Sunday, April 17, 2011

360 Part Deux

Vision and Plan Framework, or section 2, details what the planners (MIG) are working from as the molded the plan. In the base terms, it means every recommendation they made was done to accomplish these things. That also means it is the shortest section, lasting only eight pages, including one that is the cover page.

Sadly, even as the shortest section, it is filled with fluff too. The first page is filled with the same words still praising downtown as the center of the region, strong with districts, transportation and urbanity. Yes, we know. You already told us.

The odd thing is that they call this the vision. I would say this isn't a vision, it is a statement. Vision, to me, implies what we want changed, would like to see and what is already strong and needs strengthened. In essence, the vision is the goals.

The actual frame work is presented on the third page of the section, the 17th overall. MIG wants every objective to achieve: 1) an exciting urban experience, 2) a balanced transportation system and 3) an inclusive environment.

To accomplish this, they list transformative strategies: 1) expand transit and realize transit-oriented development potential, 2) create vibrant streets and public spaces, 3) ensure great urban design, 4) diversify and grow housing and 5) reform the approach to parking.

Unsure of how it fits into the framework, the next part of section to is titled Fuel the 21st century economy.

Competitive advantage, once again regaling the history of downtown being the center of the regional economy.

High quality office space, with the combination of the Uptown/Turtle Creek area, they list the amount of office space as 37.5 million square feet. Since Downtown has lower than regional averages for Class A rent, they say that Uptown has the highest in the region, an indicator of strong urban employment desireablitliy. Since downtown is a greater urban place than Uptown, that doesn't make sense. Obviously there are other factors, like not overbuilding. This is more positive spin placed within the plan.

Convention and entertainment center, which trumpets the million plus square feet and the new hotel of the convention center, as well as the numerous nightlife, sports and of course, the world-class Arts District.

Diversified employment base, downtown has a good range of companies to weather economic crises.

Growing residential base, something I have
touched on before.

Economic opportunities, which praises all the investments, like the Arts District, Main Street Gardens and the rail expansion. The ones in the works now, according to the paragraph will further the increasing vibrancy of downtown.

A wide range of job opportunities, from corporate headquarters to mom-and-pops make up downtown's employment rolls.

Creativity and inclusivity, not just housing, workplaces and retail for upper income, but creating these for all levels. I couldn't agree more. Yes, the market for residential calls for those prices, but encouraging rents to be available for all will not only create a more vibrant street scene, but will also create a greater return in tax receipts for the city. Of course, this will have to mean following the rules for certain things, like
HUD grants.

Multi-modal transportation system, making all (but not really all) modes of transportation easy. Here's what I mean:

Also, the current light rail transit system provides services to only a limited number of Downtown stations, making its use less convenient to riders from outlying areas who need to ultimately arrive at locations more than a few blocks from those existing stations. A more complete public transit network can shorten these travel times and provide connections among Downtown’s many assets, without requiring the addition of private vehicles to the roadways.

Ok, so obviously, they mean rail or streetcar or else this wouldn't be an issue, since the buses pretty much cover all of downtown. If riders can walk two blocks, then there is very little, aside from surface parking lots, that is not accessible. This isn't the best map, but click on the link and you see just how many downtown streets are covered by multiple bus routes.

At least later on they say why they have a rail preference.

While "rubber tire" systems such as buses and shuttles can be a quick fix and relatively inexpensive way to provide these connections, the addition of new stations and routes for fixed-rail transit (light rail and streetcars) can create a sense of permanent investment and service, and help to organize future development around such improvements.

I am curious if they consider the two transfer centers as a permanent investment (though I would advocate for DART declaring the East as surplus property and selling it).

MIG commits a rather common mistake in the planning profession here, one that always errs on the capital cost side. But it is the operating cost that can provide what the authors are suggesting. A bus running every ten minutes will have a greater ridership than a rail route running every 30. The shorter the wait times, the more people will ride. What you have to do is find a balance between riders and cost. In DART's case, the Red Line North is deserving of a rail line. It has a greater demand, therefore needing the greater capacity rail provides. The Red Line South may be more deserving as a bus line, with a high frequency.

Architectural significance, a great range of architectural history exists in downtown, although much of it "did not prioritize pedestrian interaction." SPOT ON! The fortress office towers will need attention and something has to change. I am so glad that MIG recognized this.

I did come across a point that I am not quite sure of:

Whereas architecturally-significant structures can be an important factor in attracting businesses, residents, and visitors to the city core, buildings in the of interfacing with the public realm. Buildings in the urban core mus be designed with high standards to emphasize the importance of interfacing with the ublic realm. Buildings in great downtowns also serve as a record of locl history. Downtown Dallas can benefit greatly if feasible uses can be identified for landmark buildings. However, where such feasible uses cannot be identified after exhaustive efforts, Downtown may benefit more from the replacement of obsolete structures with new, top-quality buildings.

What do they mean by landmark? That is a big distinction. Could it be any skyscraper? What about those that define a period or style? Do structures that are simply old qualify?

I also shudder at the idea of replacement. If is very unlikely any building can't be remodeled at the street level. Dallas could create a vibrant downtown with all the buildings it has demoed. I'd hate to see more go. Exhaustive is such a subjective word.

At the begining of this section, I was wondering what they were getting at when putting this in the Vision and Framework, they explained it a little better at the end:

The final page details what the next sections will cover. These are identifing downtown as a collection of districts, the transformative strategies for achieving the vision detailed in this chapter and the focus areas that provide the focal points for growth and development.

Of course, I'll have those detailed and provide my insight in future posts. Stay tuned for all that and mo
re, here on An Urban Rambler.

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