Thursday, May 10, 2012

You're Looking In The Wrong Direction

Note:  This does not in anyway suggest highway building for highway building's sake shouldn't be fought against, and fought vigorously.  

I know we all loved the idea of the Trinity River Park.  You have every right to be skeptical it will ever happen.  There are those, and they are many, who have long felt the Trinity River Park was a ruse to build another highway.  They might be right.

Me?  I've never thought it would be nearly the amenity as advertised.  "It's like Central Park!  But Bigger!"  Then you read the fine print:  DOES NOT COME ASSEMBLED NOR WITH NEW YORK.

The thing about Central Park is that it is integral with and within the city around it.  You access it by crossing the street.  Between the levees, the flooding, and the myriad of wrecklessly construed spaghetti of highways, ramps, feeder roads, etc. the best way to access the hypothetical Trinity River Park might be by zipline from the top of the Bank of America tower.  

On top of that, the real estate opportunities are minimal.  There simply isn't the critical mass of land areas to reach the intensity, density, and vitality of building use nor the connectivity to surrounding regions which is the primary demand driver of density and activity:  sub-areas blending into larger wholes.  That can't happen when fragmented by rivers, be they streams of water, cars, or trains.  

It's an edge.  And along edges there exists border vacuums.  Value is at centers.  Convergence points of networks and critical intersections.  Whatever density lines that edge is determined by the value, amenity, and connection to whatever defines that edge:  Pacific Ocean and beach?  Value.  Riverfront Park: likely some value.  Highway?  No value.  

Until we begin to see some legitimate improvements in the area, investors will be allergic (or crazy) to build there.  As it is, there isn't much to write home about:

I suppose as urban rivers go, the Trinity is better than some.  However, I'm more likely to try to get away from it than go towards it.

Then there is Lew Sterrett, of course.  The highest density area in or around downtown Dallas.  There, density is not a by-product of desirability.  Sign of distorted market and systemic failure, no?

And then there is the mixmaster.  Who knows when Project Pegasus-turned-Horseshoe will happen.  It isn't pleasant before, it won't be pleasant after, and sure won't be nice during the reconstruction.  And as we all should well know by now, highways are more barriers than connectors.  Disintegration of local networks leads to disinvestment.

On the other hand, there is a waterfront amenity.  We're just looking the wrong direction.  Downtown can't grow towards the Trinity.  Trying to make it do so will be a colossal money pit of deluded dreams and promixes.  There is opportunity in the other direction.  

Towards White Rock Lake.  It's pretty nice.

Think about all the great areas between downtown and White Rock Lake past, present, and future:

Swiss Avenue:

Lower Greenville and Henderson Aves:

Not to mention all the great historic neighborhoods.

Even having run the mathematical spatial integration map using University College of London's DepthMap software shows that the Near East Dallas area should, SHOULD, be one of the most active, valuable areas in the entire city.  If not THE most.  This is why I think this area will blow uptown out of the water in terms of amount of investment, future tax base, and especially CHARACTER.  There is so much charm and history there to be enjoyed if we can get our act together.

Space Syntax model of downtown and downtown adjacent areas.  White Rock Lake is at the upper right corner.  Trinity cuts the swatch between North Oak Cliff (bottom left) and downtown.  

Except much of East Dallas is decrepit.  One of the reasons is because there are roads well under capacity.  They were built far too wide for the traffic on them.  Peak and Haskell couplets, for example, carry between 7000 and 10000 cars per day.  They're designed to carry 30,000.  

I'm not saying they should be narrowed.  I'm saying we need to fill them up with traffic.  Investors and developers look at traffic counts.  Right now, the area is a mix of decrepitude surrounding green shoots of life.  It needs more energy.

Except the traffic bypasses the area.  

To open the gates of opportunity and livability to the east we have to tear out IH-345.

Imagine the best of uptown...

Deep Ellum...

and Downtown/Main Street converging and blending into one another.  The way cities are meant to.  The way they want to.  The way WE want them to.

Oh, and then there's Phase 2:

Trinity Parkway / Project Pegasus / I-30 reroute all in one.  A friend of mine proposed this a few years back when I first started talking about highway tear-outs.  It still has a lot of merit.  Even moreso with the Trinity Parkway.  Want it to connect to I-30?  Re-route 30 around Fair Park/South Dallas/Cedars.  

That's another 900 acres of development out of Right-of-Way on top of the 245 in the IH-345 study area.  About 2500 in total that is repositioned when you start adding in all of the Cedars/Fair Park areas to the ROW and ROW adjacent properties.