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Making Dallas Even Better

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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Why Yesterday Was Such an Important Day for Dallas History

As Tim mentions in Leading Off, the Dallas Landmark Commission voted in favor of pursuing protection for a number of important historic sites and structures yesterday, choosing preservation over lazy private interests in each case. The decision to move a 19th century home in the Cedars, rather than bulldoze it for a parking lot, and to move towards designating the Meadows Building on Central Expressway as a historic landmark, thus protecting it from its current owner’s planned demolition of a wing, demonstrates a rare and welcomed willingness from a city board to stand up to private developers in the name of the public’s interest. And the move to protect Big Spring also showed that the commission is willing to step in on behalf of Dallas’ dwindling natural resource, even in a case where the chief threat to the preservation of that natural resource is the city itself.

Mark Lamster runs through all of this in a column, and I don’t have much to add to his thoughts, though it is worth highlighting a few of them:

If the Meadows isn’t a landmark, than nothing is. The commission’s unanimous vote in favor of designation was a heartening indication of this reality, and a welcome validation of its own responsibility. A landmarks commission that cannot protect a building like the Meadows is not worth its name, and serves no purpose.

Yesterday, Dallas demonstrated that it has a Landmark Commission with a purpose. That should be an encouraging source of optimism. Perhaps we are transitioning into a new kind of Dallas, a city that bucks the character cliches of its ensconced business-first civic mentality that has historically devalued not just history and nature, but the public oversight of municipal government to boot.

When Drivers Hit Pedestrians, Where Do We Lay the Moral Blame?

There’s a rather difficult to watch video over on NBCDFW which shows a dog being run over by an SUV in Oak Lawn. The incident happened at the corner of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton. Two women out walking their dogs on Saturday afternoon approach the intersection. The light is green, and as one of the women steps into the crosswalk, an SUV comes around the corner, runs over the dog, and skirts so close to the woman that she is knocked to the ground. The car drives away; the dog reportedly dies a few minutes after the video ends.

It’s an awful scene, but perhaps equally awful is reading the comments beneath the video and on Facebook. Many people who have watched the video have come to the conclusion that the woman walking the dog is at fault for what happened. They note that when she steps into the intersection, she is looking away from the oncoming car, perhaps at traffic on the far side of the road. As a result, she’s blindsided. She should have looked both ways, the comments argue. She should have kept her dog on a shorter leash, some suggest. Only, because this is the internet, the tone of many of the comments is snide and deriding. It’s ugly stuff.

Whose fault is it when someone gets hit by a car?

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Will the Knox Street Redo Move the Most Dangerous Valet Stand in Dallas?

Tomorrow the Dallas City Council is expected to approve the Complete Streets Design Manual, a long-gestating project that’s the result of a $400,000 federal grant received in 2010 that in turn spawned the city’s Complete Streets Initiative.

The resulting document (see it in the council’s posted agenda) is intended to serve as a “comprehensive policy guide for all public or private projects that impact the planning, design, construction, and operation of streets.”

You may recall that in September 2012, the city authorized an experiment — with the help of the Better Block Foundation — wherein Knox Street between Central Expressway and the Katy Trail was narrowed, with bike lanes added and street parking rearranged. That effort was part of the development of a vision of building “streets that are safe and comfortable for everyone: young and old; motorists and bicyclists; walker and wheelchair users; bus and train riders alike,” as the Complete Streets Design Manual puts it.

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This New Study Should End Downtown Dallas’ Parking Conversation

Anyone familiar with downtown Dallas knows about its parking paradox. According to many in the real estate community, there is simply not enough parking — such a lack, in fact, that it makes economic sense to build new parking garages to accommodate all of the cars that want to be downtown. On the other hand, take a walk through downtown and all you see is parking — huge expanses of lots, blocks and blocks of garages — so much so that parking is a major reason why downtown can feel so dead, vacant, and even dangerous.

I can appreciate why the real estate market responds to the issue of parking in the way it does. When you’re trying to fill up a giant skyscraper with office tenants, it is difficult to compete with buildings outside the central loop that can offer easy access to parking. The desire to add more parking downtown is part of a belief that if you make it easier to get to and park in downtown more people will come, and the area will thrive. But a new study shows just how backwards this thinking actually is.

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Why the Trinity River Project Remains Dallas’ Impossible Dream

If you haven’t been following the ongoing fiasco surrounding the Dallas Wave very closely, I don’t blame you. It has been particularly depressing and infuriating. Last week, the city council found out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to shut off the city’s water supply if the city didn’t take immediate action to fix the white water feature that opened five years ago and was then swiftly closed because it was deemed too hazardous.

Today, Jim Schutze reports that some people inside city hall hoped to get Congress to exempt the river from a federal law regarding waterway navigation in order to get around the corps’ objections to the broken white water feature. You may remember that the city already managed to persuade Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson to slip a measure into a piece of federal legislation that exempts the stretch of the Trinity near downtown from all sorts of federal environmental oversight.

There are two pretty rich ironies floating around this latest scuttlebutt over the Dallas Wave.

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Report: Trinity Toll Road Will Make Regional Travel a Little Better, Mobility Within Dallas Worse

Brandon Formby shares newly released traffic estimates regarding the impact of the Trinity Parkway project:

According to North Texas traffic projections for 2035, drivers who pass through a 34.3-mile area around the road will collectively drive 8 million miles a day if Trinity Parkway is built. But they’ll only drive 7 million miles a day that same year if it isn’t. And while the toll road’s existence is expected to help drivers around the urban core spend 4,817 fewer hours sitting in traffic jams each day, the time they’ll spend driving overall will jump about 11,677 hours a day.

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Leading Off (1/21/16)

Ethan Couch to return to U.S. soon. Yesterday, his attorneys said they expect Couch to be present at his Tarrant County probation hearing on February 19. They also said Couch’s legal team in Mexico will not attempt to block his return to the U.S. anymore. We’ll find out soon enough if Couch’s case will be transferred from juvenile to adult court.

Gaylord Texan primed for $120 million expansion. The Grapevine hotel’s owner announced yesterday that the planned expansion for the Gaylord Texan will make it the second-largest hotel in Texas and one of the country’s biggest non-gaming convention hotels. 300 guest rooms will be added to the 1,511 rooms currently at the Gaylord.

Dallas seeking new fire-rescue chief. The city will pay search firm Affion Public $24,000 to help Dallas Fire-Rescue continue to search for a new fire chief as Chief Louie Bright III will retire in March. The job will be posted for 30 days.

city streets still bad, says Rawlings. Dallas City Council during a meeting said that 37,656 potholes had been patched on Dallas streets over the past year or so. But Mayor Rawlings didn’t seem to be as content with that as the city council was. Although it was contended that the streets did not get any worse than they had been, Rawlings said that keeping streets in bad condition is not the goal. At least spending on streets will be up in 2016.