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Making Dallas Even Better

Let’s Take the NCTCOG’s Mobility 2040 Transportation Survey!

The North Central Texas Council of Governments has launched a survey to help gather information from the public and inform the completion of their Mobility 2040 transportation plan. Always willing to throw in my two cents about things like like transportation master plans, I clicked through the link in the email I received eager to click some boxes and hit submit. The survey is simple enough, just 6 little questions. Only when I went to answer them I noticed that the answers I wanted to submit weren’t options. Bah. Oh well. I figured I’d just post my survey on FrontBurner instead so that I can add-in the answers I want to send to the COG. Here we go:

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The Link Between Failed Housing Policies and Segregation in Texas

Just before summer, the Dallas City Plan Commission discussed a new affordable housing policy. The idea was relatively simple. When a developer comes to the city and asks it to change the zoning on a piece of property, he or she is essentially asking the city to make the land more valuable. In exchange for that value, the city would ask a developer to ensure that the property will include units accessible for people with a variety of incomes.

The assumption is that it is a good thing to have neighborhoods and buildings with mixed incomes, but the proposal was, understandably, very unpopular with real estate community. The plan commission voted overwhelmingly against it.

Why would it be in the city’s best interest to want more mixed-income neighborhoods?

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And Speaking of the Arts District, Cultural Area Seeks New Master Plan

On the wind of the news of encroaching development on the fringes of the Arts District, the organization that oversees the architectural menagerie and collection of arts organizations has announced it will seek proposals for revisions to its community development plan.

The plan could use some updating. Originally created by Sasaki way back in the early-1980s, the area has changed dramatically over the years, and a booming local real estate economy necessitates readdressing the purpose and functional design of the Arts District.

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Say Goodbye to the Dallas Symphony’s di Suvero, Hello to Office Box

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. As the general building boom in and around downtown and Uptown continues, and Klyde Warren Park’s popularity transforms what were once undesirable lots abutting a freeway into the hottest plots of land in the region, someone noticed that there’s a well-located little parcel doing nothing more than housing a giant sculpture. And so, yesterday Steve Brown reported that the land at the southeast corner of Pearl St. and Woodall Rodgers Freeway will be sold by the Dallas Symphony to make way for a new office tower.

It makes perfect sense. A spokesperson with the symphony said the proceeds from the sale (estimated at $7.2 million, one of the highest prices ever for the Arts District) will go to fund symphony operations. And while the symphony has pushed through their own rocky financial times, the financial world around orchestras is ever an uneasy one. So from a symphony perspective, it’s fortuitous that the DSO had a little land to flip to shore up their operations. Bravo.

Of course there are concerns about the development — there always are.

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Programming Note: Talking Urbanization and Gentrification With DW Gibson Tonight at The Wild Detectives

One of the better books about urbanism to come out in recent years is DW Gibson’s new The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century. In it, Gibson uses the stories of a cross section of New Yorkers — Brooklynites, mostly — to get at a broad picture of the workings of gentrification, arguing that rather than being a “myth”, gentrification is a very real, if an extremely complicated and nuanced phenomenon. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Gentrification is often saddled with an us vs. them framework, with “us” and “them”redefined ad infinitum — no two people ever talking about the exact same thing when it comes down to what “we” want and what “they” are doing wrong. Most of the time this idiosyncratic bifurcation is . . . about class: wealthy vs. poor with everyone on either side of a centerline. But the contradictory spaces [we] live in obliterate that clear line. As Neil Smith puts it in The New Urban Frontier, “Many people occupy ‘contradictory class’ positions; the source of contradiction . . . might involve anything from the occupation of an individual, in the level of class struggle in a given period. Classes are always in the process of constitution.”

You might think I’m pulling this quote to tee-up a revisiting of some of the issues swirling around new development in Oak Cliff.

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How Will the City Council Settle the Preston Center Skybridge Battle?

In case you haven’t noticed, Preston Center basically sucks. If you want to know why, read this piece by the Dallas Observer‘s Eric Nicholson. Long story short, the decrepit parking garage in the middle of the development is owned by the city of Dallas, and all of the 70-odd property owners in the vicinity have usage rights. This highly fragmented ownership also impedes the area’s redevelopment.

Enter Harlan Crow.

Earlier this year, Crow proposed building a skybridge at Preston Center West to connect a new Tom Thumb grocery store to the adjacent parking garage. Even better, Crow proposed spending more than $1 million to renovate the garage and make it handicap accessible. As with every other new development proposed in the vicinity within the last year, however, it quickly became mired in controversy, with former mayor Laura Miller leading the charge, stating that a new grocery store “would only add to congestion,” and that “the oversized sky bridge … will cast a big shadow over an area that will now have obstructions in the sidewalk…”

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Will Oak Cliff Be Able to Control Its Own Urban Destiny?

Over the weekend at the Oak Cliff Film Festival, in between the usual party chatter about new films and filmmakers, there was much talk of real estate development. Things are heating up south of the Trinity as angry neighbors begin to line up against the new development plans that are arriving in the neighborhood on cue. Tomorrow evening there will be public discussion of it all at the Texas Theatre organized by Go Oak Cliff, an attempt to stave off the initial combustion.

Oak Cliff is rapidly shaping up as a case study in a particular problem of urban redevelopment. What is going on in Oak Cliff is not simply NIMBY-ism, or a Custer’s-last-stand by those who are trying to hold onto a vision of their neighborhood that is inevitably going to get caught in the undertow of redevelopment. Rather, this latest neighborhood controversy is a demonstration of a very complicated urban problem, one that reveals a fundamental disconnect between the kind of development that has driven Oak Cliff’s renewal and the forces that are driving its imminent redevelopment.

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Why Dallas Can’t Follow Wisconsin’s Lead and Sue to Stop the Trinity Toll Road

A remarkable ruling came down from the Eastern District Court of Wisconsin last week. A federal judge ruled in favor of an anti-highway advocacy group that sued the United States Department of Transportation to stop the expansion of a 19-mile segment of Wisconsin State Highway 23 from a two-lane to a four-lane roadway. In his decision, Judge Lynn Adelman agreed with the advocacy group, called 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, that the motivation for expanding the road was based on flawed traffic projections.

City Lab goes over the entire controversy and ruling in depth, but anyone following the debate over the Trinity Toll Road will be familiar with many of the issues at stake. Local officials in Wisconsin have pushed to expand a rural road for years, since way back in 1999, arguing that expansion was necessary because traffic projection models showed increased usage and eventual congestion along the road. Citizens doubted those traffic projection models, and fought the expansion because they believed tax dollars were better spent on more pressing needs. Citizens sued, and they won.

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Surprising No One, Oak Cliff-ers Angry About Planned Uptown-Style Development

A Change.org petition protesting Alamo Manhattan’s planned “Bishop Arts Gateway” development has garnered more than 300 signatures in just 3 hours. Signers oppose plans for a five-story, mixed-use development that would be constructed near the intersection of Zang and Davis St., at the site of the terminus of the future phase 2 extension of the Oak Cliff Streetcar. Those plans don’t share the neighborhood’s “vibe,” the petition says, and signers “believe that the ‘locally owned “organic” businesses’, as you put it, are happy where they are currently located, do not need to be displaced, and do not want to be your tenants.”

As I reported in the April edition of D Magazine, the neighborhood has been bracing itself for this moment.

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An Open Letter to Tim Headington, RE: Forty Five Ten

Dear Mr. Headington:

I read in the paper that you would like to receive nearly $1 million in public funding (TIF incentives) from the city of Dallas to use towards the development of a new location for upscale retailer Forty Five Ten in downtown Dallas.

I also read that your request has already prompted some backlash. The Dallas Morning NewsMark Lamster called it “chutzpah” on Twitter to ask for public funds to replace the historic buildings your company razed to make way for the new store. Then the DMN’s Tod Robberson wrote a column reiterating how terrible it was that you destroyed the historic buildings. Even on this blog, Krista, a downtown resident, expressed her concerns that your little four story building is going to block light, and City Councilman Philip Kingston chimed in with his desire to advance regulations about residential adjacency.

I know you are a very private guy, and I know that you really don’t like this kind of attention. You were not happy about catching so much flak for destroying those historic buildings in the first place. After all, you followed all of the correct procedures and got all the right approvals. The press even knew months in advance. And yet, as your TIF application begins to make its way through the approval process, it looks like you’re going to have to brace yourself for another round of criticism all because of some crumby old buildings that, let’s face it, weren’t exactly on par with the Parthenon.

What happened? You were the darling of downtown, like, 10 minutes ago.

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The Dallas Morning News Still Can’t Tell Dallas Apart From Dallas-Fort Worth

It’s the kind of rosy economic news we’re used to reading, an article proclaiming Dallas as the “nation’s most business friendly city.” Typically, I’d gloss over such a headline because I already know what’s in store. The story will probably contain a link to some study that uses vaguely scientific metrics to create a clickable list. You post, sit back, and let the internet work its magic.

But after spending much of the weekend at the tax-funded Omni, explaining to a bunch of editors from other cities just how “business friendly” Dallas’ political culture is, that phrase jumped-out at me. I wanted to see how they attempted to quantify “friendliness,” so I clicked through.

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Waitin’ Around For the Trinity Toll Road to Die

Over the next month or so, the City of Dallas will host numerous public meetings to present the Dream Team’s vision for the Trinity River Toll Road and receive community feedback about those plans.

I attended the second meeting, which was held in an area of Dallas about as far from the river as you can get and still technically be in the city of Dallas. Parkhill Junior High School is in the middle of a neighborhood of low slung 1970s ranch houses not too far from the Prestonwood Country Club and the city of Addison. It’s a staggeringly bucolic setting. Walking from the car to the school, the air was still and quiet — nearly silent — and the only sound was the chirping of birds and the muffled chattering of a few students far off by the sports fields.

Despite the distance between this part of Dallas and the center of the city, more than 60 people showed up to the meeting and many brought with them strong opinions about what should — or should not — happen in the floodway.

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The DMA Will Open Its North Entrance to Klyde Warren Park

The Dallas Museum of Art announced today the receipt of a $3 million grant from the Eagle Family to fund the renovation of the museum’s north entrance, which faces Klyde Warren Park.

Paired with an additional $1.3 million from the Hamon Charitable Foundation, the plans will transform the area outside of the museum’s Atrium Cafe into a plaza with outdoor seating for the restaurant. In addition, the driveways allowing access to the museum’s underground parking garage will be reconfigured, making room for wider sidewalks and new landscaping that are intended to create improved pedestrian access and flow between the park and the front of the DMA.  Henry Moore’s Two Piece Reclining Figure, No. 3 , which has been sitting in small traffic roundabout for years, will be mercifully relocated to the sculpture garden, though Miguel Covarrubias’ mosaic, Genesis, The Gift of Life, will remain in place. Construction begins in August.

It’s certainly looks like an improvement over what’s there today, though not as much of an improvement as completely eliminating the driveway could have been. Still, that’s likely an unrealistic solution, not only because of the logistics of the parking garage layout, but also because that garage must now be quite the cash cow thanks to the thousands of people flocking to Klyde Warren Park.

Here’s the full release:

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Michael Morris Knows Which Way the Wind Is Blowing

In case you missed yesterday’s Dallas Morning News story:

North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris told the Young Constructors Council of the TECO construction association last week that instead of an ever-extending transit network, the solution is dense infill developments where highway capacity and rail service already exist.

“The more development you can get to locate to areas that already have adequate transportation, the less you have to then build in the green-field areas,” Morris said in a subsequent interview.

And:

Frisco has $5 billion worth of mixed-use, high-density development planned along the Dallas North Tollway. But the city, like most of Collin County’s fastest growers, isn’t a member of one of the region’s three primary transit agencies.

But with political and financial barriers to fully joining Dallas Area Rapid Transit, it doesn’t appear that rail service is in those cities’ immediate future. That worries Morris, the regional transportation director, especially because Collin County is expected to double in population within a few decades.

The migration is expected to put the population center of the region along Dallas County’s borders with Denton and Collin counties.

“How are you going to move all those people without the benefits of rail transit?” he said.

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We Can’t Let Our Guard Down When it Comes to the Trinity Toll Road

Goodness, a bunch of dust has been kicked-up by a little bit of flooding. The past week’s rains have come just at the right time to spark a whole lot of silly talk about flooding and toll roads and Trinity River Project plans. Opponents of the road are circulating memes that use the floods as an excuse to dance on the road’s supposed watery grave — look, the floodway floods! Over at the Dallas Morning News, a couple of editorial writers try to throw water on the fires of panic and hyperbole. A couple of days ago, Rodger Jones made the somewhat obvious point that yes, we can build a road in a flood plain and make sure it doesn’t flood. Today, Rudy Bush chimes in, reiterating his support of the Beasley Plan and attempting to calm everyone down by saying that a road that occasionally floods isn’t the end of the world, let alone the end of plans for a road in the Trinity River watershed.

However, as I wrote earlier this week, I don’t think anyone believes that we can’t build a road that doesn’t flood. Surely the world has seen greater engineering marvels. The question is whether or not this particular road plan is a stupid idea.

Let’s leave that conversation for another day. Here’s the point I want to make: I’m a bit concerned by both Jones and Bush’s eagerness to call Alternative 3C – the engineering plans for a massive highway with high-five style exit ramps flying every which way – over and done.

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