Walkable DFW: The Heat’s Not the Problem

Our Urban Affairs columnist Patrick Kennedy argues that it’s not the weather that keeps life from being lived outdoors most of the year in Dallas:

How many cities have as many 70 degree and sunny days as Dallas does? San Diego? LA under a shroud of smog? The list pretty much begins and ends right there. Yet if it is anything but precisely that we bitch and moan and build a city around climate controlled environment at all times.

If Dallas was built to be in Dallas would we have so much paving, radiating more heat, and creating the dreaded “heat island effect?” Would we have so many mirrored glass buildings reflecting sunlight onto the unshaded sidewalks below amplifying ambient temperatures? Oh, I forgot that reflective glass is supposedly green in the facile world of LEED construction. Would everything be so far apart, thereby abdicating the role of a designer to create micro-climates that are comfortable since we never have to be outside of air conditioning? Can we afford to make those trips as gas prices round $4/gal. and head for $5 despite being already incredibly deflated via a cadre of subsidies?

I think that he undersells just how terrible the heat gets in July and August, especially those summers when we rack up dozens of 100-degree days. But I also think he’s got a point.

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Comments

  • Me!

    It’s the humidity

  • Hannibal Lecter

    The temperature’s always perfect when you live with your head in the clouds.

  • Lee

    I heard someone say one tim that the weather is the same at Highland Park Village and they have lots of pedestrian traffic. It is just as hot and humid in New York in the summer and the street activity is always busy.

  • Wes Mantooth

    Lee, I think you’re underselling the fact that New Yorkers are idiots.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Lee:

    In New York, the street grid is tight enough and the buildings tall enough that one side of the street is usually in shade — a mercy you rarely find in Dallas. You still get a lot of heat bouncing off concrete and windows, though, so I can assure you, Manhattan at 90 degrees feels like Dallas at 100.

    So in response to Mr Kennedy’s fanciful notion that it’s not the weather — look at the crowds in Copenhagen! in Milan! — there’s this point, very applicable to New York as well: A lot of that pedestrian traffic is there because they have to be — they work there.

    You want more pedestrian traffic in Dallas? Plant trees, create shade.

  • Justin B.

    Jerome,

    I think you mean Manhattan at 100 degrees feels like Dallas at 90 degrees.

  • Jerome is right on (as usual). It’s about the shade. I walk year round. I schedule lunches close to my office and walk. The walk from my office to West Village is brutal, very little shade. The walk down Katy Trail to Knox much better. There are some people who won’t walk in the summer here, but some of it is habit and acclimation to heat.

  • Daniel

    I walk in the summer. And I sweat like a bastard and assume the squint-eyed countenance and grimly determined gait of a one-hundred-year-old aborigine spiritually at one with the sere, unsparing but majestic landscape. But really, I’m just walking down grimy La Vista Street with sore feet and sweaty undershorts for beer and Mexican food. Hey, maybe chat up a few honeys who don’t balk at a crease-faced Smelliman, who knows?

    You could do this too if you weren’t such a damned sissy.

  • BrandonS

    Yeah, people who walk and take public transportation all day are generally idiots.

    New York seldom breaks 100, and certainly not for multiple days at a time. Jerome is spot-on about the tight streets and tall buildings shielding a lot of the direct sunlight. The humidity is different in NYC as well…I can’t explain it…but it just feels different. With all this said, I always love the Dallas summer heat. It’s nothing a bottle of water (or beer) can’t cure.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Justin:

    No, sorry, I meant what I wrote, perhaps I wasn’t clear: Manhattan can feel much hotter than Dallas. The reasons so many people are still on the street: They work there, they live there, the apartment is tiny, the window AC is tiny, let’s go find a cafe.

    That’s why the building shade (that you don’t often get in Dallas) is a mercy. Anyone who’s lived in NYC during August knows just how sticky, gritty, sweaty the city is — but it often barely gets past 90 degrees, so in terms of the city weather charts, it looks cooler than Dallas. Yet if they can, Manhattanites abandon it during August. Not unlike wealthy Dallasites with second homes in Santa Fe.

    Partly it’s the humidity — Manhattan IS an island — partly it’s all that concrete and traffic. Add the subway platforms without AC. So in NYC, I often felt as though I’d just trekked across downtown Dallas from the West End to Deep Ellum. Which, by the way, is why DART’s decision to forgo all water fountains from its stations, was criminal. Talk about discouraging people.

  • XT

    @ Justin,

    No, he had it right. Manhattan at 90 degrees feels like Dallas at 100. 100 degrees in Manhattan is killer.

  • Laray

    Kennedy’s observations about Dallas architecture are astute. In Texas, we’re very accustom to having lots of space around form (or lots of disjointed forms in space). And motorized vehicles are necessary to get from point A to B–with the roof of the car acting as the shading mechanism. Other places have grown more slowly in more limited space. Smart design, approach and attitude can go a long way in addressing these issues. I recently attended an extraordinary event at SMU, “The Freedom of the City,” and was introduced to the architecture of Zoka Zola. She works weather patterns of the locale into her designs, re-routing wind patterns in and around the buildings for maximum cooling and conservation. Her design for a high rise solar tower is beyond words.

  • J bennett

    So if one of the solutions of simply planting more trees is possible,why then aren’t they planted?There are very few trees in Manhattan….

  • kris

    NAILED IT!!

    SHADE!!!!!

    GET MORE SHADE OUT THERE MORE PEOPLE TRAFFIC

    THANK YOU

  • zobzerto

    Many seem to be stuck on the two or so miserably hot months that we have each year… all Kennedy is saying that those two hot months make us forget that we have incredible “walking/dining/drinking outside” weather for a huge portion of the year in Dallas. He’s right.