The Dallas Design District is what I call an outcropping. With its new residents and burst of retail activity, it is like Trinity Groves, the revived Farmers Market, and the Cedars. They are all responses to the strong market demand for urbanization that has made Uptown the most vital new neighborhood in the city.
Great as they are, these outcroppings are more expressions of the demand than a fulfillment of it. Barely 2,000 people live in the Design District. Some 1,800 live in the Cedars, while the Farmers Market has about 1,300. Fully built out over the next five years, the new apartments at Trinity Groves will only reach 2,500 units.
By comparison, Uptown has more than 15,000 residents. It is spread over 570 acres. Some 20,000 people are employed in Uptown, two-fifths of whom work in office buildings and the rest of whom serve Uptown itself. Uptown produces those jobs because its size and population created the critical mass that makes retail possible.
Those jobs in Uptown are very important. Between 2001 and 2012, Dallas County lost 215,230 jobs. And the popularity of Uptown is just as important. In the last Census, the city of Dallas would have lost population if people hadn’t moved into the new neighborhood. It was that close.
We have the paradox of a booming region and a declining city and county. A recent study reported by the Dallas Morning News revealed Dallas’ waning attractiveness to 24- to 34-year-old college graduates. The percentage of these graduates in relation to total population has actually decreased since 2000. Of the 51 largest metro areas in the United States, only six others experienced a similar decrease.
There’s a reason for that. Who wants to move to a concrete jungle?
Tearing down I-345 and rerouting I-30 out of the central city are the keys to untying the concrete noose. Those interstate highways—combined with the elevated portion of I-45 between downtown and the Trinity—divided historic neighborhoods, destroyed businesses, and depopulated entire sections of the city. Forty years later, the damage is still with us. It cannot be repaired without dismantling the elevated interstates that caused it.
By removing those barriers to growth, Dallas has a chance at a turnaround in its economic fortunes. Right now, Dallas’ urban core does not have enough contiguous land to create another Uptown. By reconnecting downtown with Deep Ellum and reknitting Old East Dallas, we can stitch back together a city torn apart. There is enough land—240 acres affected by I-345 alone—to attract major development, ignite job growth, and add billions more to the tax base. By forcing interstate traffic to go around the central city, we will simultaneously reduce congestion and make it easier for people in the southern sector to get to their jobs in the north of the city.
This is a moment in demographic history. The nation is experiencing the biggest change in lifestyle and housing choices since the postwar baby boom. Millennials are very clear in what they are looking for and what they will accept. And what they won’t accept is a city made of concrete.
Why hasn’t Dallas acted more quickly and adroitly to change? Look at the ages of the city’s top bureaucrats. Most of them are waiting around to collect their pensions. They are abysmally unfamiliar with the current literature of their own professional fields. They seem blind to the massive generational change that is happening before their very eyes.
This is all the more surprising—or disgusting, depending on how generous you want to be—when we have the example of Uptown staring us in the face. The Uptown Public Improvement District has added more than $4 billion to the city’s tax rolls. That’s almost as much as all of downtown. Combined with the adjacent State Thomas TIF, the area added $6 billion.
Think what that kind of addition to the tax rolls could do for amenities in the other neighborhoods of Dallas—the bike trails, pocket parks, street and lighting improvements, and more. So why does City Hall sit on its hands? And when will we elect a City Council that refuses to put up with it?
Break up the concrete stranglehold on our city. I-345 and I-30 must come down.