Addison7

The iconic roundabout namesake of Addison Circle. The story of its design, below…

By Amanda Popken
Special Contributor

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.

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OCTA Group Shot

Dallas City Manager AC Gonzales stands with Luis Salcedo, Sylvia Salcedo, Councilman Scott Griggs, Jason Roberts, former OC Chamber President Bob Stimson along with board members and friends of the Oak Cliff Transit Authority.

The story of a neighborhood’s resurgence is always unique, but chances are it begins with the work of a handful of dedicated residents. North Oak Cliff‘s recent redevelopment has been just short of dramatic — and this month’s opening of the OC Streetcar may be the most impactful development yet.

It might appear to outsiders as though the trolly came as a blessing bestowed by City Hall or by the award of a federal grant, but in reality it was accomplished as most change happens — by a handful of dedicated residents.

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Fort Worth Sundance SquareMeet Russ Sikes. The Plano resident –yes, Plano! — is a founding member of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, or CNU, which advocates principles of good “place-making” as a key to improving our quality of life. Good “place-making” makes for a better environment. Actually, over drinks Russ told me he and his wife used to live off Greenville Avenue in Dallas. He moved to Plano like so many do, for reasonable housing and decent schools.

Which is why I really like Russ: he’s real. Never mind the fact that a couple hours with the Harvard-MBA, who is VP at Regal Research and Manufacturing Co. in Plano, flashed me back to the richness of social discourse in Harvard Yard. Russ was refreshingly not one of those “new urbanists” who wants us all to dump our cars in a landfill and scrunch into the city, live on top of 1500 others like cockroaches in two rooms. “New Urbanist” sometimes has made me think of the post-war scene in Dr. Zhivago, when Yuri returns to Moscow.  Through Russ and Andres Duany I am learning the the Congress for the New Urbanism wants to make our lives more WORKABLE, not necessarily all WALKABLE. Good neighborhoods require planning to create complete, compact, efficient and connected spaces, a variety of housing types, and integrate other building uses. The traditional town pattern was created by humans centuries before the automobile; cars, God love them, have changed a lot of the natural place-making.

When I told Russ that though I love our fair city, I just don’t think downtown Dallas is very walkable (especially in heels!), but downtown Fort Worth IS, he explained why. Herewith is Russ Sikes’ first great guest post:

A Tale of Two Cities

One vast metropolitan region anchored by two downtowns is certain to provoke constant comparison between them.

How often have you heard, “Downtown Fort Worth is improving, but I ADORE downtown Dallas!”  Never? Me neither.

Considering how thoroughly subjective aesthetic preferences are, this is interesting in itself, for it suggests an underlying consensus in our preferences concerning “place”.

What those shared preferences are, and why they exist, is central to understanding how we can make all of our urban places more appealing.

Several principles underpin this consistent response.Fort Worth bike trail

 SpatialDefinition

We humans are hard-wired to feel most comfortable in places with identifiable centers and edges.  Throughout all of human history prior to the recent rise of mechanized transport, centers have offered safety and security, while edges presented danger and uncertainty.   Be it a neighborhood, town center, complete village, or simply a distinct district, our inclination is to seek orientation by locating the centermost spot in any environment, and to look outward for its boundaries.  Identifiable centers and edges create psychological comfort.  The compact size, palpable center and tight contours of downtown Fort Worth create a tighter identity of place than Dallas’ diffused, distended collection of downtown places.

Visibility, Access and Egressdowntown fort worth at sunset, texas

Humans are also above all visual creatures.  We are most comfortable where we can actually see our surroundings, and routes of approach and escape.  (Who wants to venture down dark, enclosed alleys?)

Downtown Dallas is comprised of many buildings that are much taller than those of its smaller neighbor.  For all their virtues of impressive scale, skyscrapers tend to block light, or, in some rare cases, reflect it. They darken the streets below, as they form wind canyons that make Dallas colder and draftier than it would be with shorter buildings.  Cold and drafty versus warm and light explains the difference in feel, and one is clearly more appealing than the other.

This dimensional contrast extends horizontally as well.  Downtown Dallas tends to have very long blocks, especially along its east-west axis.  Its “superblocks” emphasize the canyon-like quality of the street.  In contrast, the short blocks and frequent intersections of downtown Fort Worth create a visual porosity that bathes the city in light, enabling people to see multiple pathways nearby.

 HumanScale and OrientationFort Worth court house

Openable windows suggest human activity and control.  Brick streets slow cars, calming traffic, and embrace us with warm color.  Frequent Intersections activate the street by providing corners, visibility, porosity, options, actively embracing pedestrians and thwarting the speed of vehicles.  In short, places scaled to our own physical size and approach are much more appealing than those that clearly aren’t.

The material composition of human places matters too.  Bricks, stone and other materials of natural color are warm and accommodating to humans.  Cool tinted glass, over-sized blocks of concrete or gray rock, and unnatural colors are less inviting.

Dallas has grander scale, bigger projects, a longer list of attractions.  But viewing the two downtowns through these lenses explains the uniformity of people’s emotional responses to each.  And it all adds up to a cohesive, welcoming, human Place in Fort Worth, versus a distended, diffused collection of adjacent spaces, colder in comfort, color and accommodation in Dallas.

Fort Worth Sundance SquareMeet Russ Sikes. The Plano resident –yes, Plano! — is a founding member of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, or CNU, which advocates principles of good “place-making” as a key to improving our quality of life. Good “place-making” makes for a better environment. Actually, over drinks Russ told me he and his wife used to live off Greenville Avenue in Dallas. He moved to Plano like so many do, for reasonable housing and decent schools.

Which is why I really like Russ: he’s real. Never mind the fact that a couple hours with the Harvard-MBA, who is VP at Regal Research and Manufacturing Co. in Plano, flashed me back to the richness of social discourse in Harvard Yard. Russ was refreshingly not one of those “new urbanists” who wants us all to dump our cars in a landfill and scrunch into the city, live on top of 1500 others like cockroaches in two rooms. “New Urbanist” sometimes has made me think of the post-war scene in Dr. Zhivago, when Yuri returns to Moscow.  Through Russ and Andres Duany I am learning the the Congress for the New Urbanism wants to make our lives more WORKABLE, not necessarily all WALKABLE. Good neighborhoods require planning to create complete, compact, efficient and connected spaces, a variety of housing types, and integrate other building uses. The traditional town pattern was created by humans centuries before the automobile; cars, God love them, have changed a lot of the natural place-making.

When I told Russ that though I love our fair city, I just don’t think downtown Dallas is very walkable (especially in heels!), but downtown Fort Worth IS, he explained why. Herewith is Russ Sikes’ first great guest post:

A Tale of Two Cities

One vast metropolitan region anchored by two downtowns is certain to provoke constant comparison between them.

How often have you heard, “Downtown Fort Worth is improving, but I ADORE downtown Dallas!”  Never? Me neither.

Considering how thoroughly subjective aesthetic preferences are, this is interesting in itself, for it suggests an underlying consensus in our preferences concerning “place”.

What those shared preferences are, and why they exist, is central to understanding how we can make all of our urban places more appealing.

Several principles underpin this consistent response.Fort Worth bike trail

 SpatialDefinition

We humans are hard-wired to feel most comfortable in places with identifiable centers and edges.  Throughout all of human history prior to the recent rise of mechanized transport, centers have offered safety and security, while edges presented danger and uncertainty.   Be it a neighborhood, town center, complete village, or simply a distinct district, our inclination is to seek orientation by locating the centermost spot in any environment, and to look outward for its boundaries.  Identifiable centers and edges create psychological comfort.  The compact size, palpable center and tight contours of downtown Fort Worth create a tighter identity of place than Dallas’ diffused, distended collection of downtown places.

Visibility, Access and Egressdowntown fort worth at sunset, texas

Humans are also above all visual creatures.  We are most comfortable where we can actually see our surroundings, and routes of approach and escape.  (Who wants to venture down dark, enclosed alleys?)

Downtown Dallas is comprised of many buildings that are much taller than those of its smaller neighbor.  For all their virtues of impressive scale, skyscrapers tend to block light, or, in some rare cases, reflect it. They darken the streets below, as they form wind canyons that make Dallas colder and draftier than it would be with shorter buildings.  Cold and drafty versus warm and light explains the difference in feel, and one is clearly more appealing than the other.

This dimensional contrast extends horizontally as well.  Downtown Dallas tends to have very long blocks, especially along its east-west axis.  Its “superblocks” emphasize the canyon-like quality of the street.  In contrast, the short blocks and frequent intersections of downtown Fort Worth create a visual porosity that bathes the city in light, enabling people to see multiple pathways nearby.

 HumanScale and OrientationFort Worth court house

Openable windows suggest human activity and control.  Brick streets slow cars, calming traffic, and embrace us with warm color.  Frequent Intersections activate the street by providing corners, visibility, porosity, options, actively embracing pedestrians and thwarting the speed of vehicles.  In short, places scaled to our own physical size and approach are much more appealing than those that clearly aren’t.

The material composition of human places matters too.  Bricks, stone and other materials of natural color are warm and accommodating to humans.  Cool tinted glass, over-sized blocks of concrete or gray rock, and unnatural colors are less inviting.

Dallas has grander scale, bigger projects, a longer list of attractions.  But viewing the two downtowns through these lenses explains the uniformity of people’s emotional responses to each.  And it all adds up to a cohesive, welcoming, human Place in Fort Worth, versus a distended, diffused collection of adjacent spaces, colder in comfort, color and accommodation in Dallas.