The Deep Ellum district in downtown Dallas is home to a vibrant arts and entertainment scene. (Photo: Steve Rainwater via Creative Commons)

The January release of “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Dallas-Fort Worth” happened quietly, though the implications for investment are huge.

This is the largest study done on D-FW on the most profitable type of real estate in the nation. Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs) are seeing higher property values, lower vacancy, and commanding higher rental rates. Even through the last recession, WalkUPs saw lower vacancy and quicker leasing rates than places designed in a primarily drivable sub-urban orientation.

Walkable Urban Places are also proving to be the most economically, socially, environmentally, and even psychologically beneficial type of real estate.

The report, assembled by a team of researchers from George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, identifies the places in DFW that exemplify this national trend. The study delves into the key indicators for successful Established WalkUPs and the Emerging WalkUP markets ripe for investment.


A playground in the middle of a pedestrian street in Historic Downtown Boulder, Colorado, is only this desolate at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Photo by Staff

The recent D Magazine special edition on Walkable New Urbanism has us all thinking about how Dallas could, or will game this trend. As real estate and design professionals, we all have an opinion, and likely some education we paid good money on for this topic. It’s not, however, easy to see where our skills translate to “making a difference.”

Cue the American Institute for Architecture and their “Architecture On Tap” series. Last month’s event focused on how we can go about impacting our communities, with a panel of experts to discuss: Zaida Basora, VP of Huitt Zollar and former Assistant Director of Public Works at the City of Dallas; John Hetzel, real estate broker with Madison Partners and Deep Ellum Foundation Board Member; and Evan Sheets, Senior Planner with the City of Dallas Design Studio.

From this diverse group of professionals we heard one rallying call: Show up.


Valton and Jennifer Morgan with their son at Klyde Warren Park.

When you hear of someone moving to Uptown you probably assume, like me, it’s not because it will save them money. And not because it’s a great place to raise kids. For Jennifer Morgan and her family, though, both of those proved to be true. She and her husband and son are are saving money, are happier than ever, and are even finally planning a long-anticipated family vacation.

It all started with a spreadsheet of family expenses — and the recognition that life was not as satisfying as they’d planned. Jennifer had worked in Uptown for 13 years and her husband, Valton, had begun working in Uptown about 2.5 years ago. Which meant they both commuted almost an hour and a half, each way, to their home near Frisco. Even though they worked in the same area, their son’s school schedule made it impossible to carpool.

By the time they got home, their 8-year-old son had been at school or daycare all day and was over sitting still, over doing homework, and was a rowdy, moody handful. And they had just enough time for dinner, bath, and bed. They missed spending quality time with their son. And each other.

But it was this spreadsheet (after the jump) that convinced them to seriously consider making a move — then every other question mark fell into place one by one, better than they could’ve imagined.


ribbon cutting

Ribbon Cutting for the new playground at Griggs Park. Nolan Marshall stands with Katy Slade, Philip Kingston, Paul Simms and his daughter.

“Griggs Park is one of the features that makes Uptown more sustainable. Uptown has a tendency to over-invest in private infrastructure and under-invest in public infrastructure,”noted District 14 Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston at the Tuesday ribbon cutting of Griggs Park’s new playground. “This will soften the hard edges that tend to be created in high-density neighborhoods.” 


Traffic 2

On Jan. 4, medical journal The Lancet published the results of a Canadian study linking living near major roadways to increasing incidence of dementia.  On the upside, they were also interested in any links with Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, but found no correlation. The study received assistance from Public Health Ontario (PHO) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) along with scientists from the University of Toronto, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, Oregon State University, and Health Canada.

The team, led by Dr. Hong Chen, sampled adults living in the province of Ontario between 20-50 years old and those between 55-85 years old beginning in 2001 (6.6 million total). Participants had none of the neurological ailments at the time the study began. Residential location and proximity to major roadways was derived from post code addresses beginning five years prior to the start of the study (1996). Major roadways are defined as tollways, highways, and the like.

As the study progressed, incidences of each disease were verified with provincial health agencies.

The results marry together the data, while excluding unrelated causes (things like diabetes, obesity, smoking, brain injury, and poverty … income is a factor in overall health).


Dallas Commuter Rail

WIth four different trains and a total of 93 miles of track, DART really IS the biggest light rail operator in the country.

By Hayley Enoch
Special Contributor

To many, public transportation is a fixture of large Eastern cities like New York or Washington, D.C.

It might come as a surprise to learn that Dallas Area Rapid Transit holds its own when measured against more established public transportation systems. Let’s take a look at why DART’s system is unique, and how it is essential to the future of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.


Sprawl 1

The last 70 years of urban planning were a colossal mistake that we’re all suffering with and are only just beginning to unravel.

Pretty bold claim, eh? Maybe I’m having an Urban Land Institute convention hangover, but think about it:  The post WWII suburbanization of America led to a long-term evacuation of major cities.  It was in the post-war era that Dallas’ once vibrant downtown began its death spiral into a 9-to-5 office park. It was the post-war era that saw the rise of strip centers, malls, and most recently big box stores that all sucked the life out of towns of all sizes across the nation.

“Drive until you can afford it,” was the jingle to home buyers for many bedroom communities right up to the recession.

Now, 70 years after that horrible experiment began, what are we seeing?  Manufactured Main Streets filled with the exact same dense, mixed-use, vibrancy once enjoyed in cities and small towns everywhere. We’re turning back the clock to the way people have lived for millennia.  Every human settlement since … forever … has centralized its services and clustered living. No one visits Venice or Machu Picchu to see the suburbs.


Dallas Arts District: Empty by Day

Dallas Arts District: Empty by Day

There’s always a second side to a coin.  While some of the sessions at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) meeting were inspiring, others demonstrated developers’ tone-deafness to the world around them. While proud of their achievements, few reflected on the effects of their developments.

“The Uptown Lowdown: Dallas’ Hottest Urban Market”

I suspect even the dead know how hot Uptown Dallas has become. It’s so hot, the area can even shell out for world-class architects, something Dallas skyline hasn’t seen in decades. In the 1980s every other architectural word seemed to be I.M. Pei or Philip Johnson.  In the decades since, our skyline has been shaped seemingly by graduates of box-building school.

Crescent Court Lot an "Arrow" to the Future of Uptown

Crescent Court Lot an “Arrow” to the Future of Uptown

Crescent Development points out that the newly opened McKinney and Olive building, designed by Cesar Pelli, is “the first internationally acclaimed architect to design a commercial building in Dallas since the 1980s.”  Not coincidentally, in 1986 Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed the Crescent Court, which kick-started the commercial transformation of Uptown.  Sitting on a triangular lot, the Crescent seems to be pointing the way out of downtown.

And don’t get me wrong, Uptown has been a great story of urban renewal that has extended the core of Dallas northward.  But at the same time, listening to the stories of its birth were squirmy.  Attracting initial residents was difficult, as is often the case when downtrodden areas are renewed (we fear the poor). But the indifference and mocking of the area’s original residents was discomforting.

And again, I’m fine with mocking Uptown as having been full of used car lots, antique stores, and tarot card readers … they’re businesses.  But listening to the derision towards the residents who’d called Uptown home was distasteful.  We heard about developers cutting deals with “crack heads” on the corner and “showing apartments while stepping over chalk outlines on the sidewalks.” All of this seemed to be code for the people of color who lived in Uptown before the area was whitewashed by development.

Before you get in a snit, talk of crack heads and chalk outlines does not bring to mind white neighborhoods.  It also doesn’t bring to mind middle or upper class neighborhoods. I didn’t live in Dallas at the time, but I knew what the speakers meant.  Poor, black people.