DFW Area Urbanism #CNU23 https://twitter.com/cnu23dfw

DFW has some great urban projects — from Dallas & Fort Worth to McKinney, Grapevine, Carrollton, Southlake, Plano, Garland, North Richland Hills, Fort Worth Southside, Burleson, Denton ….. the list is endless.  Links to some of these urbanism projects:

Legacy Town Center – Plano

Sundance Square – Fort Worth

Downtown Plano

West Village – Dallas

CityLine – Richardson & More on this Project

Hometown – North Richland Hills

Dowtown McKinney

Denton Main Street & More on Downtown Denton

Downtown Carrollton & More Pictures

Roanoke – This Place Matters

Bishop Arts District – Dallas

Deep Ellum – Dallas & More on Deep Ellum

Soutlake Town Square

Victory Park – Dallas

Uptown – Dallas & State Thomas Neighborhood (and More on State Thomas)

Addison Circle

Austin Ranch – Carrollton

Las Colinas Urban Center – Irving

Historic Downtown Grapevine

West 7th – Fort Worth

Near Southside – Fort Worth

West End – Dallas

Dallas Arts District

Cityplace – Dallas

Downtown Garland


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More Audacious Plans for Downtown Dallas

Mayor Rawlings has a 10 point Grow South initiative, that includes a private investment fund for Southern Dallas. What if we went further, and helped out Downtown and the Southern sector, forcing the business community to think south of I-30, and opened up vital development land and (dare I say it) parking in Downtown, with a bold, visible, long term move to literally rebrand City Hall.

HOW? What if the City of Dallas committed to moving City Hall to the Cedars as part of a larger mixed-use “town center” project, giving South Dallas a true cultural/civic center.  With due apologies to those who love “brutalist” architecture, we would then take down the existing City Hall (maybe the Pentagon could use it for target practice) and eliminate the giant building and plaza that sucks the life out of the surrounding area, and allow that land – and the massive amount of below grade parking – to be put out to developers under a request for proposal for a Downtown mixed-use project. This would leverage private investment going into “SoYo” (South of Young) – the Farmer’s Market, Butler Building, Masonic Temple, Encore Park, etc.  I’d bet that taking down City Hall alone increases property values in the area.

Seems like everyone wins – and the new City Hall just requires money, which for big important projects Dallas always finds somewhere.

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The Inter-Connectedness of All Things in Dallas – Race, Place, Urbanism, Highways & Affordable Housing

Our quality of life, both individually and collectively, is intricately the result of where we live. We understand this individually when we spend time stuck in traffic, or are forced to drive for daily chores – grocery store, bank, drug store, cleaners, etc., all of which are isolated with the car being the only viable mode of transport. We know this when choosing where we live also means a top quality school or a safe neighborhood for our children.

But this isn’t just about me or you – where we live affects/infects the collective “we” of society at the city/regional level in ways that are insidious and evidence as societal issues over expanses of not only distance, but time, as evidenced by the following discussions in Dallas:

 –          Home rule schools & Charter Schools and the quality of DISD

-          Grow South Initiative

-          I-345 Tear-Down debate and the claim that South Dallas residents need to get to their jobs in North Dallas

-          HUD’s claim that the City has used federal funds for affordable housing in South Dallas and only market rate housing/economic development in Downtown

-          Inclusive Communities Projects’ lawsuits against the State of Texas and Dallas suburbs for congregating affordable housing in South Dallas and not permitting affordable housing in the suburbs

All of these issues center on race and place, income and opportunity, and affect us individually and collectively.

In a simplistic overview, we have created a spatial divide, a segregation if you will, between housing and jobs, between opportunity and disinvestment, and between races, that are at the historical heart of each of these issues. Driven by market and social pressures of the 1950’s-1970’s – the double whammy of integration/court ordered busing creating white flight to the suburbs, occurring at the same time as new highways facilitated rapid movement from the suburbs to the jobs in the City (and subsequent flight of jobs to the suburbs, following white collar employees) – combined to start the process of separating jobs to the north and affordable housing to the south. This trend was exacerbated and reinforced by zoning codes prohibiting or drastically limiting apartments, the primary form of affordable housing, in many of the suburbs, and by local not-in-my-backyard efforts and state political/administrative decisions accepting those attitudes that made certain that placing affordable housing in the northern suburbs was difficult at best, and impossible in many areas.

Lack of jobs and new development in the southern section leads to more disinvestment, a lower tax base and poorer quality schools.  The great north-south divide creates a dysfunctional City Council that has trouble finding common ground on what is best for the City, as the “City” is really two cities, as we often refer to them – North Dallas and South Dallas. Starting earlier, but reaching critical speed in the 1960’s with public housing, and continuing in the late 80’s through the early 2000’s, were benign if not malignant actions – using federal funding (public housing money, low income housing tax credits and Community Development Block grants, to name a few) to congregate affordable housing south of the Trinity. Put the service sector housing in one part of the City, and move the jobs to the other side, and you get a north-south divide, a north-south debate, and traffic infrastructure (highways) to bridge the gap.

Which leads to corrective measures:

-          “Grow South”, a special concerted effort to facilitate growth that in more balanced communities would be organic change.

-          I-345 Tear-Down being labeled as impractical because we need to continue to have the infrastructure to support the great divide, jobs to the north and service sector housing to the south.

-          Home Rule School initiative, desperately searching for ways to improve DISD.

We can continue to reinforce the status quo, or we can step back and consider if there are better alternatives.

 First, like alcoholism/drug addiction, we must admit we have a problem – we are addicted to problem avoidance on at least two fronts: (1) the legacy of historic racism in Dallas (if it makes anyone feel more comfortable, we can call it “economic egalitarianism” – which is for the most part the later stages of the cancer of racism), and (2) the universal belief that the automobile is the only real viable mode of transportation for all persons of all income levels. And like all addictions, we need an “intervention” – we need a major step, an iconic breakthrough moment, a massive symbol that we have identified our problems and are willing to take drastic steps to overcome the status quo ante and are embracing a bold new future.

Take the Calatrava Bridge for example.  At first appearing to be just another expensive icon for the Dallas skyline, the elaborate structure literally bridges Downtown and Uptown (now themselves linked by the Klyde Warren Deck Park) to West Dallas – a historically lower income mixed Hispanic and Black community. The result is that over the last couple of years Trinity Groves is springing up, with a multi-restaurant incubator, other restaurants and recently announced residential apartment units. Without the Calatrava Bridge, and the highly symbolic bold move to re-connect to West Dallas, the economic revitalization of West Dallas would not be underway.

The proposed I-345 Tear Down is another bold proposal, this time to reconnect Downtown and Deep Ellum / East Dallas. Both the Deck Park connection of Uptown to Downtown and the Calatrava Bridge connection of Downtown to West Dallas are “at grade” – they serve as connecting points and not barriers. Elevated I-345 acts as a blockade between Downtown and Deep Ellum, and reconfiguring that portion of 75/45/Central Expressway as an at-grade parkway would tear down the wall that keeps the east end of Downtown from thriving and makes the remaking of Deep Ellum so difficult.  Maybe more importantly, it would signify a shift in thinking in Dallas – to an understanding that highways and cars will not drive (pun intend) our City into the future. 

And maybe we’ll also begin to understand that those very highways are what separates us not only by distance, but by race and income.  We could actually sit down and have a dialogue about “social equity”, inclusive zoning and mixed-income/mixed-use places, so that people can live closer to work, and Blacks and Hispanics and Whites can live, work, play and go to school together. We could actually start with mixed-income residential development at our DART train stations. Setting a 20% affordability standard at all transit-oriented development would be another bold symbolic statement and, coincidentally, density at transit is less likely to be politically unpopular and access to transit is particularly critical to lower income workers.

50 years after the Civil Rights Act, can we bold enough to come together and say “We have a Dream” for Dallas? 

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The Latent Potential of #DowntownDallas

Amazing difference what narrower two way streets, better sidewalks, parallel parked cars, can make.  Elm & Commerce treat streets as “roads” (platforms to move cars) — whereas Main Street is a “street” — a place you want to be, not just a means to a destination.

ImageMain Street

ImageCommerce Street

ImageElm Street

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Developer – Meet the Urbanist – One of the Goals of CNU23 in DFW

Ever marvel at the contradictions in your life, and why they appear so dissonant? I spent last week at Urban Land Institute’s Spring meeting in Vancouver, one of the gleaming cities in North America, ranking among the top 2 or 3 most desirable cities in the world in many surveys, to learn from some of the top real estate professionals on the planet. I love ULI for the depth of understanding of capital markets, demand drivers and development techniques and the sheer breadth of experience of its members. And yet I sometimes find the hyper-focus on the “corporate” side of real estate, which at its core is really a service business to end consumers, to be a bit sterile, devoid of passion. Not unlike law firms that can can become so inner-focused on their practice areas that they lose site of how their clients’ businesses function and how legal service needs to orient around those needs, corporate real estate development can turn inward and become an end in and of itself – the monetization of real estate and the bifurcation of developers and capital focused on specific product types are (necessary) symptoms of a modern economy. Capital markets and the development community understand simplicity and bifurcated uses – “we finance/develop X (fill in product type).” X has a cap rate that the junior analysis can plug into his Excel spreadsheet and can be mass produced by architects, engineers and contractors and easily financed on Wall Street.

In early June I head off to Buffalo to the Congress for New Urbanism. Vancouver vs. Buffalo and ULI vs. CNU – a study in contrasts and unfortunately full of dissonance.

To over-simplify, CNU is founded on a manifesto, not an economic agenda. The “Charter” espouses the desirability of walkable, mixed use development, which in many ways is the antithesis of corporate real estate with its specialization and mostly segregation of uses. CNU talks about ethereal concepts (except to the initiated) like “transect”, “form-based code” and “tactical urbanism.” On the opposite end of the spectrum from ULI, oftentimes the “urbanists” at CNU are not very practical/pragmatic – the dialogue is more along the lines of a 5,000 level college philosophy class, the rhetoric is inspiring and sounds life changing until you re-enter the real world outside the ivory towers and are slapped in the face with the cold reality of “now how do we go about changing the world without engaging with the world”, a feeling not unknown to many post-modern Evangelical Christian suburban churches who want to share their faith but have real difficulties engaging with the world outside the church walls. Interestingly many urbanists also talk about being “post-moderism” (yet another ethereal concept).

One of the real short-comings of the Occupy Movement was that it “protesteth too much” – it liked to hear to its own voice harping in the town square – but never quite figured out how to engage with the establishment. And short of a revolution not much change happens if you can’t engage the establishment. On the flip side, listening to people tangential to your core beliefs who have often heretical ideas can change a society.

One of our aims at CNU North Texas in hosting CNU23 in DFW April 27-May 2, 2015 will be to bridge this divide between the urbanism movement and the the corporate real estate community, to create an environment of listening and learning from each other, to ferret out what the end users of real estate really desire and to find pragmatic ways to develop sustainable desirable real estate products that fit the changing needs of our booming population and that can actually be built and financed. In short, bring together NAIOP, TREC, ULI, CNU, etc. – and all of our constituent trades/disciplines, from town planner to urban planner, from engineer to architect, from small infill lot developer to large office and warehouse builders, students and professors, debt and equity providers – and learn from each other and talk and plot and plan how we reimagine real estate in DFW.

I’m not sure whether all of this brings more or less dissonance, but as they say – “variety is the spice of life.” I guaranty it will be a fascinating week.

If you want to learn more about CNU23, or be involved in planning the Congress, email me at txurbanmixeduse@gmail.com.

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Urbanism, I-345 Teardown and Affordable Housing in Dallas – Beyond Race/Place Rhetoric to a Metroplex Revolution

Let’s get this out of the way so you can categorize me: I grew up in suburban Kansas City (Overland Park), had 6 minorities in my high school (graduating class of 670), and went to SMU undergrad and law school.  I’m one of those rich, white, suburbanites who commutes into Downtown Dallas every day. I have been a commercial real estate attorney for 30 years. Got me pigeonholed?

Now take an African American or Hispanic from South Dallas or West Dallas or East Dallas, who commutes to their job every day in Downtown or North Dallas.  Got them pigeonholed?

Throw in a controversial topic — like whether we rebuild or tear down I-345.  Does your race or place of residence or income level really, in and of itself, define your thought process on this question? TXDOT, not surprisingly, just proposed to rebuild the highway, with no real consideration of alternatives. In the face of what they knew were entrenched powerful interests, the brave few have come forward to tilt at that windmill – to challenge the status quo ante, to propose a new order.

The concentration of affordable housing in the Southern section, and HUD’s recent challenge to Dallas to create / support affordable housing in Downtown is another highly controversial topic rooted in race and place and income.

Name calling based on place and race and income is an antiquated concept nationally, but unfortunately still has a lot of play in Dallas.

Now for the shocker for those who pigeonholed me earlier: I was an affordable housing attorney early in my career and for 11 years left legal practice to develop affordable housing. I  have worked with and along both African American and Hispanic leaders.  I also became a Fair Housing advocate, to the point of suing cities (including the suburb I live in) for not allowing apartment development (talk about tilting at windmills). When I came back to practicing law I worked on an urban mixed use mixed income development in Hollywood — a W Hotel and Condos and 375 apartments, 75 or which are affordable in the midst of this $600 million development. And it is located above an LA Metro train station. Imagine mixed income, mixed use transit-oriented development in a city with horrible traffic issues.  My eyes were opened – could we do this in Dallas?  What benefits would this type of transit-oriented development pattern bring to the Metroplex?  Yes, the rich white suburban guy who at the time drove a Hummer H3, started thinking about whether our “drive until you qualify”, and please build more highway lane miles to support it – that guy had an epiphany.

I came back to Dallas after working 2 1/2 years on the Hollywood project and traded my H3 in for a Ford Fiesta. I started taking DART. I got involved with the Congress for New Urbanism and Urban Land Institute. I started reading books upon books about the “built environment” – how what/how we are building today is not sustainable. How we can’t build (or afford) enough highways to support the projected growth in North Texas. And how our fascination with the automobile has dealt a severe blow to what were once vibrant people oriented places.  My son now drives my Fiesta and I drive a Lexus hybrid that gets close to 50 MPG (how do you categorize me now — a Lexus hybrid — is he corporate or is he green?)  I decided to dedicate the balance of my legal career to the urban core of Dallas.

Now that I’ve looked under the hood (bad analogy intended) of how the Metropolex transportation/infrastructure/work-to-home environment works, I’m finding a 1972 Vega engine behind the glossy Cadillac finish.  It is fundamentally inefficient and outdated and it won’t continue to run well if at all going forward if we just keep on doing the same thing (remember the definition of insanity?).  I have similar thoughts around how we have developed affordable housing in Dallas, including some of the housing I built.

In school we are taught to challenge the established norm — this is the basis of critical thinking, without which we might still believe the world is flat and, to play the “race card”, we might continue to look at minorities as either possessions or second-class citizens.  It really is OK to say “what would happen if we tore down I-345?  can we analyze how this has worked in other US cities like San Francisco and Milwaukee, or international cities like Seoul, to see if it might be beneficial for Dallas?”  And can we openly discuss what true mixed income housing would look like in Downtown Dallas or North Dallas? Are we mature enough as a city to have this dialogue, trying to do what is best for the City and all its residents, both short term and long term, without immediately reverting to our old ways of name calling?  The minute we play the North vs. South Dallas card, or pit White vs. Black vs. Hispanic, we demonize very well intentioned, thoughtful people who – if you really get to know them and are willing to listen — have the best interests of the entire city at heart. You may politely disagree. But you may actually learn a thing or two.

One of those 6 minorities in my high school was one of my best friends. And I’m socially liberal but economically conservative, one minute I work on a multiple million dollar office or hotel, and the next on Fair Housing in the Valley. Categorize me now.

If we want name calling place/race/income level categorization, watch Fox News, CNN or the US Congress – polarizing political babble.  If instead we want to get something done that makes DFW a better place, then we need a Metroplex Revolution that listens and learns from each other in an atmosphere of respect and working for the greater good of the entire region.

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Inactive New Street Frontage in West End Dallas

No real need to comment on the poor design – lack of ability to “address the street” of this new hotel in Downtown Dallas. Hard to believe that we would permit this type of development. At Griffin & Pacific



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