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Urbanism

The Guardian Explores the Human Costs of Oak Cliff Development (And How to Resist It)

| 6 days ago

When you live in a place and are involved in its day-to-day life, it can be difficult to recognize the pace and scale of change. Neighborhoods change slowly, evolving over years and decades. Case in point: North Oak Cliff. New restaurants open all the time, and townhomes and apartments seem to spring up from vacant lots weekly. It takes a big news event — like a recent council election or a planned new master plan  — to refocus attention on how all those little changes are driving neighborhood development.

Now, a new report in the Guardian draws our attention back to just how much has changed in Oak Cliff in a relatively short period of time. Here’s a striking statistic cited in the piece:

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Good Public Transit

It’s Official: DART Will Roll Out New Bus Service Plan in January

| 4 weeks ago

At last night’s meeting, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board approved its Final Bus Network Plan and January 2022 Service Changes – agency speak for the reimagined bus system we’ve been banging on about for years and years.

The bus system redo has been formally in the works since 2019 when the agency hired the firm of respected transportation planner Jarrett Walker to help lead the effort. Since then, it has heled 15 community meetings, two Facebook Live events, numerous stakeholder meetings, and received nearly 2,500 responses from its “DART Zoom” public input survey. Now we get to see what the new network will look like.

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Transportation

How Will the Senate Infrastructure Bill Affect Dallas’ I-345?

| 1 month ago

For months, urban advocates have been excited by the prospect of a major piece of infrastructure legislation that would earmark new federal funding for urban highway removal. Early versions of the bill set aside as much as $20 billion for tearing out highways, and the White House appeared keen on highlighting the projects as one way to target social equity in its signature infrastructure initiative. There was much disappointment, then, when earlier this week a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed the Senate with a greatly reduced pot of money for a highway removal pilot program – some $1 billion to be spent over five years.

Still, $1 billion sounds like a lot of cash, particularly when allocated for an idea that only a few years ago was largely considered a fringe concept in transportation circles. What exactly is the “Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program” established by the new Senate bill, and how might it affect Dallas’ I-345? I spent some time digging through the text of the legislation to try to find out.

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Urbanism

Why It Is Time to End Mandatory Parking Minimums in Dallas

| 2 months ago

As you may have heard, the city of Dallas is currently reviewing its parking ordinances with an eye toward relaxing or eliminating regulations that force businesses to create way too much parking. The process has been in the works for more than a year, and back in June, the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee received a briefing about feedback the city solicited at a few public forums about the proposal. “Public,” however, may a bit of an overstatement.

A grand total of 33 people spoke at the online meetings, representing a whooping 0.0025 percent of the city’s population. That low turnout is understandable given how wonky an issue parking policy is, but parking policy also has an outsized impact on shaping the environments everyone of us interact with every day. Despite the low turnout, the feedback did include some common fears and misconceptions about parking and how we use it, including arguments that public transit needs to improve dramatically before we can even talk about parking as well as fears that changing mandated parking minimums will somehow going to magically make all the parking disappear (if only!).

Those fears suggest that it is a good time to step back for a moment and take a broader look at why there is a push to revisit the parking codes and the role parking has played in destroying American cities.

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Urbanism

Deck Park Will Finally Give Historic Neighborhood ‘A Place to Walk to’

| 2 months ago

In the Dallas Morning News yesterday, columnist Sharon Grigsby writes about the new plans for the I-35E deck park in Oak Cliff. The city’s second deck park is being constructed as part of the massive Southern Gateway project – a rebuild of the interstate highway that tore through some of Dallas’ oldest neighborhoods when it was built back in the 1960s. Like many of Dallas’ recent park projects, the new deck park is being pitched as a way to stitch these communities back together.

Grigsby digs into the new plans for the Southern Gateway Park, which will be constructed in two phases. The first phase set to open at the end of 2023, and the second phase will require some additional fundraising. You can also learn more about the project and see more renderings on its website. But after reading about the new park, I wanted to point out a couple of things that struck me about the project.

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Transportation

Urban Expert on TxDOT’s I-345 Options: ‘You Can Do Better’

| 2 months ago

Last month, the Texas Department of Transportation unveiled initial designs for replacing or removing I-345. TxDOT included five possible options for the future of the road that cuts through Deep Ellum and which, as we have argued for a number of years, should ultimately be torn down. They include:

  • Doing nothing
  • Rebuilding the existing road
  • Replacing I-345 with a trenched highway
  • Removing the highway altogether
  • A “hybrid” option that includes some removal and some trenching

Last Thursday, the Coalition for a New Dallas hosted a conversation with renowned urban planner Peter Park to discuss the options. (Full Disclosure: The Coalition was founded by D Magazine’s late founder Wick Allison.) Park’s takeaway: the designs aren’t there yet. In fact, Park even found TxDOT’s design for I-345’s removal to be lacking and said that none of the early plans for the future of I-345 fully maximized the full potential of what a reimagined I-345 could mean for Dallas.

“I think you can do better,” Park told moderator Patrick Kennedy, who started this whole I-345 teardown business.

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Urbanism

Hunt Realty Bets Big on New Victory Park Development

| 3 months ago

In 1997, the fenced-in Northend Dallas apartments didn’t occupy an important connection between Victory Park and Uptown. The 540-unit apartment complex went up on 11 acres here decades before this part of Dallas went vertical with dense development. Now the city agrees it is time these apartments come down, replaced with something that makes more sense in its present surroundings.

The City Plan Commission last week unanimously approved what the landowner, Hunt Realty, has planned for these 11 acres. Hunt is now one council vote away from rezoning land bordered by Houston Street, Field Street, and Nowitzki Way to pursue an ambitious mixed-use high-rise development that its executives believe is a far better fit for this part of Dallas. At least 1.5 acres of public green space would be flanked by skyscrapers and a low-rise building made of timber. Hunt hopes to tie Victory Park to Uptown through what it has branded an “urban arboretum” that will exist in the middle of the property and contain pedestrian connections to points beyond it.

The project is in a very early stage of planning. The city’s approval is pending a conceptual master plan, which will likely dictate how many buildings there can be, how high they can go, how far apart they can be from one another, and their distance from the street and sidewalks. The company has suggested in news reports heights of more than 80 stories, which existing zoning allows. (Existing zoning also only allows multifamily on this plot, which necessitates the zoning change.)

Hunt anticipates the project will take 20 years to complete. It would include office, retail, hotel, and housing. The development includes ground-level rental space facing existing streets like Houston and Field, but the skyscrapers will likely open to the park. During the plan commission meeting, the company said it was aiming to reserve 5 percent of its units for residents making between 51 percent and 60 percent of the area’s median income. (That would be about $27,050 to $32,454, per the city’s data.) 

As this land exists today, a black fence surrounds the apartment complex, blocking access from all directions. That needs to change.

“It is the epicenter of the Victory Park, Uptown, Katy Trail, Klyde Warren Park, Perot Museum, and the [American Airlines] Center,” said City Plan Commissioner Wayne Garcia, who represents downtown and Uptown in District 14. “You guys have the opportunity to make this the center point of everything.”

DART’s planned D2 subway line will have a stop nearby, which the developers are including in their plans. Too, the planned Hi Line Connector will connect the Katy Trail to the Design District, making the bike lanes along Houston Street an important bridge. The plans include sidewalks with widths of between 8 and 12 feet. Further, Houston Street also leads into the West End and farther south to the old Dallas Morning News headquarters, which is slated for its own mixed-use overhaul.

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Urbanism

If Dallas Wants To Get Back to Basics, Let’s Start With Fixing Our Sidewalks

| 3 months ago

When Dallas’ newest City Council members were sworn in Monday, Mayor Eric Johnson gave a speech about getting back to the basics of city governance: things like building permits, trash pickup, public safety, economic development. On Wednesday, City Council member Cara Mendelsohn recalled that commitment as the new council was briefed on a plan to improve Dallas’ old and busted sidewalk system. Fundamentally, the city has an obligation to make sure people can move about safely. A sidewalk is about as basic as it gets.

As most people who have done any serious walking in Dallas can attest, the city doesn’t always get the basics right. We’ve written before about the city’s estimate that Dallas is missing roughly 2,000 miles of sidewalk. If you’re lucky enough to have a sidewalk, odds are good it’s uncomfortably narrow, or pitted and cracked, or for some reason studded with straight-down-the-center decorative light poles that force you to run an obstacle course every time you go for a stroll. Now imagine getting around on that kind of sidewalk if you’re in a wheelchair, or pushing a stroller.

Robert Perez, director of the city’s public works department, told council members that it would take a little under $2 billion to totally fix this: $1 billion to fill in the 2,000 miles of missing sidewalk, and about $976 million to fund 40 years of maintenance on the sidewalk we already have. This year, the city put about $10 million toward sidewalks. Perez says his department will ask for about $8 million a year for sidewalks to come from the city budget, with plans to get another $12 million a year from a bond package that should come up a few years down the road.

That’s $20 million a year for sidewalks. Meaning it would take about 100 years to “fix” Dallas’ sidewalk system. If they’re not riding around in flying electric cars—or hiding out from cannibals in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—your great-grandchildren will be able to follow the sidewalk all over Dallas.

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Dallas History

What We Really Lose When Highways Destroy Historic Neighborhoods

| 3 months ago

Last week, developer and incremental growth enthusiast Nathaniel Barrett posted a couple old newspaper clippings to Twitter. They are both reports on Deep Ellum, one from 1966 and another from 1971, and they are about the same thing: the death of the neighborhood.

The timing of the articles is curious. In between 1966 and 1971, much of Deep Ellum was leveled to make way for what one of the stories describes as a “10-lane freeway leg,” which we know today as I-345—or that little stretch of concrete that separates Deep Ellum from downtown about which we have made such a fuss over the years. These two old news stories help explain the fuss.

In fact, taken together, the articles offer a unique and valuable historical document. They don’t merely capture the look and feel of the neighborhood during this pivotal – and fateful – stretch of its history, they also reflect some of the attitudes and mentalities that surrounded the tumultuous construction of the highway. Reading them, one thing stands out: this city’s almost immediate obliviousness toward the violence and devastation wreaked upon its historic neighborhoods by highway construction.

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Transportation

I-345 Back on CNU’s ‘Freeways Without Futures’ List

| 4 months ago

On the heels of that New York Times report on the proliferation of highway removal projects in U.S. cities, the Congress for the New Urbanism has released its almost annual list of “Freeways Without Future.” Dallas’ I-345 has become a perennial on the list after first being featured back in 2014. The 2021 list has expanded to include 15 roads, including I-35 in Austin and I-244 in Tulsa– a reflection, perhaps, of how the idea of urban highway removal has taken hold throughout the country ahead of expected new federal funding for such projects.

The write-up on I-345 highlights the progress that has been made on the road, particularly since the release of the CityMap study, the follow-up Toole Design Group-led “Framework Plan,” and TxDOT’s ongoing work on the project. TxDOT will make its latest engineering studies public during a virtual meeting and two in-person sessions all set to take place on June 22. At those meetings, the agency is expected to present multiple options for the highway’s future.

As CNU points out, a “street network option” remains on the table:

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Urbanism

I-345 Might Come Down Sooner Than Expected

| 4 months ago

Dallas gets only a passing mention in this extensive New York Times dive into the cities around the country that are trying to remove urban highways. If you’ve been following this debate over the years — and you should have been — you’ll know much of the top-line info in the piece.

  • Cities “basically destroyed themselves,” says UCONN professor Norman Garric, by smashing neighborhoods to build roads.
  • The building of the federal interstate highway system often targeted Black neighborhoods. “There is racism physically built into some of our highways,” says DOT chief Pete Buttigieg, slightly understating the point. (If you want to know where Dallas’ freedmen’s towns were, run your finger along a map of the city’s highway network.)
  • Regarding Dallas’ effort to remove I-345, which runs between downtown and Deep Ellum, the Times reports that this city is “facing pressure from local residents and activists to address the pollution, noise, and safety hazards brought by the mega-roads.” That’s fair statement, but I would add to the motivations the desire to create a new, equitably minded downtown neighborhood while re-stitching the urban street grid; generate a once-in-a-lifetime economic boost to the inner city; and reverse the outward spread of economic growth by bringing jobs back to the urban core.

The news hook for Times interest in highway teardowns is the Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan. The version of the plan released in March proposed $20 billion for highway removal. The bill that is being hashed-out by Democrats in Congress translates that proposal into new federal funding for highway teardowns over five years. The Department of Transportation has also created grants for cities to kick-start the process. In other words, new federal policy may create an accelerant that could make longterm highway removal plans more imminent.

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Urbanism

How Dallas Paved Its Way to Inequality

| 4 months ago

Collin Yarbrough spent 8 years working as a pipeline engineer for Atmos Energy before he quit to focus on Full Circle Bakery, the community service-minded cookie-making operation he had founded with his mother—its proceeds go entirely to nonprofits like CitySquare. Around the same time, in 2019, he went into seminary at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. It’s a background that in many ways made the Lake Highlands native uniquely prepared to write a book about how years of infrastructure development shaped by racist public policy turned Dallas into one of the most unequal cities in the U.S.

Paved A Way: Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City, is available now on Amazon and coming soon to a Dallas bookstore near you. In the book, Yarbrough tells the stories of neighborhoods like Little Mexico, whose erasure began with the construction of the Dallas North Tollway, although there are still some remnants of the once-thriving Hispanic community in what is today Uptown. There’s Deep Ellum, split by I-345. And Fair Park, where Black neighborhoods were seized by eminent domain and paved over with parking lots to bring more White people to the State Fair of Texas.

Paved A Way shares some DNA with books like The Accommodation and White Metropolis, which similarly cover how a history of racism and inequality shaped the Dallas of today. Yarbrough’s book is also a call to action.

“These communities are still fighting,” he says. “Little Mexico may be gone, but West Dallas is having to face concrete batch plants coming in and trying to grapple with Trinity Groves. It’s the same thing, just in a different location with different names and different actors. An engaged coalition of community members is, by and large, one of the most powerful things that I’ve seen in Dallas and in other cities that can really make an impact on keeping this kind of injustice from repeating.”

I got Yarbrough on the phone this week to talk about Paved A Way and the story behind every highway. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

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