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.