By Amanda Popken
For a whirlwind four days, hundreds of the world’s top urban planners, engineers, developers, and real estate professionals descended on Dallas to share best practices, data, and ideas about making our cities great. Attendees of the Congress for the New Ubanism‘s #CNU23 tend to seem a bit crazy for walkable neighborhoods, but in truth they respect a healthy balance of all densities and development types. Problem is, there’s far more demand for walkable places than there are walkable places. Especially in D-FW, where 68 percent of residents would like to live in a walkable neighborhood at some point in their lives, but only 4 percent of the real estate in Dallas is in a walkable environment and only 1.5 percent of D-FW is walkable.
This year’s most inspiring conversations included a call to action to build equitable and sustainable places, to be the innovators and thought leaders who will invent the “Just City.” A conversation about “Public Spaces People Love” highlighted Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community program in partnership with Project for Public Spaces to support the development of places people love in SWA destination cities.
An update on the first year of the Project for Lean Urbanism defined the movement and announced LeanUrbanism.org with access the first phase of papers, case studies, and the upcoming Lean Urbanism Toolbox. The three-year study will conclude in 2016, rolling out the full project at CNU24 next year in Detroit. Ellen Dunam-Jones, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, announced her next book The Sprawl Retrofit Toolkit. In her practice of rehabbing worn-out shopping centers, retrofitting malls, and repositioning suburban assets, she began to realize that the 19 types of real estate typically funded don’t include the types of walkable mixed-use, and sometimes small-scale projects that she was advocating. So she’s writing the book for the financial industry to quantify the value of “good design.” She’s also on the lookout for retrofit projects in the works, especially those that are re-greening (bringing underutilized developed land back to nature) and re-inhabiting (bringing infill residential to unconventional locations.) This woman has the grandest vision I’ve ever heard for the direction of real estate development in our society. She takes a 500-year perspective and considers the fate of all parts, holding nothing back. That’s the most interesting thing about CNU: Everyone, from novices to the thought leaders that are writing books defining the movement, meet on the same intellectual playing field. The Congress is like an enormous family reunion every year, only you actually like most of the people there. In fact you stay up dancing and talking until the wee hours every night and are at it again the next day.
“Great design of a place is important, but what makes a compelling place is the symphony of things happening” – Russ Preston
If you really geek-out about city planning you’ll be sad you missed out on NextGen’s Cards Against Urbanity game night, the Strongtowns Debate over the Merits of Suburban Retrofit and Chuck Marohn’s Late Show interview with our own Patrick Kennedy.
Great places are important for economic development. Now 37 percent of cities in Michigan are leveraging placemaking for economic development. And in Detroit, the lack of regulations (for lack of resources to do so) has created a innovative and creative economy of possibility. Creatives attracted to Detroit’s lack of regulations then attract companies looking for their creative, entrepreneurial workforce. No subsidy/incentive needed. If you just need a good excuse to see this place, considering that next year’s CNU24 is in Detroit!
Saturday’s tour of the best urbanism in Dallas took us to Highland Park Village, Legacy Town Center, and Addison Circle. Looking at the details, connections to the neighborhoods, assessing the retail mix, and learning from the best in development and management, we spoke to Ray Washurne, owner of Highland Park Village, Legacy Town Center and Addison Circle designer Paris Rutherford, and city staff from Plano and Addison.
Highland Park Village is undergoing a transformation under Mr Washburne’s watch. His attention to detail — adding mature trees in the parking lot, retrofitting the streetlamps, adding planters and lighting to highlight architectural details – is elevating the center to an international destination, helping Dallas become the third most important shopping destination in the country behind NYC and Los Angeles.
The center of the Highland Park Village embodies the sense of place Washburne is creating, restoring the original Moroccan-inspired painted accents and finishing out the second story balcony as an open-air restaurant patio with shops. As the shopping center has evolved, he’s careful to keep a balance of services for the neighbors and a retail mix that rivals sought-after shopping destinations.
Legacy Town Center evolved for over a decade to transform a typical suburban business park into a central retail district and walkable neighborhood. Paris Rutherford was one of the lead staff from RTKL who worked on Legacy Town Center and also Addison Circle. He gladly lead us through both developments, sharing insights and lessons learned from both projects.
The city worked with the master developer and design team to establish limited regulations on the design, then sold individual plots to various developers. The resulting mix provides variety in price point, design, rental and owner-occupied units, and various layouts to meet parking requirements.
Addison Circle’s first phase opened in 1997 as the region’s first transit-oriented development. Surprisingly, the apartments on the edge of the park were expected to have the lowest desirability because of the expected noise and disruption from numerous annual events in the park. In fact, those units became the most desired, with a front-row seat to the action. (There were a few Kaboomtowns we spent on those patios!)
The streets were designed in hierarchy from thoroughfare to semi-private Mews. Mews streets are few and far between in D-FW (a few in Uptown, with a new one just being finished on Crowdus St. in Deep Ellum) and it created some difficulties defining maintenance responsibility for the over-street lighting and benches in the public right-of-way, but it was all sorted out and it created some really beautiful spaces.
The close quarters between public and private space in these developments necessitates some intentional design choices to ensure seclusion of private space. An 18′ span of curb-to-building right-of-way for public sidewalks, semi-private hedges, and private patios and porches creates layers of separation. In Addison Circle, the raised slab on some buildings created a grade separation so visitors on the sidewalk aren’t looking directly into someone’s bedroom. It added a 30 percent premium but accomplishes the goal. Now designers arrange interior layout with kitchen and living room close to the public realm and private bedrooms in the interior.
If you’ve studied the retail experience at Addison Circle you probably think it’s somewhat of a failure, especially along the east esplanade. Story has it though that the decision was made mid-project to convert the ground-floor residential to retail because the retail along the circle leased so quickly. Parking hadn’t been planned nor the space designed to accommodate retail, but an executive decision by an unqualified contractor made the change. Funny how these things don’t always go as planned.
Occasionally, things work out better than planned, like the building above. It’s one of the few truly mixed use buildings that include more than 2 uses. The first story is retail, with office above and shared elevators with the residential above. It creates a lively atmosphere with spontaneous interruptions, like dogs being chased through the office by their owners! Rarely would a lender be willing to finance such an unusual arrangement, but in this case the bank was also the owner and the tenant.
This 23rd Congress for the New Urbanism in D-FW may have been the best Congress yet. It was definitely pivotal — the first CNU conference brought OUT of the conference center and ONTO Main Street. And the first year to instate Local Legacy Charrettes to leave a bit of CNU behind in the local host city, giving Garland, Burleson, Dallas and Forth Worth the tools to begin their evolution. And we can’t forget that Gatsby Dallas finished renovating and opened its rooftop dance club for us.
Dallas, it’s the dawning of a new era. CNU, thanks for being a part of our transformation.