Monday, June 17, 2013

Richardson: Suburb or City?

Off and on for a long time, I've blogged about what I call my quixotic dream to rip up Central Expressway through Richardson and replace it with a people-scaled grand boulevard or central park. I call it quixotic because I know it will never come true. Dallas and Plano and Allen and McKinney would never, ever, allow it. So, my calls to tear out Central in Richardson are mainly aimed at provoking thought. I'm playing devil's advocate in an attempt to get people not to reflexively think that adding lanes is the solution to all traffic problems. And when they do add lanes anyway, I want to get them to do it in a way that's least disruptive to the street networks and community the freeway passes through.

Last week, Rodger Jones, editorial writer of The Dallas Morning News, wrote about my quixotic dream on the News' transportation blog. He paired my attention to Central Expressway in Richardson with the attention that is being given to tearing out IH-345 in downtown Dallas. Patrick Kennedy, the CarFreeInBigD guy behind the calls for the IH-345 tear-out, ripped Rodger Jones but left me alone (I think -- Kennedy rambles a lot).

I'm going to overlook most of what Kennedy said because he focused on IH-345, but I do want to respond to one thing he said about suburban freeways. After the jump.

Kennedy describes the history and function of suburban freeways:
We're not espousing tearing out freeways in the suburbs because the suburbs are built on the logic of the freeway. They are dependent upon them, structured around them, and the growth is adapted to them. This is why we bothered to dig up the Presidential memorandum quoting President Eisenhower. There is a key distinction between intra-city highways and inner-city highways. As Jane Jacobs wrote, big infrastructure is for going to big places. You take the highway TO Dallas from points yonder. You take city streets TO your job, to the store, to small destinations from small destinations like your home. You don't take highways THROUGH cities, which end up being destructive to the fine-grained networks and urban fabric of social and economic connections of streets and blocks.
I understand the history here. When Central Expressway was built, Richardson was nothing. Central Expressway made possible the development of Richardson as a bedroom community. But that simple characterization of early Richardson as a commuter town was never entirely complete. Just as the construction of Central Expressway attracted commuters to Richardson, it also attracted manufacturers. Richardson grew up around Collins Radio and Texas Instruments as much as it grew up around Central Expressway. Richardson grew into a major employment hub -- Telecom Corridor and all that -- until today more people drive *into* Richardson for work each day than leave it.

So, my problem with Kennedy's taxonomy of intra-city highways vs inter-city highways is that it leaves no possibility for a city like Richardson to ever escape its history as a suburb. Central Expressway must remain forever a conduit for people to get to Dallas from "points yonder." In Kennedy's hierarchy of privilege, people have a perpetual right to drive THROUGH Richardson to get TO Dallas, but they don't have a right to drive THROUGH Dallas.

Kennedy says this is because the suburbs are dependent upon freeways, structured around them, and their growth is adapted to them. Does history have to be destiny? What path does Kennedy offer to a suburb growing out of its history to become a city in its own right? If the day hasn't already arrived, then the day is coming when further expansion of Central Expressway will be as much an obstacle to Richardson's growth as it is a catalyst. Maybe it's too early to be talking of tearing out Central Expressway in Richardson, but it's surely not too early to begin structuring that freeway's growth around Richardson's needs and not the other way around.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

You are correct in your critique. Suburbs have already changed. One phrase that is used Post-suburban. Richardson entered in a post-suburban phase a number of years ago.

This shows the weaknesses in the rhetoric in some urban planning sub-cultures. There is a decidedly anti-suburban prejudice. There is more than a fair share of dismissal of the suburbs as a way of life and often there is too much painting with the proverbial "broad brush." Kennedy is guilty of that in his commentary.

He simply doesn't recognize the unique problem that Richardsons of the world confront: How do we realize a more urban nature as the city evolves while taking advantage of the aged and matured suburban nature without destroying it?
- A. Laska