Amazon received 238 proposals from cities in 54 states, provinces and districts across North America for its new HQ2. Our firm worked with several different clients and cities to present compelling site options. In the process, we looked at cities through the lens of Amazon. If Dallas wants to continue to attract major companies and re-shape our city we need to amp up our game and consider these attributes:
We need to think big and creatively
Firms like Amazon are looking for partners who think big and have a creative approach in presenting real estate options. Besides wanting great site alternatives and angling for economic incentives, companies are interested in locating in cities where they have access to the best talent. So, cities with major universities have a definite edge. As do cities with affordable housing, high-quality schools, shared civic space and a solid connection to the rest of the world. Amazon is very focused on quality-of-life issues like cultural amenities, pedestrian-friendly streets, bike paths, parks, and mass transit. Civic leaders will need to think beyond quarterly and annual time horizons and consider the long game. What infrastructure and community projects will create a more connected environment long term? How will public policy help to shape our trajectory?
Dallas stacks up well on the affordable housing and international airport criteria and our public-school system, while in need of continued improvement, is comparable to other large cities and better than some. We also offer a stable, business-friendly environment. But, we still have a way to go in creating an urban environment that will compete with other cities. We lack a strong, dense core and a sense of being in a vibrant urban environment.
Things that will make Dallas even more attractive
Dallas’ latest bond package approval will help us make great strides in improving our city. It will fund:
- Major street improvements, sidewalk repairs, and creation of new bike lanes
- Three new downtown parks—Harwood Park, West End Plaza, and Carpenter Park
- Expansion of Klyde Warren Park
- Creation of another deck park at the entrance to the Dallas Zoo.
- Pacific Plaza Park is already funded by the Parks for Downtown Dallas
- Renovation of Fair Park, our Art Deco jewel
- Trail improvements and connections that will link downtown, Uptown, the Design District, the Medical District, the Infomart, Stemmons Corridor businesses, and hotels along Interstate 35E
Great cities offer:
- Vibrant downtowns that attract a diverse population, are walkable, safe, and amenity-rich
- Focal points or nodes of interest within walking distance of each other
- Connected, effective mass transit as well as alternative transportation systems
- Commitment to resilience and sustainability
- Public policy that promotes the development of smart growth within our cities
- Economic vibrancy
Amazon is looking for authenticity and a distinct sense of place—a blending of history and modernity. It is great to see us reclaim more of our historic buildings and re-weave them into the urban fabric for other uses. It adds richness, texture, and some much-needed soul to downtown and our inner city neighborhoods.
People who can shape the urban experience need to be committed to the health of communities. Research shows that 80 percent of our health is attributed to socioeconomic, environmental, and behavioral factors, like housing, diet, and exercise. We need to design places that are not only sustainable and resilient, but that also improve health by making neighborhoods more walkable, mixing building uses to make areas more vibrant and providing easy access to amenities, healthy food choices, and quality healthcare. These are the qualities Amazon and firms like them are looking for and they are also the qualities Dallas should strive for to solidify our standing as one of the world’s great cities.
Dan Noble is the president and CEO of HKS Architects.