A few weeks ago this nice fellow from Curbed.com, Patrick Sisson, contacted me to talk Dallas real estate and the biggest changes in the city from my perspective. We could have spoken for hours. It was hard to pick a single favorite or “best” dense new urban area, though I gushed on about Bishop Arts, Preston Center, Uptown, The Design District, Deep Ellum, the potential for Valley View/Midtown and Fair Park, once politics got out of the way. I think he did a wonderful, thorough job of reporting on the growing pains we cover every day here on CandysDirt when it comes to
Dallas North Texas real estate.
See, I did it, too. I said Dallas, when the reality is that, as he wrote, Dallas is the epicenter of a booming region:
The epicenter of the Metroplex—a constellation of cities, including Fort Worth, that saw its population grow 35 percent between 2000 and 2014 and added 717,000 jobs—Dallas, and its surrounding cities and suburbs, is swelling with new arrivals from coastal cities and other countries. The region is constantly evolving and reinventing itself.
But oh do we have growing pains. We have a near constant battle between the business brains who have traditionally run the city (The Dallas Citizen’s Council) and the progressives here and moving in, who bring with them new, fresh ideas from other lands. (One reason why I ran for Dallas City Council this spring.) Patrick captured the ying and yang of it all so well, quoting the right people (I helped him a bit there) and dousing liberally with Mark Lamster and my friend Joel Kotkin:
“Dallas is especially confusing and contradictory,” Lamster says. “We’re making efforts to change it, but it’s hard to turn around an ocean liner.”
Well, human beings are contradictory. But I wouldn’t call it turning an ocean liner: more like a floating refinery.
What he did deftly was tie up our movement thus far to vertical, dense, walkable growth. In other words, a real city. Preston Center readers take note: “A survey conducted by the Congress for the New Urbanism found that 68 percent of Dallas residents want to live in walkable neighborhoods with clusters of stores and other amenities reachable by foot—but only 4 percent of the metro area’s geography qualifies.”
Only FOUR PERCENT! I told Patrick we would get there, if the residents will let us, but with more “depots” of these clusters, such as Bishop Arts, Deep Ellum, Uptown (getting pretty darn heavily clustered there), The Arts District, Preston Center and hopefully, someday, Midtown at the old Valley View Mall.
We also talked about the problems Dallas faces with the homeless, with a dearth of affordable housing, and schools — Bethany is kicking me to remind that our public schools are really great in some areas. The suburbs don’t have those issues, so they can put on their best Dior lipstick and pull out their Louise Vuitton wallets to attract corporations, a la Toyota and State Farm.
And I told him that, once the car seats are strapped into the car, many young people still choose to live in those suburbs. And they are really nice! Some of our best planned developments in Frisco/Proper have their own community schools amid a sea of affordable real estate! And if the jobs are up there, well, there’s your growth.
Talk about walkable, how walkable does a city have to be before parents will forgo owning a car to haul all the paraphenalia that a kid or two requires and push strollers in neighborhoods with bumpy, broken roads and no sidewalks? Can strollers go in bike lanes?
Recently, I had a Facebook convo on how much better downtown Fort Worth is than downtown Dallas. I told Patrick this, too. The reason, I said, was that there was only one wealthy FW family (the Basses) to run the show. Sometimes being the benevolent dictator is more efficient than having a group of wealthy families battle it out, as we do in Dallas, their bets placed on various city council members. But downtown Fort Worth is also better planned and laid-out than downtown Dallas, which is on an angle of sorts hugging the re-jiggered Trinity. I cannot compare Dallas platting to my city of birth, Chicago, which is the most sensibly laid out city in the world, a grid that ends at the lake. Chicago had the big fire, and a chance to build it better. Dallas does lack the “great bones”, as Jason Roberts put it —
Other big U.S. cities have it easier. “New York and San Francisco have great bones,” Roberts says. “But in Dallas, we have to fix the bones, too.”
Which is really one of our biggest handicaps. There is so much remediation needed, like the highways that were so thoughtlessly thrown up at such great cost, back when we worshipped the car, but also back when Dallas was more of an elegant, snazzy little city known as the birthplace of Neiman Marcus or… the other. That’s all I could think of when I met my first Dallas citizen: she is so elegant, she has Neimans in her backyard.
But that also means we try a little harder.
Patrick interviewed great people, in my opinion, the right people: Brandon Castillo, a St. Mark’s grad and sometimes contributor to CandysDirt.com, the aforementioned Mark Lamster (he’s OK for a Harvard guy) and Jason Roberts. He also reached out to those darling Anderson brothers at Larkspur Capital. They have changed East Dallas so much a Realtor recently told me it is no longer considered a transitional or a “pioneer ‘hood” because the area has turned, mostly because of Larkspur. (We were early admirers.)
He talked to my heart throb Monte Anderson, who helped turn Oak Cliff organically — as it should be:
“Is it a world-class city if you have a big, shiny building or bridge right next to a neighborhood where kids don’t have a basketball court to play on, or where somebody can’t afford health insurance? I don’t want to fix it fast. I don’t want to run the drug dealers off. I want to help them become entrepreneurs.”
Well, entrepreneurs outside of drug-dealing.
And he talked to Zad Roumaya, the former tech investor who runs Buzzworks, creator of Digit 1919, a transit-oriented development on South Akard Street at the Cedars DART stop, a development that will totally re-make that neighborhood. (Stay tuned.)
I wish he had also had time to speak to Bill Hutchinson of Dunhill Partners and owner of the Dallas Design District, where Virgin is building the first Virgin Hotel in Dallas and one of my favorite pioneering hoods. Or Mehrdad Moayedi, who I think is playing an enormous role in saving downtown Dallas by remaking the mess that was the old Statler Hilton (hey, I walked it before) into a total showplace where there will actually be shows. And now, ditto, the Cabana Hotel, this urban zest despite being the largest raw land developer in the region. I love that as Mehrdad’s Centurion American is selling to mortgage holders in the sprawling boonies as well as baby boomer verticals, he is a major player in density development: he bought The Stoneleigh out of bankruptcy, and has residential at the Statler. He’s a major participant in the changing new Dallas, as well as the region.
And I bet Mehrdad is not a member of the Dallas Citizen’s Council.
Still, we have a long ways to go. Our Jon Anderson, who covers (among other things) Dallas high-rise life in architectural and social terms, says “Dallas is an eight crayon town in a 96 crayon world.” Jon thirsts for beautiful, unique architecture to make its way to Dallas and he (and I) won’t stop until it does.
From a 30-year high-rise hiatus to boring buildings left, right, and center, and our repetitive tapping of the same architects, Dallas, it would seem, loves a rut. Well, I don’t …
That’s what fresh new blood will do for you, and that is why, even though we have to re-do so much of the bad design and ideas we have inherited (underground tunnels anyone?) we also have the grit to do it over and over ’till we get it right.
Finally, even Joel Kotkin, whom I have written for, and who has a total crush on Houston, had nice things to say about Dallas:
“It doesn’t hurt to have an economy that’s booming and a lot of land to develop,” says urbanist Joel Kotkin. “It allows Dallas to innovate and create a variety of housing that people in their 20s and 30s actually want. Compare that to California. You have people living with roommates at 35 who just turn and leave. Product just isn’t there at an affordable price.”
Yes, I have a kid living in Cali, how well I know. Dallas even eeked onto Joel’s list of the cities where a paycheck stretches the furthest — number 10. We might have wiped his girlfriend Houston out at number two (or beat Hartford for number 9) had we had better public transit.
But hold the faith! One of the biggest, and most sweeping changes that Dallas made this past year in real estate was in clearing the deck of the Dart Board. I may or may have not mentioned this to Patrick, but it is significant: we cleared out the dead wood who thought like 1970 and screamed “light rail”, brought in a thinking board who understands that Dallas needs help stat:
Attempts at remedying the sprawl have had mixed results. DART, the regional rapid-transit and light-rail system that started construction in the ’80s, famously boasts that it has the most miles of rail, 93, of any comparable agency in the country. But, spread out over the 13 cities that contribute funds for DART, it’s a mixed bag, with stations far from housing, low ridership, and holes in the service map where municipalities have refused to participate. “Transit is just miniscule in this city,” says Kotkin.
He is right. DART is a money sucker. Finally, something will be done. The brotherhood of 13 communities has yielded the same outcome the disparate owners of real estate surrounding the Preston Center garage have yielded in terms of progress: nada. Yet guess who contributes the most? Dallas. For the sake of real estate, we have to make Dallas accessible by more than just a car or pick-up. I agree with Carl Anderson, and I like the bridge:
Bishop Arts is what Evans is calling one of the city’s new “depot” areas, a flowering of stores, small businesses, and multifamily buildings around Dallas’s major intersections. After artsy shops and local restaurants and bakeries set the stage, multifamily projects have moved in, such as the $57 million mixed-use development by Alamo Manhattan. Anderson credits these changes to new form-based zoning, the improved accessibility created by the addition of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity River, as well as the extension of the streetcar line.
“What’s driving development is increased accessibility,” he says.
So there you have it, and I think we are on the way. Tell us what you think, if you agree, or disagree, and share if you like.