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Making Dallas Even Better

Does the Federal Government Really Have the Power to Wage War on Divisive Highways?

The big news in the world of transportation policy this week has been the somewhat landmark announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the federal government will set about addressing the impact urban highways have on cities. In short, Foxx — who grew up in a predominately African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was walled off by highways — wants to stop building and expanding highways that cut people off from jobs and opportunity. To that end, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched its Ladders of Opportunity initiative.

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Ask John Neely Bryan: When Did Parts of Oak Lawn Become Uptown?

Question: Why are large parts of Oak Lawn now called “Uptown”? Just wanted some clarification. — Ronnie W.

I shall forgive your ignorance about the Great Secession of Uptown, since that partition of what was once a united neighborhood (Oak Lawn) was not precipitated by a singular event — like say, the election of Abraham Lincoln — but was instead accomplished by a slowly advancing army of associated developer and city initiatives. Beginning, it could be argued, with the re-introduction of the McKinney Avenue Trolley in 1989.

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U.S. Census, Your Eyes Say a Lot of People Are Moving to Dallas-Fort Worth

The U.S. Census has released new estimates showing population changes in the nation’s metropolitan areas between July 2014 and July 2015. Unless you’re a newbie to North Texas, you’ll likely not be surprised to find that Dallas-Fort Worth netted the second-biggest gain in number of residents during that period: 144,704.

Only Swamp City, Texas, did better (about 10%) in that measure. And if you total up those numbers with the population gains of Austin and San Antonio, those four metros alone added more people than any other entire state in the union.

If only there were some resource that all these newcomers could turn to for an orientation to life in North Texas — like, say, a beautifully produced guide from the publishers of Dallas’ city magazine, on newsstands now.

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The Real ‘Dallas Way’: Illogical, Absurdist Thinking

Here’s a pretty efficient summary of why the Trinity River Project is completely bonkers via DMN architecture critic Mark Lamster.

Only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park, and only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park before designing the park itself. Or even developing a general concept of that park, much less creating an authority that might actually be charged with building and paying for it.

No wonder, then, that we have a project that has been meandering along for the better part of two decades with no tangible result beyond an endless series of conflicting reports, studies, and briefing documents.

As I mentioned yesterday, other places don’t think like this. The Dallas Way of doing things has been alternatively described as bold thinking bolstered by a relentlessly entrepreneurial can-do spirit or — as Ambassador Ron Kirk recently put it — inefficiency brought on by endless bickering between  interest groups. But the reality is “the Dallas Way” describes a city so mired in the overreach of private interests and a city government set up to cater to those interests that it produces plainly and absurdly dysfunctional thinking.

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Meanwhile in New York, Governor Dedicates $40 Million for Parkway Removal

While we in Dallas debate whether or not to build a billion dollar road in the Trinity River flood plain, the city of Niagara Falls, NY is planning to tear out their own four lane highway because it separates the city from its waterfront.

The Robert Moses Parkway (yes, that Robert Moses) was opened in the 1960s, and it was constructed as a way to bypass Niagara Falls, looping around the city’s downtown and cutting off access to the adjacent Niagara Gorge. Its removal will allow the land formerly occupied by the highway to be turned into trails and green space.

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As Mayor Seeks Public Input on Trinity Road, It Is Time for the Project to Truly Evolve

The Dallas City Council’s transportation committee just wound up its briefing on the now-vetted plans put forth by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” of urban designers to rethink the Trinity Toll Road. There’s much to sort through in the back-and-forth conversation that unfolded this morning between council members, city staff, and the members of an oversight committee that was appointed to review the early technical adaptations of the conceptual plans for the road. I won’t get into all of it in too much detail here, but here are the key takeaways from my perspective.

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The Racist Legacy of America’s Inner-City Highways

There’s an article on Vox today that offers a concise summary of just how we went from being a nation of streetcar riders to a nation of long haul auto commuters. Its a familiar story to anyone who knows the history of urbanism in the 20th century. First came pressure from the auto industry to build new roads for their cars, resulting in a push for public funding of “freeways.” Then came the vision of a future America modeled after the modernist Utopian dream so compellingly depicted in General Motor’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

With public sentiment favoring a world made easy by zipping to and from suburban homes and downtown offices on ribbons of concrete — and a booming post-war economy that made car ownership more possible — President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, kick-starting the interstate system. Eisenhower didn’t want the highways to extend into the cities, but once he signed the federal legislation, the highway engineers took over. There was no turning back.

In America’s cities, highways became more than a transportation amenity.

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Jim Schutze’s Modest Proposal to the Dallas Morning News

Get your popcorn ready. Jim Schutze just played a fairly entertaining rhetorical chess opener. Call it the “Preservationist Queen’s Gambit,” the “Sicilian Architectural Defense.” Let’s set the board:

The Dallas Morning News has been a champion of historic preservation, pounding its fist whenever an old building in this city comes under threat. Most recently, they have caused a worthy ruckus over a 19th century home in the Cedars and the proposed desecration of the Meadows Building. Schutze argues that their outspoken ire over old buildings feels out-of-scale when considering the extent of child poverty in Dallas, but I don’t see why the two things have to be mutually exclusive. Both indicate an aspect of the city’s character that ignores its obligation to reconcile with historic realities while favoring the numbing feeling that comes with swallowing well-marketed visions of future fantasies. But I digress.

The point is, the DMN likes old buildings. Enter into the mix the news that the DMN may soon move out of its own historically significant home.

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Are ‘Dallas Office Developers’ Building Too Many Buildings?

There is no more concrete indicator of the booming North Texas economy than the number of cranes filling-out the skyline. Just how booming? Well, with 7.6 million square feet of new commercial real estate construction coming online, Dallas ranks second only to New York in terms of new office real estate construction, according to a new study.

That prompted researchers to wonder: is Dallas building too much new real estate?

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Dallas Ranks Among the Most Unforgettable American Cities

In reading this FiveThirtyEight piece about how San Jose, Calif., is America’s “most forgettable” major American city, I was impressed to see how unforgettable Dallas looks.

Their method for determining these admittedly imprecise terms was to look at how often participants in Sporcle’s time-suck of a quiz on the 100 most-populous U.S. cities remembered (or didn’t) the name of each city in the allotted 12 minutes. More than half a million people have taken the challenge.

It’s no surprise that when asked to name all 100 cities, most-populous New York was rarely missed. More than 99 percent of users got it. Compare that to poor San Jose, which only 66.6% named, even though it is the 10th-largest in the U.S.

Dallas is golden by comparison.

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U.S. News Ranks Dallas-Fort Worth 21st-Best Place to Live in the U.S.

U.S News & World Report has released this year’s list of its “Best Places to Live,” and Denver tops the list. I’d like to hem and haw and declare it an outrage that Colorado’s capital is thought to be a more appealing a place to call home in the estimation of a bunch of Washington-based editors than is Dallas. Only thing is, Denver is pretty great. It’s hard to argue that seeing the Rocky Mountains on the horizon when atop a downtown skyscraper isn’t a more fulfilling daily experience than is seeing JerryWorld (which is what’s visible from D Magazine’s World Headquarters).

No. 2 on the list is Austin, which soundly beats Dallas-Fort Worth on the U.S. News scorecard thanks mostly to its cool-kid reputation. See for yourself. Here’s Austin on the left, and DFW on the right:

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New Trinity Toll Road Plans Delayed. Are We Waiting For Godot?

At this afternoon’s Trinity Commons Foundation luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel, Mayor Mike Rawlings emphasized the importance he places on the creation of a park between the Trinity River levees, even as he continued to underline his support for the construction of the Trinity Parkway toll road:

Rawlings cited myriad inspirations, among them from Buffalo Bayou in Houston, The High Line in New York and Park Presidio in San Francisco. He said the park, whatever it looks like, will be “connected to” to the adjacent properties.

“The timing is such that the work is starting to take place,” Rawlings said. “Initial conversations have been had. Once we finalize the Trinity Parkway plans, right on the heels of that we will begin our discussion in a serious manner about this park, making sure we have the water features that are important, that we feel a part of nature when we’re there as well.”

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Leading Off (2/18/16)

$319 million drainage tunnel coming to east dallas. Construction of the 5-mile project, stretching more or less from State-Thomas to White Rock Creek to the M Streets to Deep Ellum to Fair Park, will begin this spring. A tunnel 30 feet in diameter is set to be completed by 2021 to help alleviate flooding after storms and to protect properties. Who knows how that construction will affect those living along that path in the meantime.

Second killing within a month occurs at Tent City. The largest homeless encampment in Dallas, known as Tent City, experienced another killing Tuesday. About 300 homeless people live in Tent City, located under I-45, south of downtown. A man was stabbed to death during a fight, and city officials are pushing for Tent City to be shut down. Although social workers have been gradually moving some residents to permanent housing, the encampment population is growing too rapidly. There have been several killings there in the past two years. City council members are debating how to go about shutting Tent City down and when.

Flower Mound residents targeted by red-light ticket scam. The people caught masterminding the fraud scam are prison workers and inmates in Georgia. Cellphones were smuggled into the prisons and used to commit identity theft and wire fraud. Residents of Flower Mound were informed that they owed money for red light tickets and told to buy prepaid cash cards and transfer the money. The calls apparently seemed real because the callers set up greetings identifying themselves as police officers from Flower Mound.

New trader joe’s to open near knox/henderson. A six-story apartment building called Armstrong at Knox—located on Cole Avenue directly south of Knox Street—is getting its finishing touches. Below the apartments will be a new Trader Joe’s and Sur La Table, which is moving from its current Travis Street location. In my opinion, you can never have too many Trader Joe’s stores.

Parking Is Not an Actual Problem at Preston Center

Over on Candy’s Dirt, Jon Anderson has a nice recap over yesterday’s Preston Center Task Force meeting. The group, which includes former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, is charged with considering the potential for development in and around that southwest corner of the intersection of Northwest Highway and Preston Road.

Among the topics discussed at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center was parking. The task force had asked consultants to study the situation, as there existed a belief among some members that parking is often too difficult to find at the shopping center, despite a free, two-story, public garage that sits at its center. Here’s what they found:

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Mayor Says Plano Is No Longer a Suburb

Last night Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere delivered his annual state of the city address at the Cinemark West Plano theater. His theme was that Plano has entered a new phase in its development: “Plano 3.0”:

“In the ’80’s we were a bedroom community, and in the ’90’s we were known as a big suburb. Today we are our own city, and we compete on a global stage for businesses, and individuals or families looking for a home.”

LaRosiliere called Plano an “economic engine for employment” citing the moves of major companies, like JPMorgan Chase and Toyota, who are moving to Plano.

And with new businesses come new jobs. LaRosiliere said 18,000 new jobs were coming to Legacy West in the next three years.

“We’ve become a true employment center,” he said. “You can fill up AT&T Stadium twice with the number of people coming to work in Plano.”

According to the U.S. Census, the average commute time for Plano residents is 25.7 minutes. For Dallas residents it’s 25.6 minutes. For the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of Southeast Dallas, it’s 34.75 minutes.

These numbers suggest that the people of Plano don’t have to drive into Dallas for jobs. They’ve got employment there, along with much higher median incomes ($82,944 vs. $43,359), which feed better-performing schools, which raise property values, attracting more of the upper-middle class to choose Collin County over the bigger city. Then corporations looking to relocate decide to set up shop closer to where their employees want to live, and this economic cycle feeds on itself all over again.

Maybe it is time they come off our Best Suburbs list.

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