It was a key issue in Dallas’ city elections last month. It has been an ongoing issue at the City Council level. It has pitted homeowners against developers, and it has frustrated the masses. “It” is planning – or the lack of it – in Dallas. And City Manager Charles Anderson says the city’s role in planning is going to change. Drastically.
Until now, Assistant City Manager Vic Suhm has been overseeing that department while managing numerous other responsibilities. Anderson says that it’s time to give city planning more attention. Several months ago, he decided to create a new City Hall position: assistant city manager in charge of planning, transportation and development. Anderson says the creation of the job is an indication that planning has been a back-burner issue in Dallas for too long. He also says that placing the position at the assistant city manager level is a sign that the problem needs high-power attention now.
Anderson began what he calls a “quiet search” for someone to fill the position several months ago. He looked for job candidates in various parts of the United States and Canada and, about two months ago, began placing Dallas advertisements in several trade journals. So far, close to 150 people have applied for the position.
The key qualifications for the job include education and experience in urban planning of a medium to large city. This includes cities with populations of 100,000 to 200,000 or more, Anderson says. Applicants should have experience in the private sector with a background in design and the economics of development, he says.
The day-to-day responsibilities of the job include the overseeing of the transportation, planning and development departments of the city. But the new manager’s main function will be to coordinate planning throughout the city’s 22 departments. Anderson also is thinking of starting an “internal planning council” which would be headed by the assistant city manager with representatives from each city department; he would also be the lead negotiator for development with the private sector.
The creation of this new position does not mean that the city will stop using outside consultants, Anderson says, because they provide a “necessary outside perspective.” Rather, the new manager will orchestrate and manage an array of consultants. A large part of the new position also will involve marketing. Anderson says that the number of businesses relocating to Dallas is dropping off and that the city needs to “start marketing itself.”
If all goes as scheduled, the city should hire a planner by this summer, but the wait isn’t crippling the city’s planning activities. Recently, the city manager’s office completed The City of Dallas Planning Policies, a report that divides the planning process into four areas: transportation/land use, housing and neighborhoods, development standards and the financing of public infrastructure. Anderson and his staff have set goals for each of the four areas and have developed specific policies for a variety of issues in each category.
Anderson says the job is manageable despite the fact that some city employees have dubbed the new position as one for a “superplanner.” Anderson doesn’t like that term. “The person is not being hired to plan Dallas,” he says. “We have developed a process that’s going to provide a way to plan Dallas through a networking of groups. The process will involve reviewing policy statements.” He says he sees the role of the city changing from a reactive role to one of coordinated action with the private sector. The new manager would be the coordinator.