Sundance Square (Photo: Jeremy Enlow)

Fort Worth

Is Fort Worth As Doomed As This 500-Page Report Makes It Seem?

The city, long defined by the doctrines of its past oligarchs, finds itself at a crossroads.

The nearly 500-page economic development plan commissioned by Fort Worth officials and released a few weeks ago was so honest that even Dallasites were concerned about its findings.

The Dallas Morning News urged Fort Worth to not give up its Cowtown image, calling it a folksy and quiet place that cherishes its cowboy history. A tongue-in-cheek op-ed in The News suggested Fort Worth just resign itself to its little sibling status. Many Fort Worthians were not amused.

Readers pushed back in the comments section of a Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial, agreeing with the report’s hard facts and findings.

Among those findings: the city does not have a diverse tax base. Fort Worth is reliant on residential and not commercial growth. Most people living here work outside the city proper, and many commute to Dallas. The city has increasingly become a bedroom community for the rest of North Texas, which explains why Fort Worth is also an afterthought to many executives seeking to expand operations or even relocate here.

For a city priding itself on its homegrown identity, it really seems unfriendly to a lot of folks too, particularly young people and people of color. In perhaps the most damning component, there are not enough economic development initiatives to drive entrepreneurial and creative forces in the city. Even as some districts are thriving, such as Sundance Square and the Near Southside, the city lags behind its peers in promoting economic development. The city lacks a will, as well as the resources, to be innovative.

To sum it up, Fort Worth has a lot of potential. It would take a lot of work to get there.

A lot.

“I moved to Fort Worth because it’s not Dallas,” was the common refrain among commenters. A Fort Worth-raised reporter now living in Washington, D.C. tweeted she was offended by the op-ed writer’s findings.

The massive study by Austin-based TIP Strategies, however, does not spell doom for Fort Worth. In fact, it outlines its strengths as a city. If a report is going to look ahead, the analysis must highlight its weaknesses, especially if it wants to recognize the city’s potential. Fort Worth’s colleges and universities are on the cusp of greatness, and can become major players in making Cowtown into a research hub for healthcare, the life sciences, engineering, and energy. Keep in mind: In its list of best-performing cities, the Milken Institute think tank touted Raleigh-Durham’s strong research universities in naming it the country’s second best. Fort Worth is also an untapped tourist hub, sporting, of course, an unrivaled museum scene.

But if the city stays on its current path, however, it is indeed destined to become a Dallas suburb—and an economically devastated one at that. (Think Dayton, Ohio or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1990s.) If that conclusion does not spook city leaders into action, then consider these even scarier facts.

According to a report analyzing poverty and mobility by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, growing up in Fort Worth, and Tarrant County as a whole, sucks.

When it comes to helping poor kids get up the economic ladder, Tarrant County  is below average, ranking 956th out of 2,478 counties. That’s better than only 39 percent of counties nationwide. The report defines Fort Worth, the largest city in Tarrant County, as the “Fort Worth area.”

“If you’re poor and live in the Fort Worth area, it’s better to be in Montague County than in Tarrant County,” according to a summary of the findings, referring to a growing county about an hour and a half northwest of Fort Worth. “Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Montague, the better you will do on average. Children who move at earlier ages are less likely to become single parents, more likely to go to college and more likely to earn more.”

The economists discovered cities with high levels of upward mobility are less segregated, have a larger middle class, stronger families, greater social capital, and higher quality public schools.

In 2015, the Urban Institute released a report looking at income inequality by neighborhood. The Dallas-Fort Worth region ranked the worst. We highlighted this on Frontburner, noting “inequality tends to be more pronounced in places where policy amplified segregation — and those policies were in no way isolated to the south, but have also caused disparity in Northeastern cities.”

Fort Worthians tend to have a kneejerk reaction whenever Dallas –– or anywhere really –– does something special. The reactions to the editorials reveal a dangerous civic pride. Look at history and it makes sense. Some of the best chronicles of modern Fort Worth have appeared in the pages of this publication, first in 1985, “Who Really Runs Fort Worth?” and then in 1995, in the similarly-named “Who Runs Fort Worth?

Both authors are longtime journalists living in Fort Worth. As they point out, a handful of families have stubbornly retained control of the city, preserving the entrusted and safe laid-back “cowboy and culture” image.

An especially important scion was the late Amon Carter, an oil oligarch and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He may have been a titan who used his money to boost Fort Worth until his death in the 1950s. But don’t confuse him for a visionary.

“While Dallas was refining its vision and moving toward a new decade of power, Fort Worth was still thinking of itself as the heart of West Texas,” wrote Jan Jarvis in her 1985 piece.

Katie Sherrod, who wrote the follow up article in 1995, notes a handful of wealthy families maintained Carter’s power structure; a group carefully cultivating this identity for the past 30 years. Carter may have been dead for more than 60 years, and Jarvis’ article may have been written in 1985, but the issues facing the city still stand. From subpar education standards from kindergarten through college to deep wealth inequality, hopefully this report will force city leaders to confront those issues.

Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy wrote earlier this week a column outlining seven ways the city can move forward while still preserving its heritage. Along with boosting our transportation infrastructure, creating higher equality education opportunities, and banking on our history and assets, Kennedy suggest getting over Dallas.

He’s right.

Fort Worth could be great. But if history is its guide, we may become only marginally better. If Cowtown’s leaders take the route that its leaders historically have, then the west will really begin 35 miles east.

Comments

  • Monika Solomon

    I moved to this area (Arlington) two years ago to escape Seattle where I lived for 19 years. Please don’t turn Fort Worth into another garbage liberal city like Dallas has become! Fort Worth supposedly represented the values of TEXAS. Don’t turn it into North Austin.

    • Jack McNally

      Excuse me – but go to hell, carpetbagger.

      • Monika Solomon

        Sure you’re not from seattle?

        • Jack McNally

          Ma’am, I’m a fourth generation Texan and a fifth generation Southerner on my father’s side. Nobody from Texas particularly cares about your opinion. However, you are more than welcome to have it and participate in the coming mediocrity of Ft Worth. You’ll fit right in. Enjoy. But you’ll never be from Texas and none of us will every take your opinion seriously, outsider. You probably think Dubya is a Texan, don’t you? Go run in the heat, carpetbagger.

          • ParleyPPratt

            Ah yes. Another one of those “I’ve been too scared to live anywhere else in my life, so I’ve never tried to see anything” anti-immigration Texans.

          • Jack McNally

            Either you’re a bot or a moron. 1. Have you read the whole series of comments? 第二。我會講英文,中文和西班牙話。我在亞洲和南美洲住過。你呢?I’ve lived half of my life outside of Texas. My god, but this post is generating idiocy.

        • Jack McNally

          You’ve lived here for two years. What in the hell do you know about anything?

          • truthjunkie

            I’m a 7th generation Texan, and Monika Welcome to Texas! I’ve lived all over this great nation, yet I always end up coming back home. I was born and raised in Fort Worth. There are so many things and places that make Fort Worth a great place to live. Mostly, it is her people. I don’t know why people from Dallas feel the need to compete with, or feel the need to put our great city down. The only one competing is Dallas. We’re quite content with ourselves, thank you very much! I do agree with Monika though. If someone is choosing to move to Texas based on people, politics or the cost of living, Texas has it all. So if ‘weird’ is your thing, they have a saying down in Austin. “Keep Austin Weird”. And as I said before, we’re quite content with who we are as a people here in Fort Worth. I love my hometown, I love my home state and I love my country, in that order.

          • Jack McNally

            Nobody in Dallas really gives much thought to Ft. Worth. If they do, they consider it a nice place with decent museums. It’s Ft. Worth people who are constantly talking sh*t about Dallas. Ft. Worth is Dallas’ pissed off little brother.

    • Paul Rowland

      Wow what an arrogant preachy arsehole. We dont want you here.

      • Monika Solomon

        You don’t sound like a Texan. What Texan talks like a seattleite? Still angry Trump is President?

  • Avatarnation

    When I moved to Fort Worth from Dallas in 1989, Fort Worth was a breath of funky fresh air, a haven away from Big D’s “Look at me, I’m precious’ self-obsession, conservative materialism and corporate heartlessness. Dallas no longer had a soul. Cowtown still possessed a distinctiveness – racially and culturally – that defied description. Fort Worth was NOT Republican bland.

    Now Cowtown is gone. Now there is ceaseless road construction, vast wastelands of new, gigantic, ugly warehouses on the ‘white flight’ North side of town, large swaths of neglected, blighted old neighborhoods that were once variegated vistas and wonderfully weird little microburgs that gave Fort Worth a ‘crazy quilt’ beauty usually associated with Austin. Austin has distinction. Dallas just stinks.

    I understand progress. I understand the inevitability of change, but the ‘loss of Cowtown’s soul’ pisses me off. Who wants another damn sports arena in an already overly congested Cultural District? Who want museums that have no lawns, no local color and no local characters. Now the ‘Cultural District’ is nothing but parking losts, parking meters and restricted parking. Who wants SO7 and franchise restaurant sameness?

    I disagree with Monika Solomon’s absurdity because Cowtown became cookie cutter conservative. Now it is a bland, franchised, corporate Republican wasteland. Now Cowtown has no soul. Now Cowtown has corporate badges, more ugly high rise buildings, toll roads with cellphone-obsessed clowns driving cookie cutter cars flying around Loop 820 at 85 mph while looking at their Waze app.

    Monika can have your bland, monochromatic Republican franchises. I miss the wonderful weirdness that Cowtown used to have.

    BLECHHH.

    • JoeBl

      Clearly you haven’t been to Dallas since 1989.

      • Happy Bennett

        Haven’t been to North Korea either. Can’t say that I’ve missed anything….

  • Bizarro BigTex

    Okay, Let me understand this analysis of the consulting group. Dallas – Good. Ft. Worth – Bad. Dallas – a happening place. Ft. Worth – no future unless they change. Hmmmmm. So Ft. Worth should aspire to be 1) a city with a truly elite cabal clinging to power over city government, 2) a city with a decrepit public events complex (Fair Park) that no one can figure out how to use year round, 3) a city divided between the Haves (North Dallas) and the Have Nots (South Dallas), 4) a city that would sell its first born AND its soul for a boondoggle real estate deal (Victory Park, American Airlines Center, etc), 5) a city that spent decades trying to make itself into a poor copy of a TV show (Dallas), 6) a city who has at various times tried to turn its major waterway into a Colorado Whitewater experience, a shipping canal to the gulf, an open sewer for hog slaughter house run-off, and a multi-lane paved expressway to nowhere, and finally 7) a city that measures its self worth against Houston. Okay. Cowtown will get right on that plan for improvement.

  • Tom Preedom

    I love Fort Worth because it is like a large, small town embracing the excellency of both worlds. So FW can share everything. Culture, master restaurants, symphonies and plays, concerts held in beautiful buildings! If Cowtown has a face it is the old courthouse that sets upon the hill facing the north side of FW. Wonderful zoo! Stores, stores, shops, people everywhere encircle us and offer all assistance to pursue dreams and ideas. Fantastic library situated in a rejuvenated downtown.
    I love all the friendly peoples of all colors and nationalities and incomes that make Tarrant home. I love watching the air shows! I love the parks and trails. I love the Stockyard and the antique malls. I love the way the wind is always blowing. I love the views i see in the hillier sections as I drive them! I fell in love with this city because of its big city rurality. Where you can shop at a Belk’s department store and be greeted by a Texas longhorn in a pasture right next door when you leave. I am ready to move back to my adopted home citytown cowtown. Fort Worth is an awesome place that you will truly learn to appreciate if you try living in other places. I have lived in Houston, South Austen area town of Wimberley, East Texas Nacogdoches, and Shreveport, La.
    None felt like home. I am grateful for the road construction making it better to get around In FW. And maybe people work in Dallas, but notice they choose to live in Tarrant neighborhoods. Because life is not a corporation it is a co-operation of friends families workers of all backgrounds and educations. It isn’t about how many PHD’s live with you. Fort Worth is built on the strengths and weaknesses of who live here and will overcome by the same. We have our own sweet uniqueness that should be protected and never be made into and automaton metroburb. Leave other cities to their own ends. Seek what will make our uniqueness shine above the rest. What you may think as our weaknesses as compared with similar sized cities can be turned into our greatest strengths which they dont have and will never get because They aren’ t Fort Worth!!!!

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    • Happy Bennett

      Fort Worth kind of reminds me of the pleasant part of living in Austin except that FW is cleaner, less expensive, and has sane politicians.

    • consumersunite

      NO DOUBT! PROUD TO BE A FORT WORTHIAN! SNIFF SNIFF.

  • Pokercara

    The main thing wrong with Fort Worth is that too many of the people that actually run the city are still contaminated by the KKK bacteria. I doubt we’ll eliminate this infection anytime soon considering how the how the Republican Party leadership has emboldened racists everywhere.

    • James Petty

      wow. Thats statement is absolute garbage and baseless

      • Kenneth Miller

        He is just confused. He doesn’t have skills, so he makes 8 an hour while blaming that on the city. Easiest way to place blame on others: call them racist.

  • Kyev Tatum

    Excellent advise. Born here and have felt the Fort Worth failure for over 52 years. Our leaders have mental wellness challenges and few will ever seek help.

  • Crap Bag

    Born and raised in Riverside, I can’t say I disagree here. The Fort Worth neighborhood I grew up in has changed drastically, and not for the better. I’m excited that such an interest has been taken in our town’s growth and development.
    However, I can’t help but feel slandered. I love Fort Worth. The museums, the zoo, the heritage. I’m proud of what we are, even if that means we’re not as fancy or rich as Dallas. So, grow on Fort Worth! But don’t forget who we were in the process.

    • Rolando Motta

      Ha crap bag?

  • Mark Wyatt

    There’s zero diversity feel left to ft worth now IMHO . Every time they try to establish a decent rock bar the cops relentlessly hassle them yet another country bar is just dandy . Ft worth is a prime example of why our tx. music scene , even in Austin is so bland now .Its one corporatized model, mold to fit or get the hell out . I remember seeing Bob Marley in Ft worth as a kid. Im pretty sure if he were alive today he wouldn’t be coming to ‘red state’ ft worth, tx.

  • Peter

    Having just finished up 14 years in Fort Worth, I found it to be little more than Abilene, with traffic…if you’re a straight, white, Republican, Christian, “traditional” family type, you’ll love it…otherwise, avoid like the plague…

    • Happy Bennett

      Thank you for your sneering avoidance–please stay on message…

  • KeenGraspOfObviousMan

    I am going to smugly drive home, down W 7th, and glance at our tidy rows of organized, checked in bikeshare bikes, courtesy of Mayor Price, as just now on WFAA watched video of Katy Perry openly mocking Dallas for not putting away their toys, pushing the handicapped into lanes of traffic to avoid them. That is what Fort Worthians think of Dallas, usually, something like that. Oh, and not being mugged. True, we have a long way to go but taking your time and getting it right is worth it. Furniture made to last isn’t assembled with Velcro. Dallas, Bless Your Heart. (Did you know that Amazon might take a couple of islands in our controlled downtown lakefront property? Might be preferable to a brownfield. Just sayin’). Dallas is just far enough away to be there when you need it, and just far enough to not pop over every day, just like the rule on distance from inlaws. We need more diversity, and by the number of California, Delaware and Wisconsin plates over here, I think we are getting it across DFW. I agree with Bizzaro BigTex!

  • Eugene Harrison

    Ask Elon Musk to install a Hyper Loop. Sundance Sqr to downtown Dallas, connect with High Speed Rail to Houston.

  • professormaxtcu

    Nice piece James! You should write an updated version of the Jarvis/Sherrod series for 2017