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Downtown Dallas

No, Dallas Doesn’t Offer ‘the Nation’s Best Downtown Living Experience’

The mayor's office is spreading foolishness.
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There are times when a little self-delusion can be a good thing. Like when you tell yourself you’re ready to have a baby. No one is ever ready to have a baby. But if enough people didn’t delude themselves into thinking they were ready to have babies, then the planet would be run by cats. Dog people, shut up. You know I’m right.

But then there are other times (most of the times) when telling lies to yourself or believing other people’s lies about you is silly or embarrassing or possibly even dangerous. Right now, Dallas appears to be embracing one such lie. It’s about a recent “study” that determined our downtown is the best downtown in the country.

The “study” dropped on January 17. The first local mention I can spot was on WFAA Channel 8 on January 20. But I didn’t see it until yesterday, when Mayor Eric “Big Dallas Energy” Johnson crowed about it in his email newsletter. (Go to bigdallasenergy.org to sign up. I’m not kidding.) [Update: three hours after this post went up, the Morning News published a credulous report on the “study.”] Here’s what the mayor wrote:

A new study ranked Downtown Dallas as the nation’s best downtown living experience, saying that its “unique range of features and amenities” made it a great place “for urban life enthusiasts.”

The report went on to say that while Dallas is a “city that traditionally embraced sprawl as urban design, it’s been recently focused on adding density in an effort to increase housing options and foster walkability. This only increases downtown’s appeal for both locals and new residents, who can now enjoy a great mix of lively streets, culture and a reasonable cost of living.”

In short: Downtown is the epicenter of that Big Dallas Energy that is palpable in this city right now.

About 88,000 people live Downtown and in the adjacent neighborhoods (such as Uptown, the Cedars, and Deep Ellum). Downtown also hosts 135,000 workers. And it’s obvious to everyone that the city center has come a long way in recent years.

Before we move on, here are the top 10 downtowns, according to the “study”:

1. Dallas
2. Austin
3. Chicago
4. Boston
5. Seattle
6. Nashville
7. Houston
8. Columbus
9. San Diego
10. Phoenix

I have an old college roommate who lives in Chicago and who obsessively reads this blog for reasons I don’t fully understand. Right now, he is laughing. John, you don’t need to text me. I get it. It’s ridiculous. (Also, you weren’t ready to have babies.)

I shouldn’t have to waste too many words explaining why this ranking is bunk, but here are some points to bear in mind: if Uptown and the Cedars are part of downtown, then we should include East Dallas, too. About 14,000 people live downtown (not the mayor’s expanded 88,000) if you keep your data in check.

The company that conducted this study is called StorageCafe. They do self-storage, which is a form of self-delusion. “I need this stuff!” “One day, I am going to digitize all those old photographs and make a documentary about Grandpa.” And so on.

StorageCafe is owned by a multinational property-management software company called Yardi. Yardi also owns RentCafe, CommercialCafe, CondoCafe, and VendorCafe, among other companies. I guess that’s neither HereCafe nor ThereCafe. I just dig camel case.

In December, StorageCafe published an article titled “10 Fun Facts About College Station: From Landmarks To Self Storage,” and it began like this: “They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Even the cattle aren’t your average cows, they’re longhorns!” (Note to self: see if CowCafe has been trademarked yet.)

OK, let’s get back on topic. Here are the metrics that StorageCafe used to rank the country’s best downtowns and the percentage weight given to each:

  • Rent-to-income ratio — 12.5%
  • Total number of apartment units — 12.5%
  • Apartment living space/person — 7.5%
  • Percent of apartments located in green properties — 7.5%
  • Percent of fitness centers within rental complexes — 7.5%
  • Percent of apartments located in luxury properties — 7.5%
  • Crime rate — 10%
  • Cost of groceries — 7.5%
  • Electric vehicle public charging stations — 5%
  • Restaurants/1,000 people — 5%
  • Theaters/1,000 people — 5%
  • Retail stores/1,000 people — 5%
  • Percent of educated population (holding a BA degree or higher) — 7.5%

Walkability data are not included. Greenspace data are not included. Air quality data are not included. Transportation data are not included—except for EV charging stations, which is weird.

You know why Dallas did so well in this “study”? From StorageCafe: “Zooming in on living standards, apartments in downtown Dallas are tops for access to workout centers (95% of units) and premier apartments (81%). What’s more, apartments in Dallas’ city center also come out on top for spacious apartments, offering over 995 square feet of space per person on average.”

In other words, our downtown has a comparatively large number of spacious luxury apartments in buildings that have gyms. Is that the same thing as offering the nation’s best downtown living experience? Hell, no.

I have worked downtown for more than a decade, during which time I have taken great joy in seeing this place get its act together. I don’t know about “palpable Big Dallas Energy,” which sounds like something that could get you arrested and barred from venturing within 1,000 feet of a school, but we’ve got a bunch of new parks, a wildass 8,700-square-foot video wall, and some good places to eat. If you’re on the right block, at the right time of day, in the right weather, it can feel like one of the best downtowns in the country.

Or it can feel like a set from The Last of Us, where homeless people in hospital gowns take dumps on the too-narrow sidewalks in the middle of the afternoon. I actually saw that happen the other day on North Harwood. So far no clickers, though.

Y’all, let’s be honest with ourselves. We don’t have a better downtown than Chicago. There’s no shame in that admission.

By the same token, though, how you doing down there at No. 7, Houston? You got beat out by Nashville! LOL

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Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers

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Tim is the editor of D Magazine, where he has worked since 2001. He won a National Magazine Award in…

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