Thursday, February 25, 2010

Over at the Observer

The Observer has linked to my post on the January downtown 360 plan stating that I suggest they think bigger. I don't recall if I used the phrase "think bigger," but the point that needs to be made is that these big catalyst projects that are discussed (Statler Hilton and Old Dallas High School - which I posted about years ago, found it!) might be too big to pull off in the short-term with the budgetary issues. So I think I'm actually suggesting thinking smaller???

While this is a publicly-driven planning process, I think the model of identifying large catalyst projects as part of the solution to the planning process worked pre-crash, but I'm skeptical now. This is essentially what happened with the Mercantile: identify the empty building, heavily subsidize a private developer to renovate a building, remove the developer's risk, build a park adjacent, hope for the best. I think it is going to take deeper, more strategic thinking and some political leadership to make for some of the systemic changes that need to occur.

I was trying to arrive at strategies that generate more bang for the buck to arrive at solutions to problems, ie surface parking lots and daylighting tunnel businesses, that could be more cost effective than writing a $20 million dollar check for abatement of either of those buildings. Work on the easy wins to build up value around those buildings, which then makes those catalyst projects make a little more sense.

I'm just inverting the thinking from throwing money at individual vacant buildings to catalyze the area around them, to working the fabric around the vacant buildings, so those "eyesores" seem less tragic. Those inherently are singular, top-down projects, and we need to be focusing on empowering a more emergent urbanism, meaning more developers intensifying surface lots and vacant properties, smaller, more finance-able projects, focusing on the fine-grained urban infill, and meeting the under-supplied niche housing markets while supporting all the goals of walkability and livability.