That title is a lie. I love Austin. Sorry for the clickbait.
I do, however, resent Austin a little bit, which I suppose is only natural for a Dallasite who has spent a lot of breath trying to convince non-Texans that “No really, Dallas is cool too! I promise!”
How soon after a new place opens in Dallas do you hear people talking about its “Austin vibe” or how you “don’t feel like you’re in Dallas?” Phrases like that used to really frustrate me. I love this city; it’s my home. Why would I want to go somewhere that made me forget where I was? Is Dallas really that awful that the only way to have a good time is to feel like you’re not here?
But I’ve made peace with Austin. Austin is great. I’m glad we’re learning from them.
That mindset I used to have extends past whether the cool new bar copied one in the Hill Country or not. With all the conversation surrounding the future of the city’s infrastructure, I constantly hear a similar thought: “That would never work here. We aren’t Copenhagen/New York/San Francisco/etc.” There’s no way we can do what another city did to improve because their situation and characteristics are different than ours.
And that thought isn’t necessarily wrong. It would be foolish to just copy and paste what City X did and think we’ll instantly fix our problems. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet. However the opposite is also dangerous. We shouldn’t disregard things that have been proven to work in other places simply because it happened somewhere else; rather, they should serve as learning experiences for how we can improve Dallas.
Right now, Dallas is in a crucial position. The key decisions we make over the next 5 or 10 years will shape the city for 50 years and beyond. At this turning point, we are understanding better than ever that the North Texas boom of the last few decades has basically hollowed out our city’s economic base and left many parts of Dallas in the dust.
CityLab recently released its list of the world’s most economically powerful cities. Dallas was not on that list. Houston was not on that list. Of the 6 North American cities on the list, there was only one that could be considered a sprawl-oriented city: Los Angeles. And it may not be for much longer. L.A. is slowly becoming a world leader in adapting to a new business model by heavily investing in transit and encouraging smart, sustainable development. Even Houston, Dallas’ closest benchmark/rival city, is completely overhauling its bus infrastructure (thanks to Jarett Walker) and not paving over the river that runs though the city, as Mark Lamster recently wrote about in his wonderful piece in the Dallas Morning News.
Dallas has the opportunity to take note of all the progress (and decline) that other cities across the world have made in making themselves more economically vibrant and powerful. From big examples like London and New York, to smaller cities like Chattanooga and Indianapolis, people are changing the way those cities are shaped and improving quality of life and investment opportunities.
We don’t have the luxury of staying the course. The last 60 years of traffic engineering hasn’t made us a stronger city, but a weaker one. Look at Neighborhood Plus, City Manager’s AC Gonzales’ recent report on the state of our neighborhoods, for some evidence of how far our city needs to come. It’s foolish and ignorant to write off ideas from other cities because they’re older, younger, bigger, smaller, or closer the ocean than we are. As we study the issues at hand and create our own unique solutions, let’s also look for inspiration and draw from the best of what the world has to offer to see if we can adapt those ideas to make Dallas a model for the future.
So, bring on the ideas, from Amsterdam to Bogotá to Minneapolis to Tokyo. I’ll be at an Austin-y beer garden, drinking a delicious local beer, enjoying my city and working on a better future.