Thursday, January 8, 2015

Center of Dallas is Now in Richardson

Professional urban designer (and unprofessional gadfly) Patrick Kennedy makes an audacious claim about Dallas in the D Magazine blog StreetSmart:
My fundamental point of this work and one I make over and over again in my various presentations is that we’ve been applying suburban thinking to the downtown area, which has in effect, forced it to compete with the suburbs. That’s a fight it cannot win. And has effectively suburbanized it (while ruralizing South Dallas as Peter Simek has correctly pointed out) as the center of town has shifted to swaths of 635 and 75 up through Plano. The center of town is no longer Dallas, but the North Dallas border.
Source: StreetSmart.
Kennedy doesn't say by what measure the center of town has moved north (population? economic activity? traffic? world classiness?), so it's impossible to confirm or falsify the audacious claim. But Kennedy is the unofficial leader of the "tear down IH345" movement in Dallas as well as a member in good standing of the "Kill The Trinity Tollroad Project." He makes a living from this stuff (or, if not from his gadfly work for D Magazine, at least from other stuff related to urban design). So, when he says, "I do know cities," we probably ought to listen. So, let's make him king for a day and just assume he does know what he's talking about. Let's just assume he's right -- the center of Dallas is now somewhere in or near Richardson -- and consider the implications.

Kennedy takes it for granted that Dallasites ought not to be happy that the center of town has shifted north. That that's a bad thing. That Dallasites should do something to drag that center of town back down to the south. If they succeed, wouldn't future Richardsonites lament losing the center of town, just like Dallasites do now? (That's a rhetorical question -- the answer in the case of this exercise is, hell yes).

There can't be two centers of one town. The implication of Kennedy's assertion is that Richardson needs to realize it's in a battle with Dallas for the center of town.

The two cities start out with some similar advantages/disadvantages. The population densities of Dallas (3645/sq mi) and Richardson (3612/sq mi) are essentially the same. Both have large daytime populations commuting to the city for daily work. Dallas has a ring of freeways strangling its center of town. Richardson has a grid of freeways slicing and dicing it.

There are Richardsonites who resist the "urbanization" of Richardson. Kennedy warns, "The de-urbanization of downtown [Dallas] is what has led to the decades of disinvestment, decay, and the near impossible odds of bringing the urban core back to life." He recommends that Dallasites adopt a strategy of "prioritizing proximity and infill densification within say a three mile radius of downtown. That means prioritizing transit and walkability." If Dallas succeeds in pulling the center of town away from Richardson, it will be Richardson's turn to face decades of disinvestment and decay, just like Dallas did before as the center of town shifted north. The smart response by Richardsonites is to steal a page from Kennedy's playbook in order to hold the center of town in Richardson. Densification. Transit. Walkability. Unless Richardson does that, it will become Dallas. And who wants that?

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