Monday, February 14, 2011

Super Bowl and Mayoral Tidbits

In planning circles, it is widely accepted that building public stadiums is rarely the panacea that promoters make them out. Rarely do the economic claims back facts. Rarely does development promised follow. In many cases tax revenues actually decline. The only claim that hasn't statistically been refuted is civic pride and exposure.

Until now, perhaps?

The Dallas Morning News ran a piece that showed the national perception of Arlington after the Super Bowl was virtually the same as before. Before the game, 17.5% of respondents had a positive impression of Arlington, whereas after the game, it was only 14.9%. A neutral impression stayed in the 2% range. 4.6% of respondents before the game had a negative impression, whereas after it was 6.1%. The real telling stat is the no impression. Before the game 73.7% had none, whereas after, it had risen to 74.4%.

Think of that for a moment. Supposedly, on the biggest stage, the host city LOST ground in impression on a national perception list. Of course, it doesn't help that Arlington is just another generic suburban city that has nothing unique but two stadiums and two amusement parks (It has a University and good bones for a lackluster downtown, but they neglect that). And when the messengers of the message from the city to the nation find nothing unique about your city (1st paragraph), then the nation doesn't either.

If this proof (albeit anecdotal) that stadiums don't bring about positive urban development, then I don't know what is.

Moving on, in the paper version of Unfair Park, Jim Shutze, in his story about the politics of the mayors race, makes an astute observation.

In spite of these terrible economic times, Dallas continues to bloom at its heart, from North Oak Cliff to east of downtown around Baylor Hospital, further east in the Henderson Avenue area, north along the Uptown corridor, south into the Cedars.
Well, the city blooms in a circle around the heart, anyway. The heart itself still has problems. Downtown seems to suffer from some kind of chronic a-fib.
The places in the city that boom and bloom have one thing in common. They are centers drawing the kind of people who just like being in the city, who don't want to be separated, rated and gated. It's all about people who like the mix.
None of this is unique to Dallas. It's all stuff that Christopher Leinberger, author of The Option of Urbanism, and others have been writing about and predicting for cities all over America. Leinberger calls it "Seinfeld America"—a place where people like the idea of living stacked up on top of strangers more than living on a cul-de-sac with their cousins.
In fact, that's probably exactly what's wrong with downtown. Still domineered by the old culture, downtown has been redeveloped as a kind of high-rise gated community. So it's boring.

This sums up so many things I have been saying much more concisely than I ever could. Downtown is made up of too many fortress, stand-alone office towers that are doing nothing to contribute to the urban environment. The tunnels statisfy the public realm that should be a true melting pot. And parking lots are the biggest use of land.

Sadly, Dallas will never achieve the urban level it needs as long as that is the case. Downtown should be the hub of the urban core, not the divider. As long as the streets that are pedestrian friendly until it reaches the border and are suburban-commuter friendly and places like Hunt Tower or the Arts District pop up in downtown, it will always be that disjointed urban core that we know today.

Maybe one day, many decades off, that will change. But the old guard will have had to pass and the new will have had to use a lot of tricks to righ the wrongs.

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