Joseph Dalcour


A City of Sprawl Goes Urban

From the publisher: It's time to decide the future of Dallas.

This piece is a feature from our special edition, Dallas and The New Urbanism. The magazine examines the successes and pitfalls of the urbanist movement in a region well known for its dependence on the automobile.

The Dallas region is playing a fast game of catch-up. A generational sea change back to the city is in full tide. Right now, we’re behind comparable regions such as Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and (cough) Houston. But we’ve got all the ingredients to fuel a jump-start: solid population growth, a diverse economy, a strong civic culture, comparatively lower costs, and a world-renowned development community.

Since 2010, Texas has experienced the largest average growth rate of any state. Demographers say Dallas-Fort Worth will grow by 4.5 million more people in the next 20 years. Collin County is expected to double in population in the next 20. The Dallas urban area is expected to more than double—and it could grow faster if we are able to transition our infrastructure to be more resident-friendly.

Population growth is the tsunami coming right at us. Last year we were the fastest-growing region in the nation, a designation that can be for good or ill. Either we direct this growth to more efficient land use or we let inefficient sprawl exhaust our resources and burden our future. We either ride the wave or we will be engulfed by it.

I’ve visited with business and civic leaders all over the region. They still exude typical Texas optimism, but no longer with the bravado that Texas is famous for. Instead, they realize that the past is no guide to the future. Sprawl is not infinite. Even in the farthest suburbs, the most successful projects are mixed use and offer walkability. Taken together, population growth and generational change require that we thoughtfully transition from a car-dependent culture to a future of transit options that allow people to live, work, and play where they are. In short, towns that became sprawling suburbs are being forced to become towns again—a lot bigger and more diverse but towns just the same.

In the core of Dallas, a city designed for commuters must be overhauled for residents. The central business district concept is a relic of the past. Millennials and baby boomers—the two largest generations in American history—demand walkability. The downtown Dallas area will be the largest of many urban mixed-use centers in the region. Its success will have a spillover effect on the poorer neighborhoods to its east, west, and south. If managed thoughtfully, it will channel the tide to lift all boats.

The facts are in. Anyone who wants to argue with the future doesn’t have one.

Dallas has a very bright future, but we have to move very fast to seize it.

Head to this link to buy a copy and learn more about our July 11 urbanism symposium at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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  • OldLakeHighlander

    Yes, I will be referring to an old, poorly recollected, Austin Powers movie below, but bear with me. It’s germane.

    Dr. Evil is unfrozen after a few decades floating in space and is ready to resume his evil plan(s) to make massive piles of money and take over the world. He had left his business affairs in the hands of his Number 2. Number 2 informs his evil boss that he invested his evil proceeds in a number of non-evil ventures and that his not-so-evil-now corporation has annual revenues of 3.5 Billion and is a Fortune 500 company. You can see the disappointment on Dr. Evils face. What’s the point of success if you can’t do it in the most dishonest and evil manner possible?

    So we are now presented with the Dallas Old Guard (Dr. Evil) and his Number 2 (the children and associates of the Dallas Old Guard). The OG (From ALL areas of this City—North, South, East and West) just can’t comprehend that success can occur without depriving the other side of their rightful ideals, values, property and money. Success in the OG view is zero sum—Our side must win and the other side must lose–badly. Winning is accomplished though the Commonly Accepted Business Principles of patronage, graft, influence pedaling, outright bribes, and other generally evil behavior.

    The new guard sees this and thinks, “Ya know, if I reduce my expected ROI by 0.0003%, it will not affect me economically in the slightest, I won’t be mocked at the country club, I won’t deprive those other folks of their home/education/livelihood, and I can sleep with a clear conscience at night.” A radical shift in the thought of our most elite business and political class, for sure. Now then, Dr. Evil will always be hatching his Evil Plans—and there are plenty of young Dr. Evilings waiting to take their Evil turn at things—but, wow, something is definitely happening here.

    Ultimately, though, it appears the OG just simply ran out of ideas—and living members. Like your Drunk Uncle heading to the old folk’s home, he gives you his trashed-out ‘63 Dodge and says: “Take Good Care of It—I Did.” Let’s see what we can do with that old Dodge—above the board this time.

  • Isn’t it kinda late to just redesign an entire city from car-centric and commuter focused to denser residential towns? These plans for highway expansion, such as the one proposed for 2045, show no signs of stopping the old school territorial Texas mentality of bigger is better, which just seems intuitively unsustainable.

  • bbetzen

    The above changes are good, but if DISD schools are not improved with a major shift in philosophy and approach, Dallas will never achieve its true potential. Improvements in transparency are needed!

    Dallas is now facing a tax increase election for improvements, but without significantly greater school transparency the needed improvements will fall short. The tax increase may even fail!

    In order for Dallas ISD to secure public confidence needed to win the planned election to increase taxation on Dallas property by 13 cents per $100 valuation, the maximum possible public transparency should be provided. The people of Dallas, especially parents selecting schools for their child, must have a more easy access to information about DISD schools and how schools compare to each other.

    Currently DISD transparency is fragmented among multiple charts and reports in multiple online locations that are exceptionally difficult and time consuming to use in comparing schools. The only solution is to pull needed data together in one database, one spreadsheet, with all schools!

    The new database can be called a working Excel School Equity Spreadsheet. It will be one spreadsheet with one row for every school and 200 or more variables in the columns. More variables on all schools can be added as identified as important. The initial variables would include identifying information on each school including location, census tract, Trustee District #, building student capacity, and facility condition index, enrollment by grade, student demographics and annual achievement, teacher demographics and experience, including school measurements such as the School Effectiveness Index (SEI). The variables would include the 32 budget item allocation categories per student from the online PEIMS Financial Reports. These 32 items identify where money to run each school is coming from, and how much is allocated per child.

    Most questions can be easily answered by erasing school rows and variables in columns that you are not interested in. Such rapid transparency will instantly answer questions such as the following:
    1. Parents could instantly compare schools anywhere in DISD with each other, schools near their home, or near their work, or near their grandmother.
    2. Parents could focus on any variable, such as average teacher experience, School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) in each school, as well as many student achievement measurements.
    3. Child advocates can focus on the range of per-student funding by school in each of these 32 sources of funding per child in DISD schools.
    4. As events happen during the school year, parents and the public can go back to this data base to check out whatever the issue happens to be, comparing schools in manners never possible before!
    5. Child advocates could verify that schools with higher percentages of high poverty, English as a Second Language (ESL), or handicapped students, are receiving the full amount of supplemental funding they should receive based on federal formulas, without any reduction in “regular” funding?

    These, and hundreds of thousands of other questions, could instantly be answered with one School Equity Excel Spreadsheet for each school year. Currently the work required to answer such questions keep such school comparisons effectively hidden from parents and the general public.

    The general concept of the DISD School Equity Excel Spreadsheet has been approved unanimously at a meeting of about 70 NAACP members and at a meeting of the Our Community Our Schools Coalition. Other groups concerned about equity in DISD schools are being approached and are asked to join in this effort, and/or provide ideas and direction for this effort to expose the equity or inequity between Dallas schools.

    The effort to make this information visible is much bigger than any of us. The battle for equity, and the many other massive improvements urgently needed in Dallas ISD, will be pushed and monitored by such greater public transparency! The infinitely greater ability for everyone to compare schools in thousands of ways never possible before will drive Dallas ISD improvement! That will improve Dallas!

  • Sean Tyler Gill

    The fact is sprawl is unsustainable, and people thinking we need to live in wide open spaces don’t realize that 8 billion humans can not all pull that off. Dense, well designed urban centers that have low reliance on cars can help us to preserve the true wide open spaces all across this country. The idea that every person should have some manicured plot of grass is narrow minded. Its very true you cannot avoid the future, we can ether plan for it and have a beautifully designed city like Paris, Barcelona, Perth, or Singapore, or we can have economic strain, horrible congestion, deadly pollution, and a higher cost of living only to have a lower standard of living. It also seems a lot of Facebook comments regarding this article said something along the line of “I DON’T WANNA BE NEW YORK” but its extremely near sited to think that just because a city becomes dense and walkable it somehow ends up like New York when there is so many stunning cities in the world who have a very unique identity and still execute urbanizim beautifully.

  • Don Abbott

    I’m downsizing to one traffic light. Good luck on your ant hill.