A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Architecture & Design

We’re Still Trying to Understand Why New Apartments Are So Ugly

| 4 days ago

Curbed takes up a topic we’ve batted around these parts before: why are new apartments in American cities so ugly? Calling it the bland, boxy apartment boom, the website wonders why so many U.S. cities are being reshaped by the same kind of mishmash-y housing that has come to define the many Dallas inner city neighborhoods that have been the beneficiaries of new investment and development over the past decade or so. Architects and urbanists have struggled to put a name on it, coming up with “Simcityism,” “SketchUp contemporary,” “Minecraftsman,” or “Revittecture.”

In their attempts to find out why this style of building has come to define new construction in American cities, Curbed encountered many of the same fundamental forces shaping design that I wrote about in this article last year. These days, aesthetics, architectural ideas, and regional sensitivity take a back seat to the more practical considerations of the development market, such as building code, construction costs, and a trend in the industry to cut expenses by bypassing architects all together. Builders defend the practice by pointing to the practical necessities of turning a profit while providing much needed new housing. 

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Leading Off

Leading Off (12/6/18)

| 2 weeks ago

New Trinity Park Plan Presented Tonight. The 64-foot-long, 8-foot-tall cross-section of the park will be shown to the public this evening at Gilley’s Dallas. Michael Van Valkenburgh, the landscape architect, will be one of the speakers. Groundbreaking is scheduled for fall 2020. “This is an insane opportunity. It’s the coming together of a new Dallas,” Van Valkenburgh said.

McKinney Day Care Worker Arrested, Infant Suffered Broken Bones. Jessica Joy Wiese was arrested because several infants were injured while they were in her care. She worked at Joyous Montessori in McKinney and was fired post-arrest.

DPD Found 15-Year-Old Arrested for Serial Rapes Using GPS Technology. Cops were able to track a murdered woman’s laptop to his house using GPS technology. Authorities hope to have him tried as an adult.

Man Shot and Robbed Near SMU. A 40-year-old man had two gunshot wounds when police found him in his University Park residence. He’s in critical condition at Presbyterian.

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DART Successfully Built For Sprawl. So When Will It Design For People?

| 2 weeks ago

One of the chief criticisms of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s sprawling rail system is that, while it’s the largest in the country, it’s inefficient. You see that in ridership, which trails per-capita numbers from the public transit systems in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso. It shows the challenge of a 93-mile rail system that was built largely along existing freight lines that don’t effectively serve many of the neighborhoods where residents live and work and recreate. Its most efficient use is for suburban office workers to zip to their jobs downtown and back again.

All of this is argued in an ambitious new book by Houston-based transit planner and Rice University professor Christof Spieler. In Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Spieler spends 250 pages judging the public transit systems of 47 metro areas across this country. He traces the history of these systems, cataloguing ridership and size to determine the highest performers. Dallas doesn’t exactly rank at the top in terms of ridership for any of its services, be that commuter rail or light rail or buses or streetcar. Despite being the country’s longest, it does not rank in the top five of total ridership. Per capita is even worse.

However, ironically, DART is something of a success when you consider its own goals. Spieler writes that the agency’s primary desire was to scale, to stretch 93 miles and incorporate as many member cities as would pay into it with their tax dollars. The easiest way to do this was to snap up right of way in the form of existing freight lines, which only created a suburbanized transit system.

“One of the things I’ve noticed across the country is that it’s really tempting to build transit in places where it’s easy to build,” he said in an interview. “Freight rail fits in that category. It’s easier from an engineering planning standpoint, it’s easier politically because you have less disruption when you do that, and there’s some sort of tendency on people’s parts that when they see a track running somewhere to assume that must be a good place to put rail.”

Spoiler: It isn’t. Here’s the excerpt from Spieler’s book:

“DART light-rail lines skirt the medical center rather than running through it, pass within 600 feet of the Love Field runway but don’t serve the terminal, stop on the opposite side of freeways from both Southern Methodist University and the University of Dallas, and miss the densest neighborhoods in Dallas.”

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Inside the Legal Battle for Plano’s Future

| 3 weeks ago

Beth Carruth and her husband were living in Farmers Branch in 1999 with their two adopted children when they finished an extensive renovation of their house, what Carruth describes as her “dream home.” But their children were not adjusting well to the public schools. Ultimately, the couple decided that their children’s education was more important than the perfect house. So they moved to Plano.

It didn’t take long for her to notice the city’s growing pains. “The elementary school is bursting,” she says. “They didn’t have a cafeteria, and the kids had to eat lunch at their desks every day. The classrooms were so small, they could never have had a fat teacher.”

By the 2010s, Plano’s city government realized what was happening. Population growth had hit a plateau and the city was growing older. A mere 128,000 residents in 1990 had swelled to 260,000 in 2010, but estimates saw that growth leveling out in the coming decades, at around 300,000. The median age of Plano residents in 1980 was 27.4 years old. By 2010, it was 37.2 years old. Projections put the 2030 median age at 44.5. And the city has become far more diverse. In 1990, Plano was more than 80 percent white. Today, 43 percent of Plano residents are non-Caucasian, and one in four Plano residents was born outside the United States.

“The reality is Plano has changed already,” says Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, whose own story—Haitian-born, raised in New York, relocated to Plano in 1994—reflects the changing character of the city. “We are no longer a suburb. We are our own city. The idea that we are a 45-year-old family of two with a minivan taking kids to soccer games is simply not the case.”

In 2013, the city set out to update its 27-year-old comprehensive plan so as to accommodate this growth and change. The result was the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, a forward-thinking policy document that re-imagines the ur-suburb as an emerging city. The plan protects some single-family neighborhoods, but it also looks to zones like transit corridors and four-corner retail strip centers as opportunities for denser, urban-style growth. Looking to the success of the Legacy development, the Plano Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan envisioned a suburban community punctuated with pockets of urban life, denser neighborhoods of mixed-use developments.

The plan won national awards and was praised for its “highly accessible and inclusive” approach to drawing public engagement in its creation. But Beth Carruth was not happy. She attended several of the public input workshops, and she says most of the people she spoke with didn’t want any more high-density development. And yet that’s exactly what the Plano Tomorrow plan encourages.

Carruth believed the plan provided for too many high-density areas, including places that didn’t make sense, such as a four-corner shopping center along the highway. “We have a mayor who is extremely in favor of high density, maybe because he grew up in New York,” she says. “When people move to Plano, that is not what they are looking for.”

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Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 17

| 4 weeks ago

For the past couple editions of my favorite ongoing D Magazine Dot Com feature, we’ve been picking on the temporary failings of construction crews affiliated with the city and with developers. They deserve to be dinged, sure, but there are more permanent design flaws that we can’t forget about. An alert FrontBurnervian reminded me of this just this morning, when he sent over the following photographs from the 3100 block of Empire Drive in Lakewood.

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Victory Park Is Getting Yet Another Above-Ground Parking Garage

| 1 month ago

On Wednesday, both Paper City and the Dallas Morning News trumpeted the latest addition to Dallas’ luxe housing charge – Houston-based Hines’ Munoz + Albin-designed apartment high-rise named The Victor. The PR spin talks about how the 39-story, 344-apartment, 453-foot tower will be one of the tallest buildings outside downtown. Picking nuance out of pepper, Hines clarifies it will be the tallest residential tower outside downtown—because you have to be the “est” of something.

But, geez, despite being called out by D Magazine not once, but twice in this summer’s “Dallas and the New Urbanism” special issue, the ugly streetscape continues. I suppose the development team thinks an eight-story blank wall—that fools no one by its ugliness—is OK so long as there’s a restaurant on the ground floor?

Looking around Victory, the only winner is the automobile.

The map above paints the picture. While you can argue that some of those surface lots will be developed, it’s also safe to say that the multi-level above-ground parking garages will last as long as the buildings they service. While other parts of the city within the Oak Lawn Committee’s sphere of influence are often burying all or part of their parking, this is not happening in Victory.

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Local Government

Recent Fight Over Dallas’ Housing Policy Shows the Problem’s Complexity

| 2 months ago

Patricia Baghboud is fully disabled and has custody of her two-year-old grandson. She lives in the Ridgecrest Terrace Apartments, a dilapidated complex just west of Oak Cliff that’s desperate for fixes. Last Wednesday, having stuck around until late in the afternoon for an item that was on the morning agenda, Baghboud stepped to the podium and implored the City Council to push through the owner’s request for housing dollars to fix up the complex. But the request would’ve required an amendment to Dallas’ first-ever Comprehensive Housing Policy. “You all do not know what it’s like to live in poverty,” she said between sobs.

The pleas of Baghboud underscored just how difficult a task lies ahead of the City Council, as it takes a first swipe at modifying the much-needed policy it passed in May. Council is being asked to determine how much—if any—of the document it’s willing to concede when presented with opportunities to immediately aid people in dire situations. The implications of the tweak are murky, and some council members’ understandings of it murkier still, but any amendment has a way of representing a step back to the city’s old approach to housing, a broad giveaway of tax credits and other incentives that has contributed to concentrated poverty by stacking low-income residences in parts of town that lack adequate city services and economic opportunities. Councilman Scott Griggs, of North Oak Cliff, called last week a “litmus test.” Meanwhile, the city is still short of 20,000 affordable units.

One thing that became clear as eyes drooped and patience wore thin late Wednesday in the Council chambers: it will be difficult to address the city’s short-term needs while taking a long-term approach to changing the system. City Manager TC Broadnax said that most definitively. “We will never be able to produce an outcome for everybody because we feel a certain way,” he said. It’s hard to face that reality with Baghboud and so many of her neighbors present, pleading for help.

Ultimately, the amendment didn’t pass. The council instead directed staff to take a broader look at possible tweaks over the next six months. “This whole conversation has been a conversation between the heart and the brain,” said North Dallas Councilman Lee Kleinman.

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Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Part 15

| 2 months ago

Earlier this week, I took you on a bumpy trip of the Ross Avenue corridor, where a slew of major redevelopments have shot up and taken our sidewalks. Yesterday afternoon, on the way to an appointment at City Hall, I got curious where else this is happening. The problem: the city appears to have little control over how much public right of way is occupied by contractors doing these big-time tower re-dos. Walking around downtown, you’d think the city’s core is desperate for any sort of development—not undergoing the boom that we’re in.

“We don’t seem to have any system of controls that would guarantee any respectful use of the city’s right of way,” says Councilman Philip Kingston, who represents downtown, Uptown, and East Dallas. “It’s a function of the city’s historic fealty to developers. They get away with everything.”

To City Manager T.C. Broadnax: Dallas is again forgoing the safety of pedestrians and allowing these projects to overtake what little space residents have when they’re on two feet. This is happening in the densest parts of the city. A little scaffolding would go a long way. They’re even bleeding into driving lanes, sticking sad orange cones in areas that abut their fenced-off developments.

“They’ve managed to piss off not just the pedestrians but the drivers too,” Kingston says.

In my post from Wednesday, this was most evident on San Jacinto. But it’s elsewhere, too. Here’s one on Flora Street, the Arts District’s primary artery, which appears to be using a sidewalk to place equipment and, among other things, a Port-A-Potty:

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Alt Weekly Dallas Observer Hates Bicycles

| 2 months ago

Patrick Williams has worked at the Dallas Observer since, like, forever. He is 56 years old and holds the title of editor of the alt weekly. And it seems to me that he hates bikes. Here’s part of what he posted to the weekly’s site today:

[S]omeone has to say it: Dallas will never be a city of cycling commuters. Give up already. Roads are bad, drivers are worse, and we’re too spread out. Putting bike racks on DART buses and trains is just encouraging us to mix two bad forms of misery.

Oh, and except for a few weeks in spring and fall, the weather is always inclement. It’s … too … goddamn … hot. Mid-50-degree temperatures and light rain? That’s a good day for cycling to work in Dallas.

Let’s talk about this for a minute. First, you should know that I am 48 years old, and I try to cycle to work twice a week (from East Dallas, mostly on the Santa Fe Trail, a distance of 11 miles each way). So my immediate response to Patrick, whom I’ve known for a long time, was violent and unfair. I called him and said bad things. I asked him how much he weighs. He declined to give me a number, saying only that he was “fat.”

But here’s the deal: Patrick is (or was) an experienced cyclist. He has commuted to work on his bike. In a previous life, before he got fat and ugly, he did the Indiana TRIRI, which is about 400 more miles than I’d ever try to ride. So, actually, Patrick is a guy who is hard to dismiss when it comes to his opinion about cycling to work in Dallas.

And yet that’s what I’m doing here with this post. Eff Patrick Williams. Dallas can become a city of cycling commuters. I’ve been doing it for a little more than a year. In that time, I’ve seen an uptick in cycling commuters. It ain’t a huge increase. But it’s there. The other day, three of us pulled up to a stoplight on our bikes, all headed out of downtown. We’re doing it. Despite what old, dumb Patrick Williams says.

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Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 14

| 2 months ago

In the sunnier days of early October, I got an email from a man named Bryce Stewart, who offices out of KPMG Plaza on Ross Avenue, a block or so north of Pearl.

“You should check out the intersection at Ross and Pearl,” he wrote. “Then just look east/west down Ross from there and see how the Chase tower construction is forcing people to walk in the street and dodge traffic. I own and operate my own business in the KPMG building and I am thinking of leaving downtown due to this.”

That intersection, which isn’t far from D Magazine’s office, is part of a patchwork of major construction projects along the Ross Avenue corridor. Virtually all of them are making it more difficult get around on two feet. There’s the Chase Tower plaza renovation, which stretches out from the 55-story building to Ross Avenue. There’s the re-do of Trammell Crow Center’s front door. There’s the new-build, mixed-use high rise across the street. There’s also the forthcoming 28-story Hall Arts condo building and hotel, at Ross and Leonard.

The result is a mess of closed or disappearing sidewalks, shrunken lanes, and confusion, for both drivers and walkers. At rush hour, officer workers pour out into the streets as drivers look to zoom out of downtown as quick as they can. Stewart, who runs a four-person CPA shop out of an office in developer Craig Hall’s KPMG Plaza, watches pedestrians get forced into the street at crowded Pearl because of the Chase Tower construction.

“My employees don’t park in the building. They park on the east side of Chase Tower, where all those parking lots are,” he says. “They have to somehow cross the street, dodge traffic, all sorts of fun stuff. My lease isn’t up until the end of February, so I can’t do anything until then. But it’s gotten extremely frustrating; it’s just a never-ending thing.”

Let’s take a brief tour of the Ross Avenue corridor, starting with Chase Tower. Here is Stewart’s view.

An aerial shot of Ross and Pearl. (Photo by Bryce Stewart)

Here’s what it’s like to walk it.

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