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Making Dallas Even Better

Dallas’ Jason Roberts on How to Build a Better City

The New York Times this week hosted a two-day conference on the future of cities, and among the invited speakers was Dallas’ own Jason Roberts. You’ve likely heard of Roberts as the driving force behind bringing a streetcar back to Oak Cliff and the Better Block movement.

In the video above (H/T DMN) you can watch him explain how temporarily putting potted plants along sidewalks and painting your own lines on the street — in violation of municipal ordinances — can help transform a city.

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Do Millennials Really Prefer the City Over the Suburbs?

An article in Gizmodo challenges some conventional thinking with regards to millennials’ preference for urban lifestyles. According to some new studies, the generation born after 1980 may not be shunning the suburbs after all. In fact, there is evidence that more millennials are moving to the suburbs than the city, only they just might be making the move a little later than prior generations.

FiveThirtyEight dug into this a few months back. According to the 2014 census, while the rate at which people between the age of 25 and 29 are moving to suburbs has slowed when compared to the mid-1990s, when you look at the 30-44-year-old range, the rate of suburban relocation has actually sped up.

Why?

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Leading Off (7/14/2015)

The Barnett Shale is Off-Gassing More Greenhouse Gasses Than Previous Thought: The EPA botched its initial estimates, and as it turns out, fracking in the Barnett Shale is responsible for 64 percent of all methane in our local atmosphere. The good news: most of those emissions are the result of human errors and mechanical failures.

Let’s Put Those Increased Violent Crime Numbers in Perspective: The Dallas Morning News breaks down the much-reported 10 percent increase in violent crime. The takeaway? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. You could argue the increase reflects a return to a historical norm. And if violent crime continues at pace through the end of the year, murders will be at the same level they were 2013 and 2012, while aggravated assaults would only see a 0.4 percent increase over last year.

When Will We Finally Run Craig Holcomb Out of Town? Read Eric Nicholson’s look into the laughable bike share program in Fair Park. I mean, it couldn’t be more stupidly designed, so it will come as no surprise that the usage numbers are equally laughable. But here’s the important bit: when Nicholson tried to get the usage numbers through an open records request, he was stonewalled by the Friends of Fair Park, which operates the program. That decision to not to release the bike share numbers was then upheld in a ruling by the Texas AG.

I mean, seriously? Bike share numbers? We’re keeping those under lock-and-key? Why? Because Friends of Fair Park – which is run by Craig Holcomb, who also heads the Trinity Commons Foundation – doesn’t want more mud on his face for a program that anyone who has any idea about anything looks at for two seconds and thinks, “Good God, that is the sorriest excuse for a bike share program I have ever seen in my entire life.” I mean, seriously? How long are we going to let Holcomb meddle in the city’s business? How long are we going to let him lord over his two little fiefdoms, which happen to involve two of Dallas’ greatest civic assets – Dallas and Fair Park – both of which have languished for decades under the weight of curiously stupid ideas? For the love of all things good, Criag Holcomb, will you please just drift off into a quiet retirement and leave Dallas alone? Please. Thank you for your service. Now go away.

New Designer Drug in Town: It’s called Flakka, and it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Effects include “murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, and running around screaming.” Or basically what it feels like to read about Craig Holcomb’s meddling in Dallas affairs.

It’s Finally Texas Hot: After cool temps and so much rain, we can’t really complain about DFW finally flirting with 100 degrees (heat index popped up to 109 in some places yesterday). Well, unless the AC goes out in your entire apartment complex. Then you can complain.

Troy Aikman Hates Potholes. So Does, It Turns Out, Every Other American

Over the weekend, Dallas Cowboys legend (and former auto dealership owner) Troy Aikman was driving in Dallas. Presumably his car hit a pothole. Or maybe he spotted a pothole ahead of him in the road and swerved to avoid it. Maybe he hit a few potholes in a row, or maybe his entire trip felt like he was dodging potholes like Giants linebackers. Whatever the case, Dallas Cowboys legend Tory Aikman was fed up with the damned potholes, and so he got mad. So mad, in fact, he did what all Americans do these days when we’re mad. We Tweet:

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The New York Times on the Federally Subsidized Dallas Exodus

The New York Times reports on the success of an experimental housing policy the federal government rolled out in Dallas. In short, the new program offers vouchers to people who qualify for housing subsidies. That’s not new. Here’s the new bit: if the person receiving the voucher wants to move to a more expensive neighborhood, the government will give that person more money.

The thought is that by helping families move into better neighborhoods, they will have a better chance of breaking the cycles of poverty that persist in poorer parts of town. Better schools, safer neighborhoods, short commutes: in the long run it all translates into lower costs for everyone, those receiving the subsidies and the government. So far, this strategy has been proven successful, even if the program is not perfect:

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Dallas-Fort Worth Has the Worst Income Inequality by Neighborhood in the U.S.

Governing reports on a new Urban Institute report that looks at how income inequality affects neighborhoods. In short, the report demonstrates that between 1990 and 2010, wealthier neighborhoods have become wealthier, while poorer neighborhoods have become poorer, further exaggerating levels of income inequality between neighborhoods across U.S. metro areas. And the region that leads the way in this trend towards increasing neighborhood income inequality is Dallas (or, more accurately, DFW). Via Governing:

The analysis examined inequality within commuting zones, or large regions of several counties that resemble metropolitan areas. Of all commuting zones with at least 250,000 residents, those with the largest neighborhood disparities were Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The Dallas commuting zone, home to about 3.7 million residents, had the highest degree of neighborhood inequality of any area reviewed. The Urban Institute’s Rolf Pendall, who wrote the report, attributed this to the area’s extremely low average wages for poor communities, along with a regional education system that trails other parts of the country.

There are a few interesting takeaways from the study.

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Laura Miller on the Failings of Jennifer Gates and the Battle To Save Preston Hollow

If you haven’t yet, take a second to check out our new neighborhood guide. It’s a pretty robust tool that our little web team built. If you know someone who is moving to Dallas or thinking of moving, point him to this resource. One thing that makes it great is a series of essays about various Dallas neighborhoods. For example, here’s what Adam McGill has to say about his neighborhood, Lake Highlands. We asked people all over town to tell us why they live where they do and what they love most about their hood.

One of those people was Laura Miller, former D Magazine and Dallas Observer columnist, former mayor of Dallas, current Preston Hollow resident. The essay she turned in — well, it wasn’t like the other essays. It was more of a polemic than it was a love letter to Preston Hollow. In her sights this time: Councilwoman Jennifer Gates; Gates’ appointee to the Plan Commission, Margot Murphy; and Mark Cuban. Laura isn’t real pleased with what they’re doing to her neighborhood.

The piece clearly didn’t work for our neighborhood guide. But it also couldn’t just go to waste. “Put it on FrontBurner,” Laura told me, “or I will come over there and punch you in the throat.” I made up that quote. But I stand behind my reporting.

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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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