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Downtown Dallas

Jack Gosnell: Living in the Gaps between Perception and Reality

When I am able to convince people that I meet or know to venture downtown with me, the result is stunning. These folks become almost evangelical about the energy and excitement of what they witness. On the other hand, those who have not been downtown for a decade, knowingly or not, are caught in the cultural bias, without even being aware of it.
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Jack Gosnell

We are driven by our emotions and perceptions more than our logic, which is why in real estate we always say, “Perception is reality.” This is and always has been the fact; it is also a trailing indicator, as perceptions are based upon the past and most frequently behind the curve in our ever-changing cities. These emotional constructs and attitudes tend to defy changing by argument, and are hard to sway.

The collective consciousness of a community is a dense/thick well of opinion, self-fulfilling prophesy, prejudice, fear, guilt, and experiences that influence many of our daily patterns—both social and commercial.

Years ago, while showing space to a restaurateur, I asked him why he could never give me a spontaneous opinion on a given location but would provide feedback the next day. He said, “I have to ask my mother.” He explained that her generation has a complete set of opinions on just about everything based on their experiences and prejudices. Not wanting to lose any potential customers, the restaurateur listened to her opinions.

She would turn left but not right at certain intersections. One block would be fine, but not the next three blocks. Her rationale for these was no longer sound, but the absorbed or inherited opinions were firm in her mind. Since then I have seen this phenomenon many times. But recently I have been confounded by attitudes about our downtown—held mostly by those who don’t know about the incredible developments under way in our inner city.

Downtown Dallas is currently living in the seam between perception and reality. When I am able to convince people that I meet or know to venture downtown with me, the result is stunning. These folks become almost evangelical about the energy and excitement of what they witness. On the other hand, those who have not been downtown for a decade, knowingly or not, are caught in the cultural bias, without even being aware of it.

Perception trumps reality, unless a new and relevant personal experience replaces the outdated personal or collective bias and memory. Neither anecdote, memory, nor opinion are substitutes for personal experience.

The progress and commitment that I have seen in the last two years in downtown Dallas is truly remarkable. We all know the list: the Art’s District, restaurants, convention center hotel, restaurants, etc., driven by both the public sector and massive personal and financial investments by the private sector. The paradigm shift is not just imminent, it is already here.

I have worked toward the revival of downtown Dallas as a volunteer and as a real estate professional for the past 20 years. As an advocate, I frequently find myself frustrated by misconceptions that are outdated and more myth than reality. My frustration transcends the fact that many Dallasites are in denial about the vital necessity of redeveloping a vibrant Downtown to compete in the global marketplace, but is more deeply rooted in the  absorbed biases have not been rationally derived.

I know that most RealPoints readers are supporters of downtown. We are fortunate to have a mayor, Downtown Dallas Inc., and hundreds of volunteers working daily to address issues critical to the revival of an exciting inner city—a clear indication that many new residential, commercial, and civic projects are forthcoming.

The challenge remains for each of us living in Dallas is to take a step toward downtown. The greatest impact now rests in our redrafting the mythology of our downtown to match its new reality. So, perhaps individual invitation is the way to begin eroding the wall of opinion. If you like the Koolaid, serve up some by inviting someone to join you. If the route to broader acceptance of our inner city is by individual contact, convert by convert, then please take a trip downtown for lunch, dinner, a concert, a convention, or a visit to the new Woodall Rodgers Park when it opens later this year.

Be both critic and advocate, but be the catalyst. One of the simple realities of cities is that they are in the end as much a collection of perceptions and experiences, as they are collection of buildings and spaces.

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