A Daily Conversation About Dallas


New EarBurner: Dallas Morning News’ Mark Lamster Hates the Mavs Uniforms, Too

| 2 days ago

Mark Lamster has been The Dallas Morning News’ architecture critic for the past six years. In that time, he’s challenged architects and residents alike, forcing readers to better understand how buildings shape the way in which we move about the city. He’s written a book about the architect Philip Johnson, the controversial figure behind the Crescent development, Thanks-Giving Square, and Fort Worth’s Water Gardens, among others.

But that’s not why we invited Lamster to come on EarBurner. No, he got into a Twitter tiff with Mark Cuban over the Mavericks’ obviously hideous city jerseys. And, as Lamster put it, “good design is good business.” So we had him pick up a microphone. Show notes after the jump.

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In Deep Ellum, a Patch of Concrete Becomes a Busy Gathering Space

| 6 days ago

100 Trunk Avenue, at the northern edge of Deep Ellum, is a patch of grass in an empty lot. That’s it. It’s sandwiched between the Case Building’s apartment parking garage and flanked by precious few trees. It’s across from the Continental Gin Factory, which used to host art studios before it was sold last year—and ousted more than 50 artists from their studio spaces. It’s a rare piece of disuse in Dallas’ densest entertainment district.

Last weekend, an artist teamed up with an urban planner to reinvision the lot. In came the pop-up vendors and artist booths. They hooked up an amp and a microphone for musicians. And about 3,000 people over two days showed up to shop, gawk, talk, and listen. The pitiful patch of land was briefly transformed into the Creative Market.

“This was a strong first step,” said urban planner Amanda Popken, who helped organize the event. “Hopefully, the city will consider further how this space can be considered as a valuable asset for the community.”

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Who Is Really Responsible for Saving the American City?

| 7 days ago

There is one way the story of America’s cities is told, most notably by economist and social scientist Richard Florida, that attributes the resurgence of the city to the so-called “creative class.” According to this narrative, young people seek out cities that already possess three key ingredients to contemporary urban success: talent, technology, and tolerance. These upwardly mobile young professionals help revitalize urban neighborhoods and drive a demand for more walkable, multi-functional neighborhoods.

At its best, this vision of the urban renaissance has led to the reclaiming of once derelict neighborhoods and a resurgence of urban life that has helped the city reassert its status as the premiere economic, social, cultural, and political drivers of modern life. At its worst, this process has revved up economic forces that have led to displacement, housing shortages, widening income inequality by neighborhood and region, and other social-economic ailments that are often looped-in under the term “gentrification.” Florida himself backed off his bullish championing of the impact of the “creative class” in his recent book The New Urban Crisis, a sort of apology for his earlier work.

But what if there is another story to be told about the revival of American cities that has nothing to do with young, tech-oriented, upwardly mobile (and predominantly white) Americans? What if successful urban neighborhoods have nothing to do with the so-called “creative class” and are instead built on the backs of a more enterprising, community-rooted group of Americans?

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In Old East Dallas, the City Tries To Turn 6-Lane Columbia Into a Boulevard

| 2 weeks ago

The city believes a key corridor between Deep Ellum and East Dallas is in need of a road diet. Money from the last bond package is allocated to shrink the lanes of Columbia Avenue as well as portions of Abrams Road and Main and Commerce streets. Plans call for improved sidewalks and dedicated cycling infrastructure. The goal is to provide a safer experience for pedestrians and also motivate more ground-level retail, restaurants, and storefronts.

“The main thing has been balancing all the competing needs from the businesses, residents, transit users and bike users,” said Christina Tuner-Noteware, the city’s assistant director of Mobility and Street Services. “There are a lot of competing interests and complementary interests in this corridor. We’ve had community meetings, making sure we’re taking all of those interests into account. Trying to merge them all into one complete plan has been a challenge. But it’s been a fun challenge.”

This strategy is part of the city’s Complete Streets initiative, which redesigned Lowest Greenville and is being enacted on Henderson Avenue near Central Expressway. But it was driven by residents who, in 2017, started a petition to shrink Columbia. They called the three mile stretch one of the “most dangerous and under-utilized roads in Old East Dallas.”

“There is no way to make a seven-lane road safe,” says Nathaniel Barrett, the developer and Old East Dallas resident who started the petition. “It’s one of the highest injury and death corridors in Old East Dallas.”

Columbia is essentially a six-lane highway—seven lanes, when there are turns—that leads into Main Street on its way to Deep Ellum. The street is so wide because of decisions made in the 1970s. Back then, the city promised an efficient system that would allow some 40,000 cars to easily flow from the city’s core to points east. More lanes meant more capacity into downtown—seemingly. Fast forward almost 50 years and data from the North Central Texas Council of Governments show that just 14,000 to 19,000 vehicles are using the road daily, well below projections. Something needed to change.

The wide crosswalks of Columbia Avenue, which are so large that it’s difficult to make it across before the light changes. (Photo by Jordan Jarrett)

Now, the wide street feels unsafe for pedestrians. Walking Columbia, from the point where Abrams ends, is uncomfortable at best and treacherous at worst. What sidewalks exist are overgrown with weeds, deeply cracked, sometimes gravelly, and consistently uneven. The sidewalks stop at driveways into businesses, and sometimes disappear altogether after the interruption. The road itself is so wide that crosswalks take nearly as long to walk as it does for the traffic light to change. Cyclists essentially share the road with drivers.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we’re a truly bicycle-friendly city,” said Councilman David Blewett, whose district includes portions of the makeover. “What I’m hoping for is that we encourage protected bike lane benefits, even if it means fewer land miles but more usage. It’s going to have to be safe. Safety is a huge component of bicycles and pedestrians.”

The good news: the projects are (mostly) funded. The Columbia project has $4.25 million bond dollars going toward it, and the adjacent Abrams project has $3.75 million. The pending Commerce project — from Good-Latimer Expressway to Exposition Avenue near Fair Park —will cost $9.7 million. Design on Commerce is projected to wrap up around December of next year.

The Columbia Avenue project will take 15 months. Design plans should be finalized by the end of the year. Construction should start in July 2020 and the project should be finished by the summer of 2021. The road will go from six lanes to four, which the city believes will slow traffic and allow for a design that is friendlier to pedestrians.

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What Can Texas Cities Do When State Legislators Admit to Hating Them?

| 1 month ago

Buried near the 40-minute mark of the surreptitious recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the far-right Empower Texans head Michael Q. Sullivan was a brief exchange that spelled out the antipathy many in the state Legislature feel toward Texas’ cities:

Dennis Bonnen: In this office, in the conference room at that end, any mayor or county judge who’s dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.

Dustin Burrows: I hope the next session is even worse.

Dennis Bonnen: And I’m all for that.

The quote made it around certain Twitter circles yesterday morning. The plain language explained what plenty of bills have done in recent legislative sessions: kneecap urban areas from passing policy the Lege doesn’t want. Last year came reform bills that capped the rate at which cities can raise property taxes. The Lege banned red light cameras. It blocked cities from charging private telecommunication companies for using public right of way, particularly concerning when you think of all the impending 5G infrastructure.

Houston estimates that not charging telecom companies for right of way will cost it $27 million per year. Taken altogether, the bills passed by the Lege will create a $44 million annual shortfall for the city of Dallas by 2023, according to a budget forecast. Even Moody’s found the property tax reform law would generate “minimal” homeowner savings but would “hurt local governments substantially.” That sounds like a plan to screw local governments more than provide relief to taxpayers.

Burrows, the Lubbock state representative who was also heard spouting off on the tape, later added, “We hate cities and counties.” He told Sullivan he had pitched the governor on taking away what cities can use from sales tax to pay for economic development, public transit, or other services.

These strategies aren’t new.

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Poll: Would You Hop in a Self-Driving Uber in Downtown Dallas?

| 1 month ago

Uber Advanced Technologies Group chief Eric Meyhofer talks to the Dallas Morning News about the company’s plan to map downtown Dallas and decide whether to bring in self-driving cars. If it decides to go for it, riders here will get their choice between robot drivers and real people.

And if you ask for a ride from one address to another and those two addresses fall within the route set that self-driving cars serve, you’ll get a notice that says, ‘Hey, you’ve been paired with a self-driving car. Would you like to try that or would you like to have a driver partner pick you up?’ So you get to choose. And what happens is when you get a choice, you’re more empowered and you are more curious and you have more of a tendency to lean in and be bold.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Meyhofer classifying hopping in a two-ton vehicle using Uber’s tech as “bold.” But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that classification speaks more to his gauge for the temperature of consumers right now—that is, his perception of our perception of the risks of autonomous driving—rather than the risks themselves. I hope that’s what he’s saying.

Anyway, it got me curious about feelings toward self-driving right here in Dallas. In March 2018 in Tempe, Arizona, a 49-year-old woman on foot was struck and killed by one of the autonomous Ubers while crossing the street, launching a discussion about the speed at which autonomous cars were hitting the market and causing the company to shut down testing for nine months. But Uber has revamped the Volvo since then and says it has made other serious changes to its safety culture.

Even after testing started back up, the rollout has been slower. In Dallas, starting in November, Uber says it will merely operate its self-driving cars with human drivers to begin to map the city and capture everyday driving scenarios. Only then will it decide whether to operate actual self-driving Ubers here.

All that considered, a poll:

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Richardson Creates a Land for Future Giants

| 2 months ago

In June, the city of Richardson joined the Better Block Foundation to throw a party in a burgeoning neighborhood. Inside what’s for now being called the Collins/Arapaho Transit-Oriented Development and Innovation District—a place filled with generally uninviting, aging, one-story manufacturing buildings—workers trotted out food trucks, brought in live music, and invited anyone who works in, lives in, or visits the area.

More than anything, the block party served as a preview of what the city wants this pocket to become. It was held behind the buildings on grass, where a couple of temporary bridges brought together both sides of a stream that has long split the development with the other. Employees have been known to walk around the area’s many parking lots after lunch for exercise, but here, they were made privy to a new trail the city plans to install, weaving back and forth across the stream. Chairs and picnic tables added some needed life to the green space. “I was incredibly impressed with the turnout,” says Krista Nightengale, managing director at the Better Block.

“What we’re all trying to do is just create spaces where people can come together and can soften to one another,” she says.

A couple of decades removed from the ultra-prosperous days that gave Richardson’s Telecom Corridor its name, the giant office buildings vacated by telecom’s decline have been snapped up by Dallas-Fort Worth’s larger corporate growth.  (State Farm, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, and RealPage call Richardson home.) But six years ago, the city put its finger on a problem within this major submarket of the Corridor, encompassing 20 percent of the city’s jobs.

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Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 33

| 2 months ago

The Cedars has long had a tricky connection to downtown. This is largely because of Interstate 30, which separates the neighborhoods, but it’s also because of a lack of attention to the infrastructure that ferries pedestrians between the two. And no giant umbrella or bowler hat is going to fix that. Eastbound Griffin Street is essentially an on-ramp to three freeways: Interstates 45, 345, and 30. When the light is green, you better be a couple feet back on the sidewalk. It’s still nerve-racking when you hit the portion of Akard Street that takes you over the freeway.

In between the two, just across the street from the neon-covered Lorenzo Hotel and its out-of-place umbrella statue, is this giant mound of dirt. Here is what it looks like along the block:

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A New Study on Car-Free Living Says It’s Hard to Go Carless in Dallas

| 2 months ago

Over at CityLab today, Richard Florida has a data-fueled gaze into the best and worst cities in America to live carless. Dallas doesn’t do so hot.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington slides in as the seventh-worst place to walk among large metros, and the largest one in the bottom 10. Others making that list are places like Birmingham, Nashville, Raleigh, and Sherman, our neighbor to the (far) north. “With the exception of Dallas, these are not-so-large metros with less traffic congestion, where it is relatively easy to get around by car,” writes Florida.

The urbanism-focused site formed its metric with four factors: “the share of households that don’t have access to their own vehicle, the share of commuters who take transit to work, the share of commuters who bike to work, and the share of commuters who walk to work.”

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Bunch Bikes Are a Ride That Really Hauls

| 2 months ago

Aaron Powell was a band teacher when he started cycling to work as a matter of practicality. Then, about three years ago, while on an extended vacation in Copenhagen with his wife and young daughter, he saw his first cargo bike. Happy peddlers filled the holds with their kids, their groceries, their pets, pretty much anything. How genius! 

When he returned to Denton, he looked for someone who sold them stateside. Aside from one guy in Oregon, there wasn’t much out there. And importing one from the Netherlands was too expensive. 

Bunch Bikes was born. The company, now with five full-time employees, started selling its bikes about two years ago. They’ve shipped to 45 states and three countries.

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New Study Shows DFW Region Still Offers Relatively Competitive Salaries

| 2 months ago

What makes a competitive city in the 21st century? There is increasing evidence that some of the assumptions that surfaced in the last decade about the rise of the “creative class” and the golden age of cities might not have told the whole story when it comes to what kinds of urban environments will thrive in the emerging economy. For one thing, the largest urban metro areas are decreasing in population, a side-effect of rising housing prices. As the success of the United States’ largest cities drives up prices, smaller cities are emerging with a competitive advantage.

That analysis appears to be supported by a new study by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. Kolko wanted to know where salaries are the highest for American workers. The obvious answer would be places like New York and San Francisco. But those cities are also mighty expensive. So, what happens when you adjust those salaries based on cost of living? Kolko calculates adjusted salaries for U.S. metros by comparing Indeed’s job listing database of salaries with cost-of-living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economics, a metric that includes housing costs as well as costs of goods and services, including transportation. A new picture of urban success emerges.

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Michael Morris: Soccer Fields Under I-345 Will Help Bring the World Cup to Dallas

| 2 months ago

Yesterday at a meeting of the Regional Transportation Council, something quite spectacular came out of director Michael Morris’ mouth. You can watch it for yourself. Fast forward to the 4:00 mark of the video for item No. 5. But first let me set this up for you.

Earlier this year, news broke that Roddrick West, son of State Sen. Royce West, was close to signing a deal that would allow him to build soccer fields under I-345. Royce, it should be noted, is very much opposed to tearing down I-345. This soccer field deal would seem to make it much harder to tear down the highway, and all this had been going on without any public debate about it. No matter. Robert Wilonsky at the Morning News said there was nothing to worry about. Everything was on the up and up.

The Texas Scorecard disagrees. That’s the Michael Quinn Sullivan joint, so read this knowing their agenda, but today they posted, for the first time that I’ve seen, Roddrick’s schematic of where he wants to put the fields. Oh, also, as a result of Royce’s run for the U.S. Senate, new information has come to light showing his appetite for conflict of interest (short version: if it makes him richer, he’s hungry for it).

OK. That brings me back to yesterday’s meeting of the Regional Transportation Council. Now you’re ready to appreciate what Morris said. He was asking for (and got) $10 million to $15 million to help spruce up the neighborhood around Uber’s new Deep Ellum headquarters. (And, please, don’t get distracted by news of yet another round of layoffs at Uber.) Morris wants to use the RTC money to do the following: give the first wave of Uber employees transit passes; improve the sidewalks and make bicycle connections; work on the traffic signals; fire up an electric shuttle that will take Uber employees from Deep Ellum to someplace, maybe the Farmers Market; and, finally, to help Roddrick build soccer fields under I-345. Morris’ exact words:

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