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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Urbanism

The NY Times Questions the Value of the Single-Family Home

| 1 day ago

It’s the bedrock of the 20th century American Dream: four-walls, a little lawn, and space for a family and personal equity to grow. Over the past 100 years, urban areas in the United States have doubled down on the single-family home as the de facto form of American life. And even with the romantic allure of city living that re-sprouted in the popular imagination in the 1990s—as the apocalyptic urban visions of Shaft and Taxi Driver gave way to the boho congeniality of Friends and Seinfeld—single family homes have remained the dominant mode of living. According to a (perhaps a little dated) 2011 study, 70 percent of Americans live in single-family homes, but 80 percent wish they did.

But cities are starting to alter their assumptions about single-family homes—a development that we’ve commented on before. Today, the New York Times deep-dives into the trend. The report is in response to several recent attempts to change the rules of urban zoning in order to discourage single-family homes and encourage more density. The Oregon legislature is considering a law that would end zoning for single-family homes throughout the state. California is looking to do the same. We’ve written about Minneapolis’ new zoning policy that forbids single-family zoning. And Democratic presidential hopefuls are also talking density.

The causes for debate are all the familiar talking points we hammer away on from time to time in this space.

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Transportation

Why Do We Accept Traffic Deaths as Part of Life?

| 2 days ago

If you’ve turned on the news at any point in the last couple of months, you’ll know that airplane manufacturer Boeing is in hot water. Early this year, a couple of its new 737 Max 8 aircraft crashed likely because a malfunction in the plane’s anti-stall system. A total of 346 people were killed in the two incidents, a death toll frightening enough to “traumatize” the airline industry.

Meanwhile, in Texas, an average of 3,609.4 people have died every year on state roads between 2013 and 2017. The reaction? Celebration. After all, state transportation agencies were shooting to limit the number of deaths to 3,791.

How is this okay? How is it that traffic deaths are routine and cause little concern or worry? How are they accepted as simply a part of life? How come we build our cities and economies around a form of transportation in which death is one of several costs of doing business?

One possible answer: the statistics themselves are to blame.

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Urbanism

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 27

| 2 days ago

Last week, a commenter on an encouraging post about the presence of scaffolding noted the mess of construction along Knox Street. As it just so happens, our founder Wick Allison was there over the weekend and took a photo.

On Knox Street, just west of Cole, where RH has taken over the world, pedestrians be damned. (Photo by Wick Allison)

This is work for Restoration Hardware’s new “RH Gallery,” we believe, which combined eight lots into a 2.2-acre tract of land. RH hasn’t said exactly what will go there, but the city has certainly allowed their contractors to run wild. The sidewalk that was present has vanished, but the parking spaces remain.

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Urbanism

Henderson Avenue Eyes a More Walkable Future

| 5 days ago

Dallasites who commute or live near Henderson Avenue, between Central Expressway and Ross, will be familiar with the recent onset of construction. The craters are a little too close for comfort along one westbound stretch of the road. Reasonable minds could assume the city is doing routine street work on a badly potholed thoroughfare. What they’re actually seeing is the result of years of planning—your 2012 bond dollars finally coming to life with an aim to slow the flow of traffic and make the area more walkable.

By February 2020, the city will install curbs that “bump-out” further, add parallel parking, improve the cracked and broken sidewalks, add new sidewalks, repaint, and put in a new stoplight at the pedestrian nightmare that is the intersection of Henderson and Willis, outside the Old Monk. It’s the latest iteration in Dallas’ “complete streets” program, which counts Lowest Greenville as its greatest achievement.

Cities have long emphasized traffic flow at the detriment of pedestrians, but Lowest Greenville became foot-friendly through city improvements that widened sidewalks, took four lanes of traffic down to two, added parallel parking, and installed touches like decorative pavement that signal to drivers they’re in a pedestrian realm.

Henderson is tricky in part because of the more limited right of way, which means the city won’t be able to widen the sidewalks in many portions of the project. Bike lanes, mulled over, were also axed due to space. But the city hopes to spur more foot traffic by repaving sidewalks that had long ago fallen into disrepair and by closing mostly unexplained blatant gaps in paving. Parallel parking will be protected by curb “bump-outs.” That will reduce the width of the traffic lanes considerably, slowing traffic.

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Urban Design

Dallas: The City That Is Gradually Moving Away From Hating Pedestrians

| 6 days ago

In many other cities, the photo above this post would be a shoulder shrug. But that corner of San Jacinto and Harwood hasn’t had a sidewalk in at least a year. It’s the edge of the new garage adjacent to the Trammell Crow Center, and construction has eaten up that side of San Jacinto in a way that has managed to inconvenience both drivers and walkers. Here is a narrative about what it was like to walk this part of downtown. And here is what it looked like before.

The result of Trammell Crow’s new tower. (Photo by Matt Goodman)
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Transportation

Unlike Bike Shares, Scooters Are Here to Stay

| 1 week ago

It’s been less than a year since city leaders were freaking out about the proliferation of dock-less bike shares, which were clogging sidewalks and ending up in trees and vacant lots. Despite some consternation about how the city might step in and regulate the bike shares, the whole ordeal was resolved with one simple solution: the scooter. Almost overnight, scooters bumped bike share off the streets and the hand-wringing about bike tangles was over.

Unlike the bikes, it doesn’t look like those electric scooters are a passing fad. According to a recent report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, during the first full year after scooters first hit the streets of American cities, 38 million rides were taken. Incredibly, scooter companies are scaling faster than any new transportation innovation, including ride-share, according to this Axios analysis.

Since it seems like scooters are here to stay, it makes sense to begin to talk about regulations.

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Urbanism

The Making of Tyler Station

| 2 weeks ago

Get off the red line at the Tyler/Vernon DART stop and you’ll find the newly repurposed Tyler Station a few steps from the tracks, standing out from the rest of its residential Elmwood neighborhood. What at first looks like one giant brick warehouse is actually a collection of entrepreneurs, craftsmen, artists, wellness professionals, political leaders, and community members all jammed into one collaborative space. The idea at its core is simple: serve the betterment of the community and, in the process, set a new standard for how to work.

The anchor for it all is at the front of the building in the co-working Wax Space. Inside you’ll also find Rose Garden ReMake, a thrift store that funds the reintegration of women into the community following incarceration, and a progressive Baptist Church that hosts vegan-friendly potlucks most Wednesday nights. You can even quench your thirst with a cold craft brew at Oak Cliff Brewing Company, which ferments its beers here and partners with local nonprofits.

Pushing paper:
If you live in Kessler Park, you’re familiar with the dramatic English Tudor house with leaded-glass windows at 1414 W. Colorado Blvd. It was built by Louie Kimple, founder of the Dixie Wax Paper Company. Another tidbit: the company’s sandlot baseball team was referred to as the Paper Cup Lads and the Dixies.
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Urban Design

Spend Your Saturday Afternoon at a Pop-up Park Near South Oak Cliff High School

| 3 weeks ago

Tomorrow, there is a neat thing happening in South Oak Cliff. The Trust for Public Land, the nonprofit that helps create parks and analyze parkland throughout the city, is teaming with the Better Block to open a pop-up park near South Oak Cliff High School.

The Trust for Public Land is buying this parcel to help turn it into a permanent community park. “Tomorrow’s pop-up park is the first step in that process,” says Robert Kent, the nonprofit’s director.

You should know Better Block by now. The Oak Cliff nonprofit takes empty spaces and fills them with things for people to engage with. In December, we wrote about how they’re 3-D printing bus stops that face away from the street, keeping particulate matter away from the people waiting for them. They’ll be making things like picnic tables and benches and maybe even a little stage. The photo above this post is what the two groups are trying to bring there.

As for the future of the space: Kent says this was an “overgrown eyesore.” The principal of South Oak Cliff High approached his organization and asked them to turn it into something.

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Urbanism

Three Neighborhoods Where Dallas Could Prioritize People Over Cars

| 3 weeks ago

Nick Dean and his wife found their house in Oak Cliff’s Winnetka Heights neighborhood by driving south on Sylvan Avenue until the real estate became affordable. After they found their home, it didn’t take long to recognize what made their little corner of Winnetka Heights economically accessible. In 1967, a four-lane divided boulevard was constructed through six neighborhood blocks between Jefferson Boulevard and 12th Street, cutting like a Nike swoosh through the neighborhood, demolishing dozens of homes, deflating value, and disrupting the quaint, early-20th-century grid of shady streets.

The road is a relic of a time when city traffic planners believed the highest virtue of urban design was enabling cars from the suburbs to speed through Dallas neighborhoods into downtown. Now the road inundated Dean’s neighborhood with dangerous traffic. It was clearly outdated. So Dean wondered: why couldn’t the city simply remove it?

As it turns out, Winnetka Heights residents had long dreamed of removing the so-called Jefferson-Twelfth Connector. But efforts over the years had fallen on deaf ears. Removing streets in Dallas isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it had never been done. In 2017, Councilman Scott Griggs—who lives on Jefferson just a few blocks from the connector—helped get money into a bond package for the project, but that didn’t guarantee its removal.

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Urbanism

Catching Up With the City Staffers Charged With Taking the Sidewalks Back

| 3 weeks ago

For years, Dallas’ right of way policy has existed in a state of chaos. If a contractor wanted to close a street or a sidewalk, sure, it had to tell the city and get permission. But it didn’t have to say anything about where the traffic or the pedestrians would go. Where are the detours? Are any nearby sidewalks closed? You putting up scaffolding? Previously, the city didn’t require the contractors to provide those details. And it certainly didn’t send anyone to check.

You just dealt with the construction—especially in downtown and Uptown—like stepping over a child’s toys left out in the living room. Last week, the City Council quietly approved a new ordinance that will require contractors to explain how they’re going to accommodate pedestrian traffic and drivers when their project bleeds into the right of way. They’ll have to put up more signage announcing such things and tell every business within 500 feet of the affected area. If they’re putting metal plates in the street, they’ll have to make sure they are bound to the concrete and slope so that they do not create noise when a car drives over them. Get ready for more scaffolding and increased coordination; the city seems amped to not allow two contractors to work on opposite sidewalks at the same time. And now, staffers will be checking and writing tickets. When the city began issuing citations, they racked up 314 in five months. That generated over $100,000 in revenue.

“We actually had those rules on the books, we just never enforced them,” says Robert Perez, Dallas’ head of public works. “Now, (violators) have to pay those or go to court for them, so we’ve used that as an enforcement tool to actually and try and get compliance with our rules that are out there.”

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Urbanism

Did the City of Dallas Just Kill Our ‘Dallas Hates Pedestrians’ Series?

| 4 weeks ago

Yesterday, tucked into the City Council’s mass-approval of items on its consent agenda, there was a solution to a problem that we’ve been badgering Dallas staffers about since February of 2018.

The Council voted to bolster its right-of-way policy so that it favors pedestrians over construction. The new ordinance mandates that anyone who’s working in or near a sidewalk that you should be able to traverse—both city contractors and private companies—must ensure that pedestrians can do their thing while the work is happening. (So long as there is not a safety risk.) So get your scaffolding ready, contractors.

You may recognize the gist of this. We’ve been documenting these mistakes in our Dallas Hates Pedestrians series for 15 months. We’re up to 26 entries and we could probably make it to 100 if we put our minds and feet to it. The city has long ceded priority to anyone who was doing work in the right of way. Construction companies have been allowed to fence off entire sidewalks, toss “closed” signs like they’re shooting dice, and commandeer lanes to hold equipment. There are plenty of times that some scaffolding would solve this problem, but it’s easier and cheaper for the companies to block the sidewalk. Now they’ll need to get in gear or they’ll be fined. Here is the verbiage from the ordinance:

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Parks

New Report: Dallas Improved Its Access to Parks More Than Almost Any Other City

| 4 weeks ago

The Trust for Public Land’s annual report on urban parks drops today, and while Dallas has slipped in its ranking compared with the country’s largest 100 cities, it has made big strides expanding access to parks.

The ParkScore metric, which ranks cities based on access to parks, park acreage, park investment, and park amenities, listed Dallas 52nd in the nation, a slip from its 49th place rank in 2018. But Dallas has increased the number of residents living within a 10-minute walk from a park. Robert Kent, North Texas Area Director for the Trust for Public Lands, says this is a result of a concerted effort between the Dallas Park and Recreation Department and Dallas and Richardson ISDs to convert 32 public school campuses into joint-use playgrounds after hours.

“In 2017, Mayor Rawlings was one of the first mayors to join TPL’s national “10-Minute Walk to a Park” campaign,” Kent says. “Since then, Dallas’s 10-minute walk figure has gone up from 60 percent in 2017 to 69 percent in 2019, which translates to over 145,000 people gaining park access. This was the 4th largest improvement in the country.”

Kent adds that over the next two years there are plans to unveil even more parks and trails funded by the most recent city bond issue, and so access to parks in Dallas will continue to improve.

Dallas Park Board President Bobby Abtahi remembers the mayor being initially reluctant to sign onto the pledge during that 2017 meeting without knowing that city could follow through. The concerted effort over the past two years to expand park access is a credit to the way the city and the school districts were able to work together to keep their word, he says.

“It is something we promised we would do,” Abtahi says.

Where the city’s park system lost points is for amenities, with the report citing a lack of dog parks and restrooms. The city scores well with regards to park size. Dallas’s median park size of 7.7 acres outstrips the national median of 5 acres, though that average is probably bolstered by counting the entirety of the Trinity River floodway. But Dallas parks are average with regard to investment.

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