating his desire for more public input. The Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects also publicly endorsed such an approach, stating they “strongly advocat(e) for an oversight body comprised of Dream Team members, local design organizations (including AIA Dallas) and private citizens to ensure that the vision of the Dream Team is faithfully reflected in the design and execution of a Great Trinity Park Parkway.”

So where do we stand on the formation of such an independent oversight body?

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Is Prosper On a Path to Prosperity, Or Is it Lost in Suburban Limbo?

There was an interesting article in Monday’s Dallas Morning News that seemed to unintentionally make a case against the suburbs even though it was optimistic with regards to reporting on the suburbs’ success. The story is about the little town of Prosper, TX just north of Frisco on the Dallas North Tollway.

Prosper is the latest exurb to experience an incredible development boom thanks to our prevailing macroeconomic strategy for growth in North Texas, which entails extending and widening roads as a means of attracting increased investment to undeveloped areas of our land-rich, sprawling region-city. In the last decade, thousands of people have moved to Prosper for its relatively affordable luxury-style homes, proximity to workforce centers in the northern sector, and quality public schools. In fact, to attract homeowners, real estate investors helped build those schools, places like Light Farm Elementary, for which Republic Property Group of Dallas provided both land and $2 million to build.

However, Prosper is a victim of its own rapid prosperity.

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The Convention Center That Ate Dallas

A couple of weeks ago, after reading that the taxpayer-funded Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau apparently wanted to lend us the letter “D” from their “DALLAS” logo to replace the City of Dallas’ existing letter “D” logo, I got to thinking once again about the outsized influence the DCVB wields over municipal affairs.

Late last year, after Philip Jones, the DCVB’s president, tossed out a plan to have taxpayers pay for a $300 million addition to the convention center, I took a look into the finances and found that it lost $37 million per year before debt service and $54 million after interest expense — amounts that were virtually identical to its losses prior to the opening of the half-billion-dollar city-owned Omni Convention Center Hotel in 2010 (one of the primary justifications for building the hotel was that it would drive more business to the convention center and stop its losses). Some of the most interesting observations, however, came from reader comments to my post. Former city council member and the executive director of the Dallas Arts District, Veletta Lill, made the following observations:

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Is the Lakewood Theater Under Attack?

UPDATE: And, of course, Fingers of Fury has more details, including confirmation that crews are not demolishing the murals, etc.

On Friday Jim Schutze stopped by the Lakewood Theater, allegedly mid-donuts run, and noticed that work crews were busy inside the historic theater. He ducked in and, before being kicked-out, noticed that interior demolition work was going on. This was after Robert Wilonsky posted about the demolition shots that were clogging his Facebook page, including a disheartening photo of a dumpster filled with the theater’s seats. This morning, my Facebook page has also been inundated with updates about the renovation/demolition work. There are apparently TV news crews now on the scene.

But should we be freaking out about the Lakewood’s presumed demise?

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Millennials Are Better Off in Denton and Collin Counties

That’s as compared to the U.S. and Texas averages, as well as compared to their counterparts with the misfortune to call Tarrant or Dallas counties home. The Census Bureau’s recently released tool for determining how much worse off people ages 18-34 are now — as opposed to 1980, 1990, and 2000 — is a glorious form of infotainment to suck the hours right out of your morning.

In general the national trends hold true in Dallas-Fort Worth. Those born in 1982 or later now represent more than one-quarter of the nation’s population. According to these estimates, compared to past decades, the currently youngest cohort of adults are better educated — with a higher percentage of them having attained bachelor’s degrees — but make less money (with more living below poverty level) and are therefore more likely to still live with their parents and never have married.

However, most these changes are less pronounced in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area than they are state- or nationwide. The exception is income, where D-FW-A lags a tiny bit below the U.S. median.

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D/FW Airport’s ‘Welcome Mat’ for Uber and Lyft

The recent news that Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is finally going to stop prohibiting arriving passengers from using Uber & Lyft was greeted with great fanfare by long-suffering victims of the taxicab cartel. As promised by D/FW Airport CEO Sean Donohue earlier this year, the new procedure was going to be simple: “1. book your ride; 2. take your ride.” As long as the driver held a sticker issued by either Dallas or Fort Worth (the two cities that own and theoretically control the $7.5 billion nation-state), he or she would be good to go.

Although I hoped it was really this simple, knowing the time-honored North Texas tradition of protecting incumbent transportation monopolists (Exhibit A: Wright Amendment, Exhibit B: City of Dallas’ vice cops issuing questionable citations to Uber drivers, Exhibit C: City Manager A.C. Gonzalez’ secret effort to kill Uber, Exhibit D: City of Dallas attempting to kick Delta out of Love Field), I was a bit skeptical.

Sure enough, a closer look reveals the “new procedure” is anything but simple.

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A Case For Removing All Traffic Lights, Stop Signs

About a month ago a pedestrian was killed crossing Travis St. near Knox and the Katy Trail. Almost immediately, reports placed the fault on the pedestrian. She was looking at her phone. She didn’t look both ways. I found that reaction curious. After all, the pedestrian wasn’t the one operating the fast-moving, multi-ton machine responsible for killing more than 30,000 people a year. Rudy Bush tried to leverage a little reason to the tragedy. It is unfair to lay blame on the driver or the pedestrian, he argued, the problem is with how we design our streets.

I thought Bush made an important point. Travis is supposedly one of Dallas’ most “walkable” areas, and drivers should anticipate the presence of pedestrians there just as pedestrians should take care when crossing the street. But if you want to see how irrationality guides our conversations and assumptions about road safety and responsibility, spend a few minutes poking through the comments to Bush’s post. Many of the reactions were seemingly penned by people who believe that even the quietest city street should function according to the rules governing the the Daytona speedway.

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Visualizing Poverty Growth In Dallas

Before we head into the weekend, I thought I’d jump back into the fray after some time away from the office with a really depressing post about poverty growth in Dallas. Shall we?

I don’t have new information for you, just a new way of looking at it. The data comes from a report from 2014 put out by which looked at population change in the nation’s poorest urban neighborhoods and argued that the most pressing problem confronting our cities is not gentrification, but rather the concentration of poverty. This concentration of poverty is illustrated in a map I pointed to back in July that showed income inequality broken down by neighborhood. But now we have a new set of nifty maps by designer Justin Palmer that presents the issue in bleak, ominous tones.

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How Good Is Preservation Dallas at Saving Endangered Places?

Stating that “recent events have necessitated its return,” Preservation Dallas is compiling a list of Dallas’ Most Endangered Historic Places for the first time in five years. You’ve got a few days (until Friday) to make a nomination of an important old building that deserves inclusion. They’ll announce their list in September.

There’s nothing binding about this designation by the nonprofit organization, but the hope is that it will draw attention to bits of Dallas’ past that could soon disappear from our landscape. I thought I’d take a look at how well that worked for the last batch of places Preservation Dallas’ stood up for — in 2010.

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On Microbrews, Food Trucks, and What Makes Dallas Special

I don’t remember a lot about Wim Wenders’ 1974 film Alice in the Cities. What I do remember my professor (himself a native German) emphasizing during the German film class I took in college was the way in which it portrays American cities as nearly indistinguishable stops along an endless stretch of highway, with virtually the same restaurants and shops found everywhere.

For some reason that outsider’s view of the United States stuck in my brain. While it seems most applicable when considering the ubiquitous national fast-food chains and big-box stores, in recent years I’ve felt the same irritating sense of sameness — more irritating, actually, since it is sameness disguising itself — in the collection of trends that have swept across our nation and that might be loosely described as the Triumph of Hipsterdom.

Today the New Republic retweeted this 2013 piece by Chuck Thompson. I’d not read it before, but it got me thinking. Thompson writes:

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Does Dallas Value Its Past?

That pontificating whippersnapper Simek got me thinking yesterday about the fetishism of the past to which a surprising number of you folks cling. A mediocre sub-urban fish joint shuts its doors and that boy waxes rhapsodic about — well, by his own admission he’s not precisely sure what. Lordy!

You want Dallas to return to its imagined heyday of 1906? You soft-shelled ninnies wouldn’t last a minute back then. Why the pungent odors wafting from the great, relatively unwashed mass of humanity alone would knock you flat before you could scamper across Main Street. Even if you could manage the feat, enjoy wiping the paste of dust and well-ground equine excrement from your soles when you reach the other side. And the heat! My god, the heat! No artificial refrigeration to ease summer’s onslaught, no sir.

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Canadians Make Texas Highway Spoof That’s Uncomfortably Close to Reality

The Canadian radio show That is That is basically an audio Onion. In this week’s episode, in addition to reporting on a family in Washington State that is allowing its child to self-identify as whatever species it would like, the radio jokesters report on a new luxury freeway in Texas.

The conceit of the joke: Texans love to drive and a lot of them are rich, and so a few would probably be willing shell out extra $65,000 to drive on a road from Dallas to Houston that is reserved for people who can buy their way into an elite motorist clique. “Just feels good to get out there and drive with like minded people, I guess,” one interviewed character says. And another: “I take great comfort that everyone on the road has insurance.”

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The History of Dallas Urbanism in the Story of a Seafood Restaurant

Perhaps this is more of a Ghosts of Dallas thing, but I just thought I’d share with you some findings from a rabbit hole I slipped into this morning.

It began with this article about the closing of Vincent’s Seafood in Plano. I’ll be honest, I never heard of the place, which is why when the headline announced that it had been open for 117 years, I was really taken aback. How did a century-old restaurant escape my Dallas history nerd-o-meter? And how is it possible that a restaurant in a bland, concrete strip mall in Plano could be such a historic establishment? I started to dig.

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