December 28, 2015
By Dan Noble, FAIA, FACHA, LEED AP, President and CEO, HKS, Inc.

In my last two pieces, I wrote about how Dallas needs a stronger and more vibrant core and presented examples of how other cities had successfully restored the vitality of their downtowns. This time, I want to talk to you about how Dallas might look five or 10 years from now. I won’t be describing some fanciful jetpacks-and-hovercars future — this is an eminently achievable vision.

All it will take to make this future into our reality is a few sensible policy changes and a willingness to share the message that strengthening the core of Dallas will make life better for everyone in the Metroplex. 

IMAGINE: A newly created neighborhood bringing Deep Ellum, the Arts District and downtown together with near East Dallas. 

In the shadow of the Arts District, under what used to be the concrete carnage of the Interstate 345 freeway, stands a mixed-use neighborhood. This area is now a terrific place to work, play and live. It’s still a destination for people commuting to work or seeking culture and entertainment. But now, it’s also home to 20,000 residents. 

An integrated parkway stitches this new mixed-use neighborhood together. It owes its existence to a bond initiative, some private investment and a tax increment reinvestment zone. Public policy has been enacted that has allowed Deep Ellum to maintain its character, grit and affordability. It has also ushered in a new bohemian verve — a parkway binding the Arts District to Deep Ellum means that this is now a place where actual artists can actually afford to live. 

Whenever travel sites and real estate guides try to describe the appeal of this area, they continually bring up the West Village as a point of comparison. You can understand why: It’s about the same size in terms of acreage, and the potential for economic and social development is just as strong. 

People stream into this area for entertainment, restaurants, shopping and jobs. Many choose to stay. Offices and residential space are going up all over the 245 available acres, and they’re being occupied as quickly as they’re being built. With Central Expressway already being depressed and Klyde Warren Park now spanning Woodall Rogers, Uptown and Near East Dallas have realized common synergies in new residents and a robust street life. 

There is now a “there” there in what used to be a void at the center of the city.  

Amid all of the new construction, old buildings are being restored — Dallas is rediscovering a piece of its history that had been sliced away and redlined. Deeper connections are forming because people are actually walking from place to place, filling in the holes in their mental map of the city as they go. 

IMAGINE:  A re-energized and connected downtown core.

The new neighborhood where I-345 once stood isn’t the only change. I-30 has been re-routed to the south, and there’s been development of boulevards to the east. There’s a greatly expanded Santa Fe Trail. 

Old East Dallas amenities such as White Rock Lake, The Arboretum, Fair Park, Baylor Medical Center and Samuel Grand Park are now connected in a variety of ways. There are bike paths, pedestrian links and vehicular boulevards to the downtown necklace of parks. The crown jewel may well be the recently completed 3.5-acre Pacific Plaza in the heart of the vibrant downtown residential district. 

This necklace of parks further moves the connection along the east-west grid connecting the Klyde Warren Park to the Farmers Market District along a green pedestrian and vehicular link on Harwood Street, which touches all of these downtown parks and works its way past the convention center to ... the new Rangers ballpark! (Hey, a guy can dream!) 

The ballpark is on the southwest edge of the development that links up with Union Station. The Commerce Street Subway would also connect to Union Station that now connects Dallas to Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio via high-speed rail, bringing more density and activity into downtown for people who travel to this walking city without a need for a car. 

IMAGINE: The effects of downtown vibrancy being felt all the way out in the suburbs.

The first thing you notice about suburbanites in this future Metroplex is that the way that they talk and think about the downtown has completely changed.  They used to associate the area with a nightmarish daily commute or with circling around and around looking for a parking spot on a Saturday afternoon, vowing that they won’t renew their symphony tickets for next season. They also resented downtown for what it put them through whenever they wanted to go south to Waco or Houston. 

But now, many of these negative associations are gone. Regional traffic flow is separated from drivers who are trying to get around downtown. In this future, all of the people driving through downtown Dallas are doing so because they want to be in the downtown. 

Downtown Dallas is a much more popular destination for every member of the suburban family. Culture and recreation for adults; entertainment and activities for teens and kids. Places to shop for fresh foods and unique items that just can’t be found on Amazon (or at Sam’s Club.) 

And even though it’s easier to drive to downtown, many suburbanites are checking public transportation schedules, lacing up their comfy sneakers and checking the tire pressure on their bicycles before they head in. 

The downtown doesn’t just enrich the lives of these suburbanites — it increases the value of their neighborhoods and makes the entire region more desirable. The people all across this future Metroplex realize that their thriving economies are intertwined, and they have begun to think about acting accordingly. 

TIME TO STOP IMAGINING: Each of you can help make this vision real.

We need to get rid of the barriers that cut through the downtown, cutting people off from each other and from all that their city has to offer. We also need to get rid of the idea that Dallas is locked in some zero-sum competition with its suburbs, in which anything that benefits one harms or detracts from the other. 

It will take a few sensible reforms. But, more importantly, it will require us to share this vision of a future for Dallas with others.

Posted in All Markets, Urban Design