In the first part of our “How to Build a Livable Dallas” series, we noted the need to set larger goals. In Part 2, we highlighted the need to challenge assumptions, take risks, and focused on Copenhagen’s effort to return bicycling to the forefront of their city. Today, we spotlight other areas city leaders should look to invest. Obviously, infrastructure is key, as this is the domain of local government. If Dallas builds six-lane, high speed streets, we should expect fast traffic, large box stores, and little streetlife. If we build two or four lane roads with slower speeds, along with bicycle lanes, streetcars, and wide sidewalks, we would expect an environment that promotes an active, livable, street, with smaller store fronts that allow for small business to grow, and create a neighborhood identity.
(Dallas Convention Center. Surrounded by a sea of concrete parking, and zero streetlife. )
Today, we have a two-way failure, as not only do we invest in the wrong type of infrastructure that shuns human activity, but attempt to repair this failure by installing an expensive short term solution, that does little to foster a growing community. The most noted example is the misguided effort to install a large sports complex, convention center, or cultural center. While cities can see gains by any of these, no one I know would ever visit a truly great city with their family and say, “Hey kids, Let’s go check out the Convention Center!”.
In a 1999 Dallas Morning News article titled “Planners choose roads over bikes – Supporters of Katy Trail , other projects dismayed”, writer Tony Hartzel, describes a $500 Million dollar bond proposal being reviewed by the NCTCOG board. By the end of the meeting, planners decided to trim $25 Million in projects to lower the overall cost of the bond. What got gutted? Bike projects in Plano, Fort Worth, Cottonbelt trail funding, funding to develop the Katy Trail and $1.5 million for pedestrian districts around 10th Street and Bishop Street in North Oak Cliff.
(Katy Trail. Photo by Rich Patterson)
We all know now that these items were later added back in, but the point is the $480 Million that was not being slated for removal were all related to road projects. What we also know is that the paltry $1.5 Million that went toward the Bishop Arts District did more for reviving and developing our community than any of the extremely expensive road projects from that same bond. And the return on investment reverberated throughout North Oak Cliff, helped spawn greater home sales, a string of small businesses, a larger tax base for our local schools, a safer block with more eyes on the street, a place for out-of-towners to visit and write home about, and most importantly, it gave the local community a place to enjoy and be proud of. Prior to these changes, the District had a tenth of the activity it currently has. The Katy Trail boasts the same return on investment, with a string of condos, and small businesses abutting its entrances, with names like Highland Gates at Katy Trail, and the Gables of Katy Trail. Open any brochure from a residency near the trail and one of the first things they highlight is the proximity to the Katy. On our Conventioneers and Visitors bureau pamphlets, the trolley is shown, with pictures of people eating outside at cafes, and joggers running down the trail. Conversely, you see no mention of the High-Five mixmaster, and no series of businesses with names like the Gables of North Central Expressway.
(Bishop Arts District. Flickr photo by David Kozlowski)
Now imagine, we’ve just set aside $400+ Million for a new Convention Center hotel, aimed at an out-of-town crowd only. For that same price, we could redevelop 260 small retail corridor’s just like the Bishop Arts District. Or better yet, we could rebuild 200 blocks, and then use the funds leftover to create a robust bicycle/streetcar network that connects them all. Between the Hotel option or Blocks + Infrastructure option, which promotes a city’s identity? Which embraces all people (local, out-of-town, old, young, families)? Which kickstarts small business? Which promotes health? Which promotes safety? Which increases the local tax base?
Investing in the community pays much greater dividends, and the costs are far less than any big-ticket item any developer could push through.
(photo from Copenhagencyclechic.com)