READER FEEDBACK: Dallas Might Be Gaining People But Losing the Creatives

From long-time loyal reader and regular commenter Himanshu gets bumped from the comments section on Diversity as Livability Indicator to the headline cuz, like woah:

Well, you have an uncanny way or writing down things that I have been thinking. After having worked in downtown Dallas for the better part of the past decade, and having seen the areas of downtown and uptown get better, they still don’t seem to catch the essense of what I’m looking for in my neighborhood. So, I’m moving to Center City Philadelphia–Society Hill, specifically. I look forward to ditching my car and walking to work and home, walking to all the bars and pubs and grocery stores, enjoying picnic lunches at Washington Square or Rittenhouse Square or Fitler Square, etc. Shopping on Walnut Street and Market Street and Reading Terminal Market. And doing all this in a place that has a sense of place, has livability, and walkability galore. Your old town, I suppose. But I will continue reading your blog from time to time. Keep it up! And perhaps you’ll move (back) to Philly sometime in the future…

Unlike some other regular readers, I have never met Himanshu personally (unless I’m unaware). While this blog doesn’t get the kind of traffic that generates the kind of traffic to turn it into a giant money maker itself, it does get a loyal following, and an engaged, intelligent one focused on improving Dallas or general urban issues at that.

Over the last few years however, I have seen scores of talented people move away from Dallas to cities like Portland, Seattle, DC, Boston, and New York being the most common destinations. Given that this particular reader has the means to be able to live in and move from downtown Dallas to center city Philadelphia, these are the kinds of people that we don’t want to be losing.

When we look at population figures stating that Dallas is gaining people and that the economy is holding steady or adding jobs, they never tell us what kind of jobs or who these new residents are. These are the definition of dumb statistics. Anecdotally, it feels like we are losing talented people and replacing them with people just looking for a job, any job. The difference between what we’re gaining and what we’re losing is the difference between a steady current economy and a strong future one.

If we are adding jobs, they are mostly towards the status quo businesses and the “Great Reset” (Richard Florida’s term) is a repurposing (evolutionary biologist term) of the economy where the genotype (new generations) shed the phenotype (the past economy) in favor of a new and more serviceable one. Point being that the economy, and our cities in turn, will be very different in 20 or 30 years.

Those we seem to be losing on the negative end of the import/export equation are what Richard Florida might refer to as the Creative Class. While people might interpret Florida here suggesting that the term “creative” implies artisans such as musicians or sculptors or what not, my interpretation is that Florida, the demographer, only uses those as a measuring stick. Professions whereby improving the lives of those who have the means and ability to locate where they choose based on Quality of Life of a particular city meeting their particular needs. The more livable the place, the greater number of these types of people’s needs will be met there, the more likely they are to relocate there.

These are the people we MUST be attracting and retaining. While I despise Ayn Rand for missing her own point (or being able to temper it within reality) and dreadfully long soliloquies, these people are the true fountainheads. They are the Structure Builders of the pillars of the future economy by which real, sustainable job growth and long-term prosperity can be founded upon.

They are the measuring stick for where our City will be in 20 years in relation to those where they are choosing to relocate. And we are losing them.

Himanshu mentioned Livability. Washington Post writer Neal Pierce discusses it as well today where he expresses frustration at the vague nature of the umbrella term but the necessity of the concept.

I will help him out. Livability, what people are looking for and where they are moving to are places where choice is in abundance; where people can live the way they want without fear of persecution; where people can find quality housing of the size and type suitable to their needs in neighborhoods of the character matching their desires. Multiple modes of transportation are available allowing for the universal access of all to their destinations. Then there are other kinds of access such as, to education for personal advancement and the CHOICE of careers and to healthcare and justice for well-being of body, mind, and soul.

This is precisely why I am driven crazy by “pro-business” policies. There is nothing about them that is about advancing business or the economy, but rather to protect the status quo. But, the status quo doesn’t freeze happiness, comfort, rainbows and unicorns in place. You either progress or get left behind and the status quo ensures falling behind. Sometimes this can mean that a country’s industry falls behind another or it can mean the country’s people fall behind and are stuck with the bill. See: BP.

To bring this closer to home and back to the focus of this blog, I’m reminded of the new Tarrant County College “campus” in downtown Fort Worth (and one of FortWorthology’s personal obsessions) where Kevin was told the anti-urban design was “just being realistic” about Fort Worth’s car-orientedness. Status-quo. And here I thought, educational institutions were supposed to be thought leaders, shaping the future and the minds thereof.

This is the race to the bottom and it is time to start investing in people. It is people that create the economy and our cities not the other way around and our future depends upon it.

http://www.bendib.com/newones/2004/february/small/2-2-Race-to-the-Bottom.jpg

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Comments

  • Is Dallas losing “creativity” people? 20 years ago Uptown, Cedars, the Design District and Oak Cliff were no go zones for creative people. Oak Cliff, more so than those other areas, appears to be a more so-called legit neighborhood because you have families moving there.

    I am not sure young couples want to raise their children in Uptown. Then again I do not see why not? Travis Elementary is there, and if you are kids are good enough for the Magnet schools and then great.

    I hate to get into demographics because it is can be dangerous territory, but look at today’s DMN about “black flight.” Black families either moving away from Dallas or putting in their children charter schools. They had a neat little chart that shows how few “white” children there are today. Which brings to Oak Cliff, where a white person recently won a trustee post in DISD. The guy could have probably picked any place else to raise a family, but he choose Oak Cliff.

    Dallas has the young professionals in Uptown, black, Hispanic and white, but will it keep those professionals when they start having families?

    There are some trends that work in Dallas’ favor to hold onto those folks, mainly, people are postponing marriage and children until later on in life. So the decision to stay or move is postponed. Hopefully that is enough time for DISD to be back on the right track.

    But another thing that works in Dallas’ favor is that today’s DISD’s problems are tomorrow’s suburban ISDs problems. This all has to do with much larger trend of Texas becoming more Hispanic and poorer.

    Not every suburb can be Southlake or HP.

    This is a long rant. But to sum it, yes there are creative people in Dallas, and some are raising families where few would have raised them by choice. The question is now whether or not those kids at the Loon ten years from now will still call Dallas home. Hopefully by postponing marriage and children, they will be financially better off and could afford private school, or DISD is seen as okay.

  • Apologies after the fact for the error-laden comment. Sometimes my mind moves faster than my hands. Unfortunately, online comments do not involve peer review. But as a wiser fella’ than myself once said, “The first draft is always s*hit.”

  • Now you know why there are so many errors in my posts. 1 draft is all it gets! I actually wrote the majority of that post from my phone early this morning and iPhones do love to change words around.

    Thanks for the comments though. I never meant to imply that Dallas had no creative people. My worry is about the people who are leaving. In fact, I’m amazed how much creative energy hails from Dallas, but I find it a shame that much of it ends up elsewhere.

    When demographers or economists talk about areas growing or shrinking they talk only in large round numbers, quantity over quality. While Dallas no doubt has quality, regretfully I’m seeing too much of it leave often for cities that might be considered “shrinking.”

    We need to be able to draw the people who can go live in any City in the country if not world and the effects of that draw are delayed. Austin is a draw nationwide and has been so for about ten years. I remember in school when people were talking about graduating and relocating, to my horror people were talking about Texas, more specifically Austin.

    Of course, I was the only one to end up down here. Now that I’m here I want it to be the best damned City in the world.

    We have to be a draw, not a sieve that desperately tries to hold on to what it has. Imagine if UT would lose more than half of the best high school football talent in the state of Texas rather than being able to handpick not just from the state but increasingly from across the country. They’d be mediocre at best. Well, they’d be aTm. Apologies, Aggies.

  • Patrick! Didn’t think you would turn my little post into a big deal like this…yikes! hehe Thanks, I guess?

    Yeah, we never met offline but that’s because I never got fast enough on free beer Fridays to get on your blog and then find the right answer…your other loyal readers are quicker than me…so really, Dallas is just losing a dimwit!

    I went to Richard Florida’s guest lecture when he visited UT-Arlington last year, partly because I have read his articles in the past. I got a signed copy of his “Who’s Your City” and of course his previous #1 NYT bestseller, “The Rise of the Creative Class”. Who’s Your City crystallizes a lot of the issues driving world economy.

    Really, being same age as you, I wanted to make a move and try something new, and Dallas isn’t even my hometown, and doesn’t have anything that holds me down over here. Philly, while old school and bleeding population, has gained a lot of young and mobile folks over the last two decades, especially in Center City and surrouding areas. 100k people in a living, working, playing area that’s compact and laid in a walkable grid. The whole host of universities just adds to the appeal (Penn and Drexel are across the river from downtown, Temple a short subway ride to the north).

    I think you have to be very optimistic about Dallas as a city and metro for its economic and population growth and growing dynamism. Perhaps I’ll be back, though I don’t see it right now. Not every city is going to be the “right fit” for everyone, or for every phase of one’s life. Obviously, Dallas feels like the right choice for a lot of newbies from California, the Midwest, even PeeAye!

    Perhaps we can chat sometime over a beer before I leave…I’ll buy! Just write me an email about when you’re free.

  • I find it’s not that Dallas has no “creative types” it’s that it has far less than other megalopolises of roughly 6 million people. The new Brookings study really hits that home if you play with the charts: http://www.brookings.edu/metro/StateOfMetroAmerica.aspx

    But the metro areas of the USA have held pretty constant in things like percentage of residents with bachelors degrees for the last century, so Dallas isn’t likely to catch the Boston’s or DC’s anytime soon—really it’s the Philly’s and Chicago’s Dallas needs to target.

    Now as an expat and 2001 DISD grad I feel the need to set comment 1 straight a little. The school system in Dallas is not the problem, there are plenty of choices, and in fact I’d call you a fool if you sent your kid to a private school or a charter school instead of Stonewall/Long/Woodrow. The 3 R’s are taught much better in east Dallas public schools (and Hillcrest, White, and the magnets) than they are at any half-ass private school in the area (Lakehill, BL, FBA, Dallas Christian).

    Education is not why people choose those schools. Schools are really about socialization (often for the parents as much as the kids), for if you don’t know the HP/Hockaday/Greenhill crowd you can never be “in” and being “in” is the reason for living as far as many of the trite and superficial denizens of the Metroplex are concerned. It is why there are so many gated communities to be “in” and new exurbs to move “in”to. And as for Uptown, I had so much hope for Uptown when I was a kid. I really thought the streets of State-Thomas (it wasn’t called Uptown just yet) could be the Greenwich Village of the Southwest, but alas they are a dense Frisco in built form and in mindset—take a gander at the voting patterns there, as a DC guy I can tell you that a lot can be inferred from just that.

  • Great comment Alex.

  • The public school system is definitely a big problem Dallas has facing it, but it’s something that they deal with in places like New York, Denver, Portland – pretty much everywhere, actually. And those cities are still managing to steal lots of brainpower from other cities around the country.

  • Himanshu,
    Do I have your email address? I’d be happy to take you up on that beer.

    Just shoot me an email.