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Bob Voelker: An Audacious Plan for Downtown Dallas

Downtown Dallas has approximately 8,000 residents, and a goal to hit 13,000 by 2018. With changing demographics and a focus on urban living across the country, we need to set our sights higher.
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Bob Voelker
Bob Voelker

Melbourne, Australia grew its downtown residential population from less than 800 in 1993 to more than 100,000 today, in large part due to the leadership of world-renowned urban planner Jan Gehl, who helped turn Melbourne into a walkable, pedestrian paradise.

Meanwhile, downtown Dallas has approximately 8,000 residents within its four-freeway boundaries—which actually describes part of the problem—and our goal is 13,000 by 2018. We have the largest urban arts district in the United States and the country’s largest light rail system; everything is bigger here. This is Dallas, and with our can-do attitude and growing population base, surely we can aim higher?

This brings to mind the adage, “If you don’t shoot for the stars, you’ll never reach them.” If downtown Dallas continues to grow at the projected rate, it will barely be keeping pace with the growth of the remainder of the region (a.k.a., the suburbs). With changing demographics and a focus on urban living across the country, we need to set our sights higher. My suggestion: 25,000 residents by 2025; 50,000 by 2035; and 100,000 by 2050.

Imagine the obsolete or aging office buildings in the urban core that we could “redeploy” (in city speak, additional property tax value), the street life we could create, the surface parking lots that would disappear, the restaurants and clubs and grocery stores and retail stores needed to service these residents (“sales tax added”), etc.

Of course, this goal does not happen on its own—there is no “build the buildings and they will come.” Before we focus on more buildings, we need to focus on the street-level environment. What should we change to make downtown more livable, to make the city a place where more people want to linger?

But that’s a post for another day. For now let’s set audacious goals, then we can work out the tasks of realizing them. (For inspiration, read this Cities for People article.) Stay tuned for more.

Bob Voelker is a shareholder at Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC and vice president of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism. Follow his DFW urbanism Twitter feed @bobdal