Searching for a Victory

Recently, developers have announced a new plan to revamp the long-embattled Victory Park. The high-profile project has been relatively successful, but ultimately it has failed to create a truly vibrant neighborhood that can support restaurants and retail like its more popular neighbor, Uptown. But with a slew of new development in the works – Victory Center, Camden Victory Park, the Alexan on Goat Hill, and The Arpeggio just to name a few – it appears that Victory may finally garner a critical mass of permanent residents to support local businesses. There are even plans to make Houston St. and Victory Ave. both two-way streets for better pedestrian use, as well as widening the sidewalks along Victory Park Lane to create a promenade.

This is all great news. However, this plan doesn’t address a fundamental issue with Victory Park. Specifically, its fractured grid and missing connections to surrounding neighborhoods. Despite being at a prime crossroads between Uptown, Downtown and the Design District, Victory Park is terribly isolated. What do I mean by isolated? I mean it strictly in the sense of access through a complete street grid. Strangely enough, Victory Park actually has excellent access to transit. It’s the surface streets and sidewalks that need attention. Let’s take a look at the roads connecting Victory to its surrounding neighborhoods.

VP 1

As you can see from the map above, I’ve defined Victory Park, roughly, as the area bounded by I-35E, Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Houston St. (blue outline). While we’ve left out a few developments across Houston St. (Audi Garage and Cirque), most of Victory Park as we know it has been captured here. I have also shown in red arrows the limited access points between this defined area and the surrounding city grid. I count only seven true connections to the world beyond Victory Park. As we’ve discussed on this blog before, a proper grid can disburse traffic more evenly than a corridor or limited access road. Here there are so few connections that the ones that do exist become choke points during heavy traffic. And you’ve always wondered why it’s such a nightmare leaving a Mavericks or Stars game.

A proper grid is not only important for moving people out of an area but into it as well. This is why cross-city accessibility is important. The more accessible an area is, whether by car or foot, the greater the chances outsiders will frequent that area. This is especially true for close-in, urban areas. A robust grid system encourages cross-city connections and use by people near or next to a neighborhood. People enjoy exploring different areas near their own neighborhoods or places of business, whether by car or foot, and if you give them the means to do it (i.e., short, compact blocks with many connections) they will. Victory Park may be able to sustain itself by simply building more apartments and bringing more permanent residents into the neighborhood. But if it wants to sustain itself in the long-run, it needs to attract people from neighboring Design District, Uptown and Downtown on a consistent basis, not just when there is some event at the American Airlines Center. There should be a continuous hum of people filling the sidewalks at all hours – local residents, nearby workers and people from other neighborhoods who choose to make Victory Park a destination. This can be helped by completing the surrounding grid, as well as taking a more organic approach to development rather than the top-down approach taken thus far (a separate topic deserving it’s own post).

Below, you can see what a more complete grid might look like (blue arrows).

VP 2

If you’ll notice, I-35E forms an impenetrable wall on the western side of Victory Park between Hi-Line Dr./Victory Ave. on the north side and Continental Ave. on the south side. That’s about 7/10th of a mile with no cross-access points for pedestrians or cars. In a typical city grid, you could fit about eight or nine blocks in this span. Here we have none. Given I-35E and the DART/TRE tracks, it’s probably not possible at the present moment to add too many connections. But even if there was only one connection, for instance near Victory Station that connected Olive St. to the Design District, it would help with accessibility between Victory Park and the Design District. At the very least, there should be some kind of pedestrian access to transit at Victory Station.

The eastern side is not quite as bad, and there are many opportunities to improve connections to the grid (seven by my count but you may see more). This too has its challenges though and would be difficult to implement. Not only because the city has hardly enough money to maintain the streets it does have, let alone build new ones, but because there was so little foresight in the beginning now all of the potential connections are on private property. Quite a few developments block these connections completely.

In any case, Victory Park looks like it’s finally beginning to round itself out. Perot, Jr. might finally see his wild and ambitious dream come true, one that had many naysayers over the years. But the stakeholders in this area would be foolish to ignore the fundamentals. A solid street grid is essential to Victory Park’s success. Most owners in the area have common interests and all want Victory Park to survive and thrive. Perhaps there is a private solution to this grid problem, such as common ownership and maintenance of newly-created streets by all property owners in Victory Park. This is Texas after all, where the private sector touts that it can and will do almost anything on its own. Well, get to it y’all.

 

Comments

  • Kenny

    I just stayed in Victory Park a couple weeks ago and was struck by the fact that although there seemed to be a lot of residences, and a lot of destinations within walking distances, most of the buildings seem to have pedestrian-hostile ground levels. Now perhaps that’s changing with a lot of the new construction sites (which certainly don’t currently make walking around very pleasant), but if buildings expect people to interface with them in a car, then it’s going to be hard to promote these sorts of local connections.

  • Ken Duble

    To pick low-hanging fruit, the city could follow the lead of downtown Austin and require all parking structures to have at the very least a level of retail, and ideally, a commercial level above it.

  • Patrick Boyd-Lloyd

    Why there’s is no Pedestrain connection under the I35E Bridge (the abandon rail right of way) is STUPID!
    This would be a great access point for residents of the design district to access the DART and TRE rail line, as well as of course accessing Victory Park