Dallas Part 3 – The Inflection Point

May 13th, 2015 by Jennifer Smart

We are in the midst of a massive societal shift, transitioning from the dominance of the Baby Boomers to that of Generation Connected and the experience and knowledge economies they bring in their wake. As we move away from a consumer-based economy, one of the most valuable commodities for a city is proving to be the ability to sustain a highly educated and creative workforce. Interestingly enough, this new workforce is knows their value and operates under the belief that the jobs will come to them. Accordingly, they live where they want to live, in a place that matches their lifestyle, and instead of chasing jobs, jobs come to them.

Progressive cities have figured out that you don’t get great companies to relocate by offering incentives (that was so 1990). Cities recruit great companies by transforming themselves into great places to live, giving new weight to the infrastructure discussions we have been having here in Dallas concerning the likes of Fair Park, the Trinity Corridor and I-345. These projects are proving to be much more than a referendum on transportation and its denizen’s perceived opposition to the tenets of New Urbanism; it is the debate surrounding these projects which will determine whether Dallas takes this opportunity to reconstruct itself as a desirable home for the members and businesses of this new economy.

As we have seen, cities have the ability to correct the unintended consequences of early infrastructure projects. San Francisco achieved this with the replacement of the Embarcadero Freeway, driving the revitalization of South of Market- now a magnet for Tech start-ups. Seattle, following the New Urbanism model of Portland and Milwaukee, replaced the 99 Viaduct with smaller surface streets and public parks focused on opening up its waterfront. The list is long: New York did the same with the High Line and Boston with the Big Dig.

The story of Dallas is now at a highly influential inflection point, similar to that of the afore-mentioned cities. We succeeded in finding a solution for disconnected urban neighborhoods with the construction of Klyde Warren Park’s deck oasis but the question remains: will Klyde Warren Park emerge as Dallas’ one-hit wonder, or will it be the first of a generation of far-sighted public projects?

It is the job of a city’s leadership to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place. But in as much as infrastructure can be bridges, roads and parks, it can also be the decision to place a university campus into Fair Park, cover a concrete canyon with a park, transform a flood-plain into a civic masterpiece, or replace an elevated highway with a park centered vehicular esplanade; projects which are each uniquely equipped to serve as catalysts for a neighborhood’s rebirth.

All large projects, whether initiated to supply a solution to a growing need, or a fix from a previous civic move, will always court controversy; it is the nature of the beast. When the Eiffel Tower was under construction, Parisians were distraught over the manner in which it varied from its historical context. Like the Fair Park collection of Art Deco buildings, it was intended as only a temporary structure. Parisians now point to the project saying, “Look, only we Parisians could have been this bold and done this.” This is not to challenge the historical record of the tower’s origins, but rather to state that most great world cities have parks, buildings, bridges, museums, and structures, which found their origin, embroiled in questions of priorities, aesthetics, or value.

Great cities are certainly built by big moves and big corrections, but are defined in the long-term by the vitality of their neighborhoods. A city’s fabric is composed of neighborhoods, a diverse collection of areas which when taken as a whole, are capable of supporting the needs of a diverse array of individuals as they move through life. If it is true that the best environment draws the best talent, and the best talent draws the best companies, it stands to reason that our success or failure as a growing city hinges in large part on whether we are successful at providing the framework for a city fabric which allows people of all kinds to put down roots and thrive.

We will inevitably become one of the largest cities in the United States, so the only question is whether we will become one of the greatest cities in the United States. The image of a city, in our minds and in the minds of foreigners, is a mix of memories, mythology, traditions and symbols. But more than anything else, it is a place.

Dallas is now at an inflection point that comes once every 50 years. We have the opportunity to make our own destiny through the cultivation of distinct, vibrant neighborhoods and the cultivation of civic works, which reconcile the scars, and unintended consequences of previous growth while providing the great spaces for of our future. Dallas, as is true of all other cities, will never cease to be wrought with daily challenges, but the Great American city finds a way to consistently over those challenges while adding the pieces which future generations desire and demand.



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