Of Big Cities and Small Cities

It’s been a while since my last post.  Occasionally, I need a recharge.  Since Wick Allison already responded to Mayor Rawlings’ support of the Trinity Toll Road from a political standpoint here, I’m going to address some of the Mayor’s points about cities, transportation, and development.  I’m no expert in politics, but I do know cities even if I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  In my next three posts upcoming this week, I’m going to address three points the Mayor stated:  1) only small cities are removing highways from their urban core 2) that congestion is killing us all and choking the life out of the city, and 3) that efforts to revitalize the urban core are trying to take everyone’s car away from them and force everybody to walk everywhere.

Starting my original blog nor migrating over to this new home is and will never be focused on only one road, one issue, one design.  My fundamental point of this work and one I make over and over again in my various presentations is that we’ve been applying suburban thinking to the downtown area, which has in effect, forced it to compete with the suburbs.  That’s a fight it cannot win.  And has effectively suburbanized it (while ruralizing South Dallas as Peter Simek has correctly pointed out) as the center of town has shifted to swaths of 635 and 75 up through Plano.  The center of town is no longer Dallas, but the North Dallas border.

The de-urbanization of downtown is what has led to the decades of disinvestment, decay, and the near impossible odds of bringing the urban core back to life.  Anywhere in the world, it is the urban core that produces so much wealth and vitality that it effectively supports the rest of the city.  As many have pointed out over the years, it is our cities that are the wealth of the nation.  They are socio-economic reactors of human progress due to their inherent efficiencies bringing people, goods, ideas, markets, and labor together in time and space.  The highways through the core disconnect and dilute the real estate market increasing the space between all of these potential destinations, instilling inefficiency into the machine.  That inefficiency becomes tangible with low tax base and the high tax burden of all of this infrastructure we’ve built and continue to build without accounting for life cycle costs of that infrastructure.  The result is sapping the life out of public and private wealth.

In other words, those suburbs can’t compete at the urban core’s game.  If we ever decide to play it by re-urbanizing which means prioritizing proximity and infill densification within say a three mile radius of downtown.  That means prioritizing transit and walkability.  As we see with the premiums commanded in uptown for both residential and commercial space and with uptown’s success beginning to spill over into East Dallas and the Design District, the market is trying to re-urbanize.  However, it is struggling to do so.  These near downtown submarkets want to intensify.  For the sake of Dallas’ future, they must intensify, but to do so, we need to prioritize the infrastructure that allows that which is based on local connectivity.  Stitching these neighborhoods back together, while lessening the effect of highway oriented development has on diluting demand and spreading it continually further northward away from South and central Dallas.

The idea of reinvestment in the urban core brings me back to the movement around the world to not only no longer build highways through the urban core, but also begin removing them.  The mayor said something to the effect of “only small cities like San Francisco can remove freeways.”  I’m not entirely sure what that meant, but I’ll try to parse it.  San Francisco is indeed fairly small in terms of land area.  But it’s also home to 837,000 people.  While Dallas is 1.2M, it’s not that far behind.  Furthermore, from a metro standpoint the Bay area is 4.5 million people.  Not as big as DFW, but it falls into the category of “Very Large Metros” by the Texas Transportation Institute.  Both cities have 18.5%of their metro population.  So let’s not get into the small core, large metro debate, yah?

London’s a pretty big city, not land wise of course.  London metro fits double DFW’s population into 1/3rd of the land area and it barely allows highways into the city.  None that cut right through.  Seoul is an extremely large city with 10 million inhabitants and 25 million metro.  Seoul has removed 16 inner-city freeways.  So I’m not entirely sure what the point is of big and small cities, since cities large (NYC) and small (Portland, Milwaukee) have removed inner-city freeways and cities smallish (Vancouver) and large (London) have not allowed highways through their core.

The other point I want to make about San Francisco and being a small city, it’s got a big boy downtown.  Take a look at this data:

sf vs dal 1

Above is the lasso around the major job centers of downtown, uptown, and Stemmons Corridor.  The heat map in blue is where the employees live.  For the record, there are 279k jobs in 12.5 square miles.  28.5% live within 10 miles.

sf vs dal 2

Above is an area around downtown San Francisco.  There are 453k jobs within that boundary which is only 8.5 square miles. If you need help with the math that’s 174,000 more jobs in four square miles less.  That’s 2.5 times the jobs per area.  From 2002, those job counts grew 60k compared to 10k in the larger Dallas area above.  Also worth noting that more than 50% of employees live within 10 miles even though the majority of that 10 miles radii is water.  You see, distance of travel is the primary factor in vehicular congestion which has its plethora of negative externalities.

But don’t worry, Dallas. We’ve got them in average commute times.  Ours are only 26.5 minutes while theirs are 28.7 minutes.  Ha! Those two minutes are totally worth the 19,000/year in median income differential (58 to 77).  Or the 26,000 in income differential for young professionals (78 to 104).  Don’t bother bringing up housing cost differentials because when you factor transportation costs, Dallas costs more to live and commute in proportion to income.





  • bdelmonte

    Patrick, Your last point is really important, as most folks wave off any benefit that San Francisco has to offer by saying how outrageously expensive it is to live there. Unfortunately, the screen shot of the graphic that you link to doesn’t show the key. Can you provide the source of that?
    Thanks for all this info.
    Betsy del Monte