Dusk Skyline

Past, meet future.

It’s just incredible how often we think and talk about the destiny of our city and how it is tied to the Trinity River. The discussion we’re having about this natural resource that bisects Dallas, some of them behind closed doors, isn’t a new one. In fact, we’ve been talking about the Trinity River’s influence since at least 1967, when Rob Perryman, an Austin writer and photographer, took 8,000 photos of our downtown and turned them into a narrated 40-minute movie called “The Walls Are Rising.” It was a commision of the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, whose goal was to spur development through awareness.

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Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater via a Creative Commons license

Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater via Creative Commons

When I learned to drive in the 90s, my dad had two big rules: Don’t run out of gas and don’t drive anywhere near Downtown Dallas, particularly at night.

We were suburban dwellers, used to wide streets, manicured lawns, and regularly scheduled trash pickups. Much of Downtown Dallas was gritty and graffitied, all business by day, and practically vacant at night, except for the club scene in Deep Ellum and restaurants in the West End Historic District.

It’s not just downtown that was affected—for decades, people have been moving to the suburbs in Dallas and across the country. For example, nationally, the suburbs grew at an annual average rate of 1.38 percent, compared to 0.42 percent for primary cities between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data and research by population analysts.

But that trend appears to be reversing in the past four years. Since 2010, primary cities with populations of 100,000 or more outgrew suburbs each year, according to research by William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

Dallas is part of that trend. Certainly, many our suburbs like Frisco are seeing unprecedented growth. But our urban core—the 15 districts that make up Downtown Dallas—has seen a radical transformation as people and businesses move back downtown. 

Case in point: in 2000, the Central Business District population, one of those 15 districts, was just 14,654. It is predicted to grow to 33,139 residents in 2015, and 59,337 in 2030.  

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Will Alex Krieger's vision of a narrow, four-lane parkway next to the Trinity River win over a massive toll road?

Will Alex Krieger’s vision of a narrow, four-lane parkway next to the Trinity River win over a massive toll road?

Last week, the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects took a couple of days to really home in on the challenges that Dallas must overcome to be a sustainable and attractive city in the long term. A city that can compete with other areas that offer more holistic transportation solutions in an urban environment. Those lofty goals were all addressed at the organization’s Mobility Summit.

Long a car-centric city, the next generation of Dallas residents are upending the long-held belief that commuting is a forgone conclusion, measuring distance in hours door-to-door. Instead, more and more thinkers are looking critically at Dallas and our eight-lane highways, our toll roads, and our elevated high-speed thoroughfares.

As usual, Robert Wilonsky (who, I swear writes 99 percent of the copy on the Dallasnews.com site) did a fabulous job breaking down the big issues and discussions at the event, and the breakthroughs brought on by gathering so many people passionate about Dallas’ design future. The most impact was felt by Harvard professor and urban planner Alex Krieger, a co-author of Dallas’ Balanced Vision Plan, when he backed off his support of a road within the levees of the Trinity River.

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A New Dallas

As you’ve no doubt heard, there’s a movement afoot to tear down Highway 345 — a stretch of elevated asphalt that spans from Deep Ellum and north to Woodall Rogers Freeway. Doing so, proponents claim, will connect the east side of the city center to downtown and create a more walkable environment.

I’m all for more walkable neighborhoods, especially in our urban core, but I do want to know how we can make this work when projections show that the population of Dallas will double in a matter of a few decades, putting strain on our housing inventory and transportation infrastructure. Basically, just tearing down a highway isn’t going to cut it.

The Vision

We should be thinking about density with a more connected mass transit system, and I think that’s the main selling point for demolishing the highway. Not only will it bring a slower thoroughfare through downtown, but it will also create more real estate that can be developed into mixed-use buildings, as well as offering a hub for bringing back the streetcar to downtown Dallas (and yes, we should definitely bring streetcars back). We’ll need massive reinvestment in transportation and infrastructure to make it work, but where will the money come from?

What do you think of the plan?

 

 

A New Dallas

As you’ve no doubt heard, there’s a movement afoot to tear down Highway 345 — a stretch of elevated asphalt that spans from Deep Ellum and north to Woodall Rogers Freeway. Doing so, proponents claim, will connect the east side of the city center to downtown and create a more walkable environment.

I’m all for more walkable neighborhoods, especially in our urban core, but I do want to know how we can make this work when projections show that the population of Dallas will double in a matter of a few decades, putting strain on our housing inventory and transportation infrastructure. Basically, just tearing down a highway isn’t going to cut it.

The Vision

We should be thinking about density with a more connected mass transit system, and I think that’s the main selling point for demolishing the highway. Not only will it bring a slower thoroughfare through downtown, but it will also create more real estate that can be developed into mixed-use buildings, as well as offering a hub for bringing back the streetcar to downtown Dallas (and yes, we should definitely bring streetcars back). We’ll need massive reinvestment in transportation and infrastructure to make it work, but where will the money come from?

What do you think of the plan?