Author Archive

Developer – Meet the Urbanist – One of the Goals of CNU23 in DFW

Posted by    |    April 12th, 2014 at 9:19 am

Ever marvel at the contradictions in your life, and why they appear so dissonant? I spent last week at Urban Land Institute’s Spring meeting in Vancouver, one of the gleaming cities in North America, ranking among the top 2 or 3 most desirable cities in the world in many surveys, to learn from some of the top real estate professionals on the planet. I love ULI for the depth of understanding of capital markets, demand drivers and development techniques and the sheer breadth of experience of its members. And yet I sometimes find the hyper-focus on the “corporate” side of real estate, which at its core is really a service business to end consumers, to be a bit sterile, devoid of passion. Not unlike law firms that can can become so inner-focused on their practice areas that they lose site of how their clients’ businesses function and how legal service needs to orient around those needs, corporate real estate development can turn inward and become an end in and of itself – the monetization of real estate and the bifurcation of developers and capital focused on specific product types are (necessary) symptoms of a modern economy. Capital markets and the development community understand simplicity and bifurcated uses – “we finance/develop X (fill in product type).” X has a cap rate that the junior analysis can plug into his Excel spreadsheet and can be mass produced by architects, engineers and contractors and easily financed on Wall Street.

In early June I head off to Buffalo to the Congress for New Urbanism. Vancouver vs. Buffalo and ULI vs. CNU – a study in contrasts and unfortunately full of dissonance.

To over-simplify, CNU is founded on a manifesto, not an economic agenda. The “Charter” espouses the desirability of walkable, mixed use development, which in many ways is the antithesis of corporate real estate with its specialization and mostly segregation of uses. CNU talks about ethereal concepts (except to the initiated) like “transect”, “form-based code” and “tactical urbanism.” On the opposite end of the spectrum from ULI, oftentimes the “urbanists” at CNU are not very practical/pragmatic – the dialogue is more along the lines of a 5,000 level college philosophy class, the rhetoric is inspiring and sounds life changing until you re-enter the real world outside the ivory towers and are slapped in the face with the cold reality of “now how do we go about changing the world without engaging with the world”, a feeling not unknown to many post-modern Evangelical Christian suburban churches who want to share their faith but have real difficulties engaging with the world outside the church walls. Interestingly many urbanists also talk about being “post-moderism” (yet another ethereal concept).

One of the real short-comings of the Occupy Movement was that it “protesteth too much” – it liked to hear to its own voice harping in the town square – but never quite figured out how to engage with the establishment. And short of a revolution not much change happens if you can’t engage the establishment. On the flip side, listening to people tangential to your core beliefs who have often heretical ideas can change a society.

One of our aims at CNU North Texas in hosting CNU23 in DFW April 27-May 2, 2015 will be to bridge this divide between the urbanism movement and the the corporate real estate community, to create an environment of listening and learning from each other, to ferret out what the end users of real estate really desire and to find pragmatic ways to develop sustainable desirable real estate products that fit the changing needs of our booming population and that can actually be built and financed. In short, bring together NAIOP, TREC, ULI, CNU, etc. – and all of our constituent trades/disciplines, from town planner to urban planner, from engineer to architect, from small infill lot developer to large office and warehouse builders, students and professors, debt and equity providers – and learn from each other and talk and plot and plan how we reimagine real estate in DFW.

I’m not sure whether all of this brings more or less dissonance, but as they say – “variety is the spice of life.” I guaranty it will be a fascinating week.

If you want to learn more about CNU23, or be involved in planning the Congress, email me at txurbanmixeduse@gmail.com.

Urbanism, I-345 Teardown and Affordable Housing in Dallas – Beyond Race/Place Rhetoric to a Metroplex Revolution

Posted by    |    April 6th, 2014 at 11:48 am

Let’s get this out of the way so you can categorize me: I grew up in suburban Kansas City (Overland Park), had 6 minorities in my high school (graduating class of 670), and went to SMU undergrad and law school.  I’m one of those rich, white, suburbanites who commutes into Downtown Dallas every day. I have been a commercial real estate attorney for 30 years. Got me pigeonholed?

Now take an African American or Hispanic from South Dallas or West Dallas or East Dallas, who commutes to their job every day in Downtown or North Dallas.  Got them pigeonholed?

Throw in a controversial topic — like whether we rebuild or tear down I-345.  Does your race or place of residence or income level really, in and of itself, define your thought process on this question? TXDOT, not surprisingly, just proposed to rebuild the highway, with no real consideration of alternatives. In the face of what they knew were entrenched powerful interests, the brave few have come forward to tilt at that windmill – to challenge the status quo ante, to propose a new order.

The concentration of affordable housing in the Southern section, and HUD’s recent challenge to Dallas to create / support affordable housing in Downtown is another highly controversial topic rooted in race and place and income.

Name calling based on place and race and income is an antiquated concept nationally, but unfortunately still has a lot of play in Dallas.

Now for the shocker for those who pigeonholed me earlier: I was an affordable housing attorney early in my career and for 11 years left legal practice to develop affordable housing. I  have worked with and along both African American and Hispanic leaders.  I also became a Fair Housing advocate, to the point of suing cities (including the suburb I live in) for not allowing apartment development (talk about tilting at windmills). When I came back to practicing law I worked on an urban mixed use mixed income development in Hollywood — a W Hotel and Condos and 375 apartments, 75 or which are affordable in the midst of this $600 million development. And it is located above an LA Metro train station. Imagine mixed income, mixed use transit-oriented development in a city with horrible traffic issues.  My eyes were opened – could we do this in Dallas?  What benefits would this type of transit-oriented development pattern bring to the Metroplex?  Yes, the rich white suburban guy who at the time drove a Hummer H3, started thinking about whether our “drive until you qualify”, and please build more highway lane miles to support it – that guy had an epiphany.

I came back to Dallas after working 2 1/2 years on the Hollywood project and traded my H3 in for a Ford Fiesta. I started taking DART. I got involved with the Congress for New Urbanism and Urban Land Institute. I started reading books upon books about the “built environment” – how what/how we are building today is not sustainable. How we can’t build (or afford) enough highways to support the projected growth in North Texas. And how our fascination with the automobile has dealt a severe blow to what were once vibrant people oriented places.  My son now drives my Fiesta and I drive a Lexus hybrid that gets close to 50 MPG (how do you categorize me now — a Lexus hybrid — is he corporate or is he green?)  I decided to dedicate the balance of my legal career to the urban core of Dallas.

Now that I’ve looked under the hood (bad analogy intended) of how the Metropolex transportation/infrastructure/work-to-home environment works, I’m finding a 1972 Vega engine behind the glossy Cadillac finish.  It is fundamentally inefficient and outdated and it won’t continue to run well if at all going forward if we just keep on doing the same thing (remember the definition of insanity?).  I have similar thoughts around how we have developed affordable housing in Dallas, including some of the housing I built.

In school we are taught to challenge the established norm — this is the basis of critical thinking, without which we might still believe the world is flat and, to play the “race card”, we might continue to look at minorities as either possessions or second-class citizens.  It really is OK to say “what would happen if we tore down I-345?  can we analyze how this has worked in other US cities like San Francisco and Milwaukee, or international cities like Seoul, to see if it might be beneficial for Dallas?”  And can we openly discuss what true mixed income housing would look like in Downtown Dallas or North Dallas? Are we mature enough as a city to have this dialogue, trying to do what is best for the City and all its residents, both short term and long term, without immediately reverting to our old ways of name calling?  The minute we play the North vs. South Dallas card, or pit White vs. Black vs. Hispanic, we demonize very well intentioned, thoughtful people who – if you really get to know them and are willing to listen — have the best interests of the entire city at heart. You may politely disagree. But you may actually learn a thing or two.

One of those 6 minorities in my high school was one of my best friends. And I’m socially liberal but economically conservative, one minute I work on a multiple million dollar office or hotel, and the next on Fair Housing in the Valley. Categorize me now.

If we want name calling place/race/income level categorization, watch Fox News, CNN or the US Congress – polarizing political babble.  If instead we want to get something done that makes DFW a better place, then we need a Metroplex Revolution that listens and learns from each other in an atmosphere of respect and working for the greater good of the entire region.

Inactive New Street Frontage in West End Dallas

Posted by    |    September 9th, 2013 at 12:48 pm

No real need to comment on the poor design – lack of ability to “address the street” of this new hotel in Downtown Dallas. Hard to believe that we would permit this type of development. At Griffin & Pacific

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If the Aussies can do it, why not Dallas? Let’s be audacious in planning for #DowntownDallas

Posted by    |    September 3rd, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Saw an infographic earlier today that said Melbourne Australia grew its city population from less than 800 in 1993 to over 100,000 today.  Would love to know (time for some Google research) how they accomplished this incredible growth in city living in 20 short years.

From what I’ve heard, Downtown Dallas has approximately 8,000 residents, and I recently heard that our goal is 13,000 by 2020.  Really, this is Dallas, and with our can do attitude and growing population base surely we can do better than that?  Brings to mind the old adage, “if you don’t shoot for the stars, you’ll never reach them.”  If Downtown Dallas grows at that projected rate, we’ll barely be keeping up with the growth of the remainder of DFW (a/k/a the suburbs).  With changing demographics and focus on urban living across the US, we need to set our sights higher.

What if we set our goals in stages – 25,000 residents by 2025; 50,000 by 2035; and 100,000 by 2050???

Just think of (i) the obsolete or aging office buildings in the urban core that we could “redeploy” (in city speak, property tax value added); (ii) the street life we could create; (iii) the restaurants and clubs and grocery stores and retail stores needed to service these residents (“sales tax added”), etc. etc.

Of course, this goal does not happen on its own – there is no “build the buildings and they will come.” Before the focus on the structures, we need to focus on the environment at street level – what should we change to make Downtown more livable?

But then that’s a post for another day.  For now let’s set audacious goals, then we can set about the tasks of realizing them.

A Tale of 3 Streets (in #DowntownDallas)

Posted by    |    August 31st, 2013 at 11:13 am

Remember the magazine games as kids – “circle what’s different about these two pictures?”  For my urbanist friends, below are 6 pictures of Downtown Dallas street scenes (Main, Commerce and Elm — looking East & West from Akard) that tell a lot about why Main Street is a pleasant place to hang out, and why Commerce (one street to South) and Elm (one street to North) are not.  Let me know what “differences” you see — which I’ll compile into a list of “what we need to do to fix Commerce and Elm Streets. After all, Dallas just can’t be a one street town ….. [Click on Images to Enlarge]

Main Street Looking East

Main Akard East

Main Street Looking West

Main Akard West

Commerce Street Looking East

Commerce Akard East

Commerce Street Looking West

Commerce Akard West

Elm Street Looking East

Elm Akard East

Elm Street Looking West

Elm Akard West

Banner Week for #DowntownDallas #urbanism News

Posted by    |    August 2nd, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Dallas Design District to get at least 4 new restaurants by 2015
Atlanta developer is buying Victory tract in Dallas for new residential high-rise
Why a Dallas developer wants to bring lofts, retail to Downtown Dallas
Large downtown Dallas site bought for South Asian museum
Trammell Crow Residential’s Oak Cliff Apartments with Dallas Skyline View
Dallas # 11 Aspirational City in US!!!
One Dallas tower NE corner McKinney/Routh restaurant/retail & 200 apartments 20 stories
Urban Vineyard Begins its Quest to Keep You Fed and Buzzed
Residences at the Stoneleigh nearing completion

Making Harwood Street the Pedestrian Connection between Klyde Warren Park & Main Street

Posted by    |    July 28th, 2013 at 8:41 am

When Dallas built Klyde Warren Park (aka Woodall Rodgers Deck Park), Harwood became in essence a dead end street, terminating at the Park.  Traffic (we automatically insert “cars” — which is sad) dropped dramatically, to the point where Harwood from Flora Street to the Park has become superfluous paving.

Klyde Warren has become one of the most popular destinations in downtown Dallas, beginning the process of knitting Uptown to Downtown and actually drawing people from the suburbs into Downtown, a concept that died with Deep Ellum & the West End in the early 90′s.  The Park is the single most important piece of infrastructure we have built in Dallas in decades – sorry Santiago, but the Calatrava Bridge pales in comparison.  The pedestrian (double entendre intended) has prevailed over the iconic – which will be a common theme in Dallas for the near future.

The success of Klyde Warren has led to calls to expand it — to cover over more of Woodall Rodgers — which is expensive.  A much simpler and faster approach would be to go from “pavement to parks” — a New Urbanism concept of taking underutilized streets back into the public realm.  We would in essence “L” Klyde Warren park south into Downtown along Harwood for a block, creating a simple at-grade park.  Granted park visitors would have to cross the Woodall Rodgers access road, but part of the park already requires a street crossing — and this is actually acceptable for an urban park (pedestrians make great “speed bumps”, creating traffic calming in the area).

The benefit would be to bring Klyde Warren visitors one block further into downtown, taking them to the door of the world-class Nasher Sculpture garden, and with a little way-finding signage, head them toward Main Street Gardens, also on Harwood at Main Street, and to the restaurant/shopping/entertainment district that Main Street has become (thanks in large part to Tim Heddington and Forest City). With a little landscaping, a little lane narrowing and bike lanes along Harwood from Ross to Main, we could actually make this a pleasant walk/ride.

Carrying the energy of Klyde Warren Park along Harwood to Main at the pedestrian level, outside of cars, getting people walking from Uptown to Downtown – now we are talking about iconic change in Dallas.  This is an idea The Real Estate Council, Downtown Dallas, Inc., the City, the Arts District, etc. etc. should all get behind.

Transforming Dallas – Creating the “Lingering Effect”

Posted by    |    July 6th, 2013 at 7:52 am

The transformation of the image of a city by definition must occur in the minds of people, and people relate to a city at ground level. No amount of vertical starchitecture can change a city that has streets that function as highways, moving cars through the city at the highest speed possible. We relish streets where we feel comfortable lingering, stopping to look at details, in shop windows, at kids playing, at lovers holding hands, at groups of people interacting in a sidewalk cafe or street taco stand.

I’m a huge advocate for the future of downtown Dallas – there is a lot to see and do if you feel like lingering. Yet, as long as we insist on moving car traffic through the City at 45 MPH on 4-6 lane roads, we dramatically deter the desire to linger (you don’t see a lot of loitering around highways).  Walk Main Street and you’ll see that we know how to create a great active (and economically prosperous) street, and then turn the corner on Akard (a short 5 blocks +/- from Ross to Main) and you’ll experience the antithesis — a 4 lane race track for 1/2 mile with literally every building front being dead space …. or go one block to Elm or Commerce (6 lanes in one direction with vacant or drastically underutilized storefronts).

It’s great to see that we are FINALLY working to change one-way streets back to two-way (see Three weeks from today, one-way Field Street in downtown Dallas will finally go both ways the whole way) … but we need the City’s engineering department to speed up this process.  I would argue that we could do this much easier and more effectively (say “cheaper”) by just shutting down the stoplights and putting in 4-way stops — this would also “calm” traffic and allow pedestrians to move more freely (and make a visible statement that we value pedestrians in Downtown Dallas).  If we do this right, we may actually pull more pedestrians from Klyde Warren Park into Downtown Dallas (how about some pedestrian wayfinding signs — “it’s a 5 minute walk to Main Street Gardens this way –>”).  If we get more pedestrians, retailers will notice, apartment developers will pay attention, old core buildings increase in value, we get more tax revenue ….

Ask Jack Matthews (we did recently) what would be 1 best thing Downtown Dallas could do so that we would have 25,000 people living in the core by 2025 and he will tell you — change the one way streets back to two way.

If I could be Mayor Mike for a day, this would be my edict — in 2 years, every Downtown Dallas Street that can be 2 way will be and we will be known as “the most pedestrian friendly major city in the US.”  And throw in more bike lanes while you at it.

Dallas & Going Horizontal

Posted by    |    May 14th, 2013 at 8:05 am

From: DRealPoints April 10, 2013 by Bob Voelker

What do the following news stories have in common?

• Downtown Dallas One-Way Streets Reversing Direction

• Updated Master Plan for Downtown Parks Calls for Major New Green Space

• Investing to Save: How Encouraging Urban Cycling Saves Money Walkable DFW

• Meet Dallas’ New Oak Cliff Streetcars

Dallas has an amazing skyline, to the point that at times we fixate on the vertical. Walking through downtown and looking up is at times breathtaking, with juxtaposed views of modern commercial office buildings, revitalized historic structures, recreational facilities, and worship centers. At the 20-foot-and-up level, it is hard to find a better city. From this vantage point, we can even call Dallas a “great city.”

Yet we have to be careful as we take in the view—as cars zoom by on Akard or Commerce or …  take your pick of streets (Main Street being the exception), at 40 miles per hour. The view of Dallas from the pedestrian level, from 20 feet on down, is one of narrow sidewalks, treeless streets, and a lack of buffer between moving cars and children after school (yes, there are a lot of school children in downtown Dallas).

(more…)

Marquee 2012 Developments Have Downtown Dallas Poised For Growth « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Posted by    |    March 27th, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Downtown Dallas experienced unprecedented progress in 2012 with the completion of several marquee  projects, as well as important under-the-radar residential developments that have the city poised for more growth, business and city leaders agreed on the Sunday, March 10, broadcast of the KRLD “Pulse of the City” roundtable.

In addition to 2012 completions of a signature Calatrava-designed bridge, the opening of the Perot Museum of Science & Nature, the City Performance Hall, and the Klyde Warren Park spanning the Woodall Rogers Freeway, millions of square feet of aging office buildings are being quietly transformed into hotel and residential space.

Read more at Marquee 2012 Developments Have Downtown Dallas Poised For Growth « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth.