Friday, March 30, 2012

The False Assumption between Economic Development and Stadiums

Allow me time to rant about a topic I have touched on before. Also allow me the latitude to basically repeat previous posts on stadiums found in this blog.

I was perusing some of my common planning sites when I came across a piece in the Atlantic Cities. The author, Eric Jaffe, cites a study done by Stephen Buckman and Elizabeth A. Mack. Sadly, I can't access the study and can only interpret what Jaffe decided to write about in his brief article.

Coors Field, in downtown Denver, became home to baseball's Colorado Rockies in 1995. Its impact on the city was as immediate as it was considerable: housing units in the area of the stadium doubled within a year of its completion, and retail and restaurant development experienced a similar boom. Soon after it opened the stadium's economic influence was estimated at $195 million a year, twice what city officials had predicted.

The number one flaw in any stadium article surfaced in the very first paragraph. Stadium built, development followed, stadium must be responsible. Correlation is not causation. I repeat, correlation is not causation. I drink water before I turn on the TV. Therefore, I must have water in my system to be able to operate the remote. Only rich people shop at Nieman Marcus, therefore if you go there, you will become rich. My basset hound died of cancer, therefore all basset's will die of cancer. Obviously, you could take items that happen at the same time or anecdotes and do this ad nauseum. Point is, none of what I wrote is dependent upon each other. Stadiums and economic development are the same.

In the case of the paragraph, I find it hard to believe that the stadium was responsible for all the residences in one year, when a private developer needs bare minimum five from start to finish. That doesn't include the city's work in planning and preparing for development or deciding on tax abtement or tax increment finance district boundaries or funding. Was it responsible for any of it, I can't say. I will say the burden of proof is upon the researchers. They can't just say here's stadium, then here's residences, the economic impact is $X. Surveys with developers asking the top reasons they choose to build there would help. And when those are conducted, demographics, trends and city's wilingness to help are always at the top.

My issue is that downtowns across the country have seen this, whether there is a stadium there or not. If that is the case, obviously there is something else at work.

Jaffe then relays another common mistake, a comparison of apples to oranges.

Denver, on the other hand, has a historic core that dates back to the city's founding in 1858. In addition, the city itself is far less expansive: encompassing only about 150 squares miles, to more than 9,000 for metropolitan Phoenix. The result of this urban form, for Denver residents, is a considerably more convenient proximity to the stadium.
While 99 percent of Denver county residents live within 10 miles of downtown, that's true of only 41 percent of residents in metro Phoenix (Maricopa county), Buckman and Mack report. A better illustration of proximity comes from a ratio of populations near the stadium: at a mile away from the stadium, Denver has 1.77 times the population of Phoenix, a ratio that continues to favor Denver until 7 miles out. In other words, the fan base of Coors Field lives rather close to Coors Field.

Denver has a metropolitan areas of 8,414 square miles, very similar to Phoenix. You can't say Denver city is compact and Phoenix metro is sprawl. Their metro populations are even similar, Phoenix as a whole has 4 million while Denver has 2.5 million people.

Even to use county alone is a poor comparison. Denver as a city is the same as Denver as the county, their boundaries are one and the same. There are no suburbs within Denver County, but there are suburbs of Denver City. Meanwhile, Maricopa County, of which Phoenix is within, has an area of over 9,000 square miles. Is it any wonder that most residents of Denver County live within close proximity to Central Denver where as most of Maricopa County is not close to Central Phoenix. By that comparison, 41% of a 9,000 square mile county is a lot of people, signifying a relative density in that small area.

All of Denver City residents living in Denver County means nothing. It is deceptive and a way to illustrate a point that can't stand up on its own.

The researchers conclusion, which Jaffe relays isn't necessarily a bad point, but it certainly doesn't justify building stadiums.

The lesson for other cities considering a downtown stadium, the authors conclude, is to understand beforehand whether or not the mega-structure fits the urban form, and if it doesn't, to design a development plan that enhances whatever impact it might have on its own.

I'm not going to argue this point. It makes sense. Coors Field is built on the very edge of downtown, as is all of Denver's sports stadiums. Chase Field is not. If it can be established that stadiums are detrimental to street activity, which a literature review on the subject would confirm, Denver did it right by putting something with minimal, but time period intense street activity, on the edge of an area that would have little if any street activity to begin with. Despite the fancy renderings, large amounts of people do not just hang outside of stadiums. They need some place to go to at that time. Since stadiums are unoccupied greater than 90 percent of the time, their streets are empty 90 percent of the time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Food Trucks

Today, I visit a topic that I am not 100% certain where I stand. I had a chance to visit the Food Trucks in the Arts District during a lunch hour. Normally, the Arts District lacks any activity during this period. The urban environment offers nothing for daytime activity.

So, in order to remedy that, the City, at the urging of some stakeholders and other interests, amended city code to allow food trucks to legally serve food in the area. I was amazed at the activity during what is normally an empty, dead area and time.

So that begs the question, do food trucks remedy the situation or do they exacerbate it? Undeniably, in this location, they at least highlight the design flaws of this area. If their presence can bring over a hundred people to the area every weekday, why wouldn't something more permanent? Some advocates say that the variety brings people in, since some food trucks are there one day and a different sort on another. True, but there is a permanent predictable variety on Main Street. Some say the lower price for lunch attracts some folks. Again, instead of opening a fine dining restaurant, why not open a lower price point menu. In response, I hear that rent is too high to offer cheaper food. There are cheap places downtown, and as long as the dominant and majority land use is surface parking lots, I don't buy it. A cheap restaurant doesn't need a whole lot of space. But, the built environment should have a place to accommodate them. On the other hand, will having these trucks visit this draw away any attempt at a permanent change in the build environment. I have no answer to these question. Other advocates say that the temporary nature of food trucks allow them to come when it is profitable and leave when it is not, saving money on wages and lights against the permanent restaurants.

One of the offerings when I visited this area on Tuesday. Great Quiche by the by.
I think some places are great for food trucks. Parks are a great example. I would want that to stay as recreational and open as possible, not cluttered by buildings. So food trucks there make sense to me. In the Arts District, however, I would rather that were built under the principles of solid urban design from the beginning.

That brings up another view. Do I judge food trucks on something out of their control? The food truck line made the Arts District better as it stands now. I am leaning towards them being bad in that area (though certainly not decided). But, if I were to change my viewpoint and accept the Arts District as it stands now, then certainly they are an upgraded feature.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Proper Parking Approach

Followers of this blog know that I don't often venture outside of Texas in general and Dallas in particular. Usually when I do, it is some broad ranging planning topic that has relevance within the local area. Parking is certainly one of those topics. And as loyal readers may be aware, parking has certainly been a topic well covered (directly here, here, here and here and others not solely dedicated to parking).

To that I introduce Seattle, a city with a strong planning department and political will to do urban areas right. Before I delve into that, I want to add a sidebar. Oftentimes, when I read about other cities and their "struggles" to achieve their urban vision, I shake my head in disgust. Not because what they do is wrong, but because all I have to compare it to is Dallas. New York is always working to correct, and for some activists, complaining about the auto-centric nature of some their neighborhoods. If Dallas's urban core had only 1/4 of the urbanity of New York, I'd be happy. Obviously this is a matter of perspective. Seattle is no different. For a city and region that is much smaller than Dallas and DFW, they have a greater concentration of urban areas and higher transit ridership, mostly utilizing buses until recently. Conversely, it still amazes me that no matter the area, the NIMBY's and naysayers all repeat the same things. I'll elaborate in a moment.

The story, which comes out of the Seattle Times and I found posted to an APA LinkedIn discussion board, details the planning department's move to eliminate parking within a quarter-mile of "frequent" transit stops along with other minor but urban-friendly moves. I am highly in favor of what I read. What is the purpose of building a transit system in general, and rail in particular, if the code that shapes the urban environment is not also altered? Merely saying we want mixed-use, lower auto use, more transit riders and more pedestrians is not enough without some action from code changes. Remember, our cities are shaped by the codes that govern them. If those codes produced auto-oriented areas, then they need to change if you want to navigate away from auto-oriented areas. Expecting change by only introducing a new form of transportation won't have a large effect on the whole. Seattle is doing that with this proposed change.

As usual, there are critics and skeptics. A few excerpts:

"I agree with the premise that if we want to create denser, livable, walkable neighborhoods, we should build less parking," said Martin Kaplan, an architect and member of the Seattle Planning Commission.
But he added: "It's a painful transition. Some people want to do it overnight, and some of those people are politicians."

"Yes, cars do pollute. We need to think up something different. But for now, we need parking to survive."

To Jim Hobbs, who has run his car-repair shop for 30 years, the city's proposal to eliminate parking requirements smacks of a political agenda that ignores the way most people still live.
"The city of Seattle doesn't want us here," he said of his auto-centric business. "It's the whole anti-car thing. They say that in an urban village you can get everything you need within walking distance. But I can't afford to live up here. I drive in from Everett. My employees drive in.
"Everybody owns a car," he said. "Or two."

I swear I could have ripped these quotes out of the Dallas Morning News if they were to run a story about the attempt to urbanize a part of this city.

There are two big complaints I see here. One, the city is moving too fast and they need to slow down. Two, they want to get rid of cars in Seattle and we love them. Both are inaccurate at best. The story mentions that Seattle began the process before 2007, or roughly more than six years ago. What kind of transition are they looking for? Ten years? Twenty? I tend to view these ideas as more of a stall tactic. The thinking that if we can delay it now, we can delay it indefinitely. Sooner or later, if the end goal is a more urban city, these changes have to take place. My experience has shown that those who say it is too fast, are against the change altogether.

As for the fact that we love our cars and it is against our country's principles to be for anything but the car, that just doesn't hold up either. I have said before and this won't be the last, people will do what is convenient. People who "want" two cars do so for convenience. They are literally trapped in their home without the car. There is no where to walk, no transit option and even things like cycling are dangerous. Without a car, they are either time poor or under house arrest. Now, some do truly love the idea of cars, but most don't inherently and primarily use them that way because there is no convenient option.

While the third quote drives me crazy because of its skewed stance, it is the middle one that makes me pull my hair out. "Yes, here's the bad things about cars, but because it is what we have and where we are now we can't change it." At some point, you have to begin. Gradual change is rare. In a span of twenty years, cities went from urban, walkable and streetcar areas to suburban, auto-oriented and bus cities. While it was somewhat gradual until World War II, by 1970, cities a we know them today were literally on the map. Thousands upon thousands of miles of freeways and millions of miles of auto-oriented traffic-engineer-designed roads were built.

Now, one point is raised that I can agree.

Residents also question whether the city's transit service is frequent and reliable enough to prompt people to give up their cars. And they worry that existing businesses will be hurt as shoppers struggle to find places to park.

As I made note of in this post about DART's attempt at service cutting in the urban core, urban transit isn't guaranteed. Basing parking standards on transit service can be hit or miss. That also brings up one main advantage of a fixed-based system like rail over the workhorse bus. While rail's frequency can be cut, the route is almost virtually guaranteed not to be eliminated. The same can not be said of the bus routes. However, that doesn't address the concern of the quote above.

The general thought within the planning community is that transit needs to have roughly about 12-minute headways (non-peak times at that) to have any significant impact on development patterns. That doesn't come cheap. This will be important for the Seattle Planning Department to decide. If the headway threshold to define "frequent" is set too high, the lack of parking will be exacerbated, since the service will not be convenient to alter transportation patterns.

The last thing I want to say has really nothing to do with planning, but with my old industry, media. In this case, journalistic integrity seems a bit off. The writer interviewed the "experts" and got both sides of the issue. When they got man-on-the-street quotes, it was all negative. I find it hard to believe, especially in a place like the Emerald City, that not one average citizen is for this idea. Even the headline Parking around Seattle may get worse as city planners favor transit is skewed. If less people are driving and more take transit, doesn't it stand to reason parking stays static? This equilibrium is similar to the Induced Traffic Principle I have blogged about before. There is a limited amount of spaces and capacity will dictate how many use it. However, there is one big difference. Places that are attractive, as studies and focus groups have continually shown walkable neighborhoods to be over their suburban counterparts, will attract visitors. Inversely, the more parking you add, the more places you have to take away to build the parking spaces, making the area less attractive. By providing alternatives, as Seattle is attempting with transit, it can relieve some parking pressure. If more people do take transit and parking is still utilized the same (again another Induced Traffic point), more people will be in and spend money within the neighborhood.

On the other end of the spectrum, this doesn't say there will be no parking. It says there will be no minimum. Developers, or the private market, will decide how much is needed.

Sadly, this type of thing is a long way off from arising in our neck off the words.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Size of Homes: What is the Trend?

I am going to pontificate upon an idea that I have avoided for some time. The reason I am delving into this subject is at the request (though not directly) from my father-in-law, who sent me this from from Alternet, which discuss Americans newfound love for smaller homes than what as being built just a few years ago. I want to discuss the article a bit, one that is very similar to many I have read over the past two years, before I reveal why I have been avoiding the topic to this point.

Intriguingly: professionals in the building industry are saying that this move may be a long-term shift that's reflecting a deep sea-change in American values and attitudes about what makes a place a home.

In a 2009 article in USA Today interior designer Christine Brun sums up the emerging ethic: "You're almost unpatriotic to live so large." She points out that baby boomers are downsizing their now-empty nests; and younger adults "don't care if they live in 500 square feet. They just want cool stuff." Add in growing awareness of our environmental footprint and a crashing economy, and you've got a perfect storm that's moving Americans back toward the kind of smaller digs we lived in in the days of Ward and June Cleaver.

As it stands right now, I can see the combination of a tough economy and environmentally conscience ideas as two of the main reasons for a decline in the size of new houses. However, only one of those is permanent. When gas prices rose very high in 2008, SUV's were the cheapest they had ever been when adjusted for inflation and buyers were scarce. SUV sales recently have grown since that low point, indicating a short-term memory for consumers. While housing construction and auto manufacturing are very different, houses tend to take longer and a bit more time from conception to product, they are still very major buys. If house hunters believe that good times are ahead, what is to say they won't move back towards the larger homes?

To answer that question:

Some experts think this long-term trend toward smaller houses is likely to hold steady even if the economy improves. "I don't expect [home size] to come back up," says Gopal Ahluwalia, a VP at NAHB. He notes that nine out of 10 NAHB members surveyed said they were planning to build smaller, lower-priced homes in the future. "We don't need big homes; family size has been declining for the past 35 years." That fact may not have stopped us from going big in the past, but it may matter more in these frugal and eco-conscious times.

This is the only indication I have seen since this "trend" started that it will sustain itself. Because it takes time for land to be acquired, plans to be made and submitted, permits to be obtained, contractors to hire, constructon to begin and finish, what the industry officials are saying now will likely play out in the next few years. It is after that that has me curious.

At all price levels, what people are looking for most of all in a small house is location, location, location. A tiny place can make you feel pretty cooped up unless there's plenty to walk to nearby in the neighborhood. Giving up our private lawns, kitchens, dining rooms, and garages means that we'll need to rely more and more on public places to take over the recreation and entertainment functions of our lives. For this reason, small houses are far more liveable when they're close to shops, parks, evening entertainment like restaurants and theaters, and transit that can quickly whisk you around town.

And this is what has been missed most by both the home building industry and home buyers. The desire for space has consequences. The bigger things are, the more spaced out they become and by proxy the less walkable everything as a whole is. I believe, as someone with both with an environmental-first thought-process and a planners mentality, this size-downgrade is what needs to happen to get back to a healthy urban environment. If nothing else was built in the next ten years but prototypical urban, walkable neighborhoods, there still wouldn't be a proper balance between that and contemporary suburban development already in existence.

And if small is beautiful and density is desirable, then cities are going to be needing to invest far more in the kind of public infrastructure that makes these tiny homes liveable -- those parks and transit centers and retail hubs, for example. As we turn toward smaller homes, voter demand for these kinds of amenities will increase. And, at some point, our attitude toward paying higher taxes to make these investments will have to shift as well.

I might even take this a step further and say that these walkable neighborhoods will be more likely to come about if transit is already in place. Places like Southlake Town Square or Home Town in North Richland Hills are small and poorly connected at the borders to the surrounding areas and people still drive there to get there, since they can't walk there unless they already are there. It takes density and mass over a large area to significantly effect transportation habits. Areas without transit will blunt the density bonus of increased walkability.

Mockingbird Station or the area around Downtown Plano Station will see a greater effect in encouraging alternative transportation because they connect to other walkable and connected places along their transit route. Each introduction of a walkable neighborhood to the transit network not only benefits the new place, but reinfores the existing places as well, both for the built environment and the network. It is this reason why urban ridership is higher than commuter ridership.

While these are all hopeful signs for an increase in urbanism throughout the country, I haven't touched this topic previously because I don't know how long this will actually last. Signs are good, but this is not a trend. If in five years both the built units that were be thought out now and the planned units show a continued move into the downsizing of American homes, then I will proclaim this as a positive trend for planning and urbanism in this country. Until then, I will continue to watch this and hope for continued improvement.

In some ways, I expected this if for no other reason than to bring that variety to the fruitcart. Empty nesters have no need for 2,300 square feet of house, and to many that space is depressing (My views as a parent is that my wife and two kids don't need that space, but to those who do, to each their own). I and my circle certainly didn't need that space in college and immediately after as we began our adult lives. If empty nesters and pre-children adults alone started this smaller trend, housing size would go done, regardless of any other factor.

However, bigger houses were all that homebuilders were focused on, citing the market as the reasons they were doing it. However, in hindsight we know that is not true, since they can't build walkable neighborhoods, including both rent- and owner-occupied residential units, fast enough while simultaneously they can't find enough buyers for these huge homes since they glutted the market. The market is correcting itself, and in the case of our economy, doing it very painfully.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Negative Externalities of the Auto

An article in The Dallas Morning News about particulate matter and the DFW area got me to thinking about a new post for my blog. I won't go into too much detail about the piece, other than more and more studies are showing that particulate matter pollution at lower levels are more harmful to the general public's health than previously thought. The majority of this pollution comes from the tailpipe.

It is articles like this that reinforce my stance that cars need to come further down in use and into a more balanced transportation system as a whole. While I can think of numerous other reasons, I haven't put them into one comprehensive post before. So without further ado, here's some of the reasons I know of car's negatively effecting the general public.

My number one personal reason has and most likely will always be for environmental reasons. Supporting this stances, and said far more eloquently than I ever could, are books similar to Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation. The North Central Texas Council of Governments tracks the pollution data locally, but the one that everyone has been focused on nationally is ozone. The numbers may be old, but 47% of all smog causing agents came from exhaust in DFW. Compound that with expected increase in auto travel and the ability to fight that regional becomes much harder. Barring lobbying for stricter pollution controls and emission standards, this is out of the reach of any regional or smaller government. That means near half of the emissions are untouchable. Sure there are programs that they can do that will encourage people to buy newer and less polluting cars, but that is minor when spread over a region of six million people.

Now, it appears that particulate matter is next on the list of pollutants that are more harmful than we knew before. How many more health harming pollution issues are going to keep arising? The list from the past is long too. Lead, carbon dioxide, smog, ozone, etc. have all been targeted in the past with varying degrees of success. Each time progress is made, another issue or pollutant becomes apparent.

On top of all that, the above only accounts for direct use. There are pollution and environmental concerns for manufacturing, disposal and maintenance for the vehicles. Fuel, transmission fluid, brake fluid, battery acid and other components also cause environmental degradation. Even when the vehicle in in motion, bits of tires are being sanded off. When you brake, metallic brake dust is being ejected. I consider this a hidden environmental cost of car use. Many people are focused on reducing gas consumption through increased fuel efficiency as the answer. I know several environmentally-minded people who think their hybrid is the answer. However, that doesn't account for what was listed directly above and only marginally reduces overall fuel consumption. In my opinion, the real answer is going to have to come through whole scale changes in the way we build our cities.

Speaking of cities, I mentioned some previous posts about how a car-favored city will always struggle to have a great urban environment on any large scale. The best that can be done are small, quaint downtowns surrounded by surface parking, as seen in cities like Grapevine, Carrollton or even Arlington. Transit can help, but until zoning codes reflect a more urban-style development, it will always struggle. The main reason is the space needed to store cars is tremendous. In the Sunbelt, the number one use of land is for parking (one of my biggest gripes is even this is hidden, as the land is actually categorized by its zoning classification). A number that I have seen floated around (though never with a source) is that the City of Houston has 34 parking spaces per resident. That is more space than their house and workplace combined.

That leads me to...the actual infrastructure, which is extremely inefficient in numerous ways. The first is the amount of land required. Since our roadways are effectively conduits for the car and little more, they are basically car infrastructure. The closer into the old urban core you go, the more likely you are to see transit, pedestrians and cyclists on those streets balancing the transportation system, but they are increasingly the exception. If those car-centric streets are added in with the freeway system and the parking from the previous point, the vast majority of the land in a "modern" American city is dedicated to storing and transporting cars.

Consider this point. One freeway lane can transport 2,000 cars an hour. In peak direction, U.S. 75 can handle 8,000 cars an hour (despite the diminishing returns of adding more lanes, I use that number for easy math). At full capacity, a light rail line can carry roughly 10,000 peak direction, on 1/5th the land. As I have explained in previous entries, cities like Dallas may struggle to reach capacity based on the system design and city layout. But, all things equal, transit is the better choice for moving the most people on the least amount on any distance. The most efficient mode of transport is walking. Sidewalks can carry thousands upon thousands of people in a short time. But, since this is America and very little is walkable or even in walking distance, it is rarely chosen. In places where the design supports it, that is usually the most common choice.

By my rough estimate, there are 23 freeway lanes leading out of downtown. That means roughly 46,000 cars an hour. At an occupancy rate of 1.2 per vehicle, downtown evacuates 55,000 people an hour. Downtown employs 130,000 people. That math doesn't add up. Add in the fact that only 20 percent of the traffic around downtown during rush hour actually comes from downtown and the shortcoming becomes quite apparent.

In a way, the takeover of the street from a multi-modal system to what it is now is another externality. A road built for only the car will see little walking, transit or biking activity. It will also mean less everyday activity, which is another problem.

Health and safety is another big issue for me. I mentioned the pollution, but that is not all. The obesity rate in this country would decline is more people were able to get out and walk to accomplish day-to-day activities. This review of another book I own documents this quite effectively. Bottom line, you know there is a problem when doctor and medical groups are beginning to speak out against current development patterns.

On that same note, it would take 50 years of average Iraq War casualties to equal one year of auto fatalities. A big reason President Barack Obama beat out John McCain for president was the general public's war weariness. Yet cars go on at a much greater rate unnoticed by the general public. Now I will grant that the number of fatalities has decreased over the past two decades, much of it due to safety features of newer cars, but it can be a mixed blessing. Accidents that previously would have killed occupants only severely injure them now. In 2005, there were 42, 636 people killed in car crashes. There were almost 3 million injured. While the deaths are decreasing, the injuries are rising.

I tried to keep this post on the public costs, but there certainly are private concerns for users in picking their transportation mode. My opinion, though, is for each person to be able to have that choice. Sadly, particularly in my neck of the country, there is little choice to be had. That is one of the big reasons I wanted to pursue planning. If we can correct some issues, build in moderation, allow connectivity of the built environment, many of these negatives will be reduced.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Blog Numbers

I tend to look at my stats a lot, but just generally page views. I have seen a tendency of increased page views since I started, from a dozen a month to literally hundreds now. Thank you.
However, when I looked deeper and saw where they were coming from, I was blown away. I hope you all think it is neat too.

Obviously, the U.S. is the most viewed country. Out of the top ten, the U.S. is 72.6 percent of my readers. The rest is just amazing to me. Russia is number two at 7.8, Germany number three at 4.9, the Netherlands are four at 4.5 and at fifth sits Iran, yes Iran, at 3.7. The United Kingdom is six, followed by France, Ukraine, Canada and Brazil.

By continent, North America originates 73.3 percent of my readers. Europe is 14.5, Asia is 11.5 and South America is .5. All I need is Australia and Africa and I am set (Antarctica may be too hard an apple to peel).

Other countries that have viewed my blog are Ireland, Indonesia, Latvia, Sweden, China and Cyprus. There may be more, but Blogger doesn't keep track beyond top ten and the last full month.

Thank you to you all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two Quick Points

I don't want to make a habit of commenting on Deep Ellum too much, though two of my top three posts directly relate to Deep Ellum, but I did want to add a bit more to the discussion. In this previous post, I said

We were told by the stakeholders in the area that this [300-foot barrier between alcohol sales and school]was their main concern. When this option was discussed during the last few weeks, there were other concerns raised, indicating to me an unwillingness to accept a high school within the area and that reasons were given to make it not work.

I want to amend that by now saying some stakeholders. Barry Annino, head of the Deep Ellum Foundation, was quoted in the Dallas Morning News on February 23 as saying, "We've worked everything out. I think it is something we need to do anyway, something we didn't realize. In the long term, we want more charter schools. And if we make this addendum we can all work together."

I am at least glad that some in Deep Ellum get it. Annino has the best in mind for Deep Ellum, but he also has property owners to represent. He did a balancing act, got the heart of the issue solved and realized this is a good thing for the neighborhood. Kudos to him for a nice job.

Also in the Dallas Morning News, Steve Brown's real estate report (I simply can't get enough of these) on March 2 was about the housing market in my neighborhood, Downtown. While it was somewhat of a fluff piece, it did highlight several things that planners have been saying for a decade, much of it contained in various places in this blog. Urban areas are attractive to folks 35 and under. People want to be able to walk places or take transit. Rents are high because the demand is high and therefore the market can afford (and really needs) to build more.

What I want to post are physical numbers given in the story. Currently, there are near 5,300 residential units in downtown containing roughly 7,400 people. Downtown needs 10-12,000 total to be able to sustain itself. 600 units are being constructed right now. The rest of the story lists a few or those projects. One apartment analyst is quoted as saying that Dallas falls behind comparable cities like Houston, Atlanta and Denver in terms of downtown residences. I am whole-heartedly unsurprised.

I post those numbers for two reasons. The first is pure fascination. These numbers are nice to see, especially if you compare them to the past, when there wasn't much. However, the second reason is that there is no context here. How do cities like Fort Worth, San Antonio or even the burbs around Dallas like Plano, McKinney or Carrollton have active downtown's with far less residences? The answer is design. This piece, much like Dallas leaders in general, totally overlook this in favor of more. If I were to build a complex on the southeast side of the Farmers Market and another on the northwest side of the West End that contained the remaining 4,700 people, much of downtown would remain near the same because they weren't adequately integrated into the current urban fabric. A few hundred units sprinkled over a ten-square block area would do wonders for vibrancy. Putting them in a concentrated area on the fringes wouldn't.

It also doesn't account for the urban design of the actual developments. Main Street is vibrant because most every building there either was built prior to WWII or was designed to respect the street and pedestrians. Meanwhile, one block over on Elm is dead. Many of the buildings that make Main attractive make Elm unattractive. Adding more units won't rectify it. Designing it better would. For example, Third Rail Lofts has an alley between it and the Davis Building and its garage. Yet the entrance to the TRL garage fronts Elm Street.

If the city were to help calm streets, like Elm and Commerce for example, then development would mirror that. They could also do other things like reduce parking requirements or allow one existing garage to serve multiple buildings. This would cut down on curb cuts in the streets, allowing pedestrians to feel more comfortable, rather than feel like they are playing a real life game of Frogger.

Bottomline: numbers are great to analyzation, but context is needed for understanding. I wish Dallas were really better at distinguishing these.