Urbanism

Four-Part Presentation for the Dallas Institute for the Humanities

Over the course of the past year, I have given four presentations on urbanism, its impetus, and its imperative.

Last year, Monte Anderson and I were asked by the Dallas Institute for the Humanities to give an “Introduction to New Urbanism.”  Monte was the founding president of the North Texas chapter and I was the most recent president up until the completion of the national congress held in Dallas in April of 2015.

Since we agreed upon doing an initial three-part series, it made sense to us to organize these presentations as Past, Present, and Future.  It seemed more in-depth for us to provide the foundation for why cities exist, what happened to them, and how we urbanize for a better future than simply rattling off the rote details of what New Urbanism is (you can find those details in the charter).  Monte would focus on the local perspective having been born and raised in Dallas while I would give the broader historical narrative.

These may not make any sense without me talking to the specific slides, but here they are anyway.  Only mine are posted below as I don’t have Monte’s. (Please excuse some formatting issues as fonts changed in the uploading process from powerpoint to slideboom).

In the first presentation, I walk through 10,000 years of history up until Industrialization in 20 minutes in order to hopefully give the perspective for why cities exist and why the design of them is fundamental to civilization and human progress.  This presentation was/is a fundamentally optimistic view of cities.

The next presentation walked us forward from Industrialization to the present, how it all went wrong.  How, in an effort to correct for all of the negative impacts and externalities of the Industrialization of our economies (and cities), we all too often blamed the city as a whole, as an organized entity, rather than the unregulated aspects of an Industrialized economy.  These efforts, while noble, had severe consequences that we’re still not fully recovered from, particularly after repeating these theoretical remedies ad infinitum.  To quote from a Roots album, ‘Things Fall Apart.’

The intention here was to provide the background for why New Urbanism was created and what it was a response to.  Too many people falsely align New Urbanism with an architectural style, something superficial.  A throwback to a false past, which when applied is chiefly symbolic anyway.  New Urbanism, in actuality, is invisible.  It is about re-wiring the underlying DNA that creates places, communities, and cities:  transportation policy, finance, and zoning.  Everything that grows out of that is merely aesthetic and subjective.

In the third and final installment (we thought), we proposed some ideas for how Dallas can re-urbanize in the future while revitalizing all parts of the city in a way that is inclusive, affordable (which, when you strip the legalese from the term is really just the market appropriating housing stock of a sufficient variety and location that meets the full range of income levels), and of course profitable.  Because if it isn’t profitable, it doesn’t scale.

This was the alpha version of an idea for how to re-create and accelerate the Bishop Arts revitalization model but while expediting it from a thirty year process to a 3-5 year ‘defibrillation’ while scaling the model horizontally all across the city with many small and medium-scaled investors and developers, working in their own neighborhoods.  A city of city builders, in a sense.

In the fourth ‘update’ from this October, Monte and I returned to update on our progress.  We discussed Monte’s continued progress on helping small-scale developers get their start and an update on the CNU-North Texas’ legacy project arising out of the national Congress to focus efforts helping to revitalize the Hatcher Station area in South Dallas.  This is when Monte announced that the first tenant of the first bricks and mortar project from this effort would be a micro-grocery with produce and prepared foods from Bonton Farms.

I couldn’t get my powerpoint under the 100 megabyte limit set by slideboom so here it is below in PDF form on Scribd.

In it, I set out a five-part plan to revitalize while delivering affordability (in both housing and transportation).  Part 1 was more of a critique of Inclusionary Housing efforts, not that inclusionary housing policies are bad, but rather identifying and defining the limitations.  They don’t scale to the demand of our affordability problem.  They also are a blunt instrument and need to be calibrated by neighborhood.  Is the goal only to deliver housing for rich and poor?  I believe the market is already delivering that.

The broader goal should be how do we deliver the wide range of housing types and affordability levels in many and more desirable neighborhoods.  The affordability problem is built upon economic and physical structural issues that create an income divide problem and a desirability problem.  We need more desirable neighborhoods.  How can we help the market deliver desirability?  How can we tap into social capital so more people can benefit from and invest in the rebuilding of our neighborhoods?

  dal inst 4 by Patrick Kennedy on Scribd

Until next time.

Comments

  • Cristine

    “Dallas leaders in the 1950s and 1960s reflect changes that took place nationally — changes that resulted in abandonment of or deemphasis on the primacy of traditional physical planning by experts, and an overly centralized city government with efficiency . . . Planning in the 1950s and 1960s also became increasingly preoccupied with meeting the needs of individuals and groups rather than the city as a whole . . . [The Dallas Comprehensive Plan] differed significantly from the earlier Kessler Plan and the Bartholomew Plan. Those plans started with the city rather than its citizens . . . the old city-as-a-whole approach clearly had severe problems. Too few, no matter how well-meaning, had too much power and control of the city’s development . . . also made it too easy to neglect the needs of the city’s poorest groups and neighborhoods. But as recent developments in the city’s history suggest, the correctives to these problems and the political discourse that legitimizes them have created a new set of problems just as threatening to the city’s future. The rabid parochialism of today’s political factions and special interest groups has neglected an important fact — that the lives of all are intertwined within the larger setting of different neighborhoods, racial and ethnic groups, and classes. The emphasis on citizenship solely as rights for individuals rather than responsibilities to the whole has also created a dangerous imbalance and threatened the city’s health. The future of Dallas, and urban America, depends in large part on adopting a new public discourse that emphasizes the interdependence of the larger metropolitan area, while not losing sight of the needs of the particular. Such an approach to the city would combine the best of the city-as-a-whole approach with sensitivity to the rights and needs of individuals, neighborhoods, and racial and ethnic groups.”

    Fairbanks (1998) For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics, and the Public interest in Dallas, Texas, 1900-1965
    A great book to read and a great resource to understand why Dallas is where it is today and why we should be cautious on which direction the city takes.

  • Poetaster Dallas

    I am struggling to understand that last paragraph. There’s a lot about desirability, but little on direction that should take. Don’t residents decide “desirability” when they select where they are going to live? Some look for economic desirability (affordable rent/homes), some look for distance desirability (work commute, public transporation), some look for space desirability (large vs small, dense vs. spread). Different strokes for different folks? And isn’t there an added quality when these things are created organically, by it’s neighbors, rather than by a developer that builds-it-expecting-those-to-come (cough, cough, Victory).