Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

If the last year is any indication, 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for real estate development in Downtown Dallas.

This is according to downtown advocates, urban planners, and real estate and development experts, who gathered Friday to talk about city living in downtown at a panel, sponsored by the Dallas Business Journal.

Moderated by John Crawford, President and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., an advocacy group for Downtown Dallas, the panel shared candid insights into past successes, lessons learned, and where the area is headed in the future.

“There’s a pretty distinct spirit and energy in Downtown Dallas and we’ve reached a point of permanency, as far as what downtown has become,” said Crawford. “Residentially, we continue to be about 94 percent occupancy in all the buildings that have been converted and the new construction and depending on who you talk to, we have between 6,000 and 8,000 units under construction from 2015 to 2017. There’s an urban lifestyle that is continuing to catch on down here.”

Panelists included Theresa O’Donnell, Chief Planning Officer for the city of Dallas; Yogi Patil, an Associate at HKS Architects Inc.; Steve Shepherd of the Downtown Residents Council; and Michael Tregoning, President of Headington Company. Jump to read more!

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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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This is kind of surprising to those of us who think of Dallas as one great big urban sprawl, everyone living on half acre lots or on ranches. We are actually pretty dense and getting more dense. A U.S. Census Bureau report on urban population density shows that the D/FW area’s density of 1,112 people per square mile is actually higher than many eastern, old-growth urban cities. Like Philly. Who’d have thunk it? Here’s how we stack up:

— Austin  (1,006 people/square mile)

— Houston (1,150 people/square mile)

— Philadelphia (1,060 people/square mile)

— Boston ((862)

— Detroit (1,078)

— Cleveland (891)

— Pittsburgh (740)

— Cincinnati (796)

— Milwaukee (974)

— Columbus (1,035)

— Indianapolis (814)

— Providence (844)

–Atlanta (659)

The nation’s most densely populated urbanized area is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., with nearly 7,000 people per square mile. The San Francisco-Oakland, Calif., area is the second most densely populated at 6,266 people per square mile, followed by San Jose, Calif. (5,820 people per square mile) and Delano, Calif. (5,483 people per square mile). The New York-Newark, N.J., area is fifth, with an overall density of 5,319 people per square mile.Of course, Chicago, New York and San Francisco remain much more dense than Dallas but still, this is interesting. Interestingly, some of those are also cities where Case Shiller shows real estate values are lower than low, cities like Detroit and Cleveland, which is losing much of its core population.

Other interesting facts: of the nation’s four census regions, the West remains most urban, with 89.8 percent of its population residing within urban areas, followed by the Northeast, at 85.0 percent. The Midwest and South continue to have lower percentages of urban population than the nation as a whole, with rates of 75.9 and 75.8, respectively.