Wednesday, February 5, 2014

345 Most Recent Presentation and a New Question

I gave my most recent presentation today on 345.  I probably have collected about 200 slides so far about this topic.  So each time I give it and am cutting, pasting, deleting, and creating new slides in order to customize it for every audience as well as improve it.  Each time I give it, it's to a new audience, with new feedback.  The process has helped the case infinitely as we learn what we might not have thought about yet and can then tailor rhetoric to the new time, thought, and research to that one issue we might not have thought about.

For example, the first time I ever spoke with Mark Lamster, before he even moved and discovered just how much time he would spent in the car, he asked something I hadn't been asked before.  His question paraphrased and elaborated a bit was essentially, "why this design?  why not more open space."  It was a design question rather than a political one, so I was more prepared for it because I had given thought to it as I worked it out.

The first part of the answer is that this was primarily an economic development study to determine what the right program was (land uses) and how much program can fit and be absorbed (square footage).  The second part about open space was more of a nod to the various parks we've already built and that we'll be smack in between several very large, regional-scaled open spaces (Trinity, Fair, Katy/Turtle, White Rock Lake, KWP, et al).  What's missing is smaller-, neighborhood-scaled plazas and parks.  More Savannah Square than Central Park.

You can find today's presentation below.

During Q&A I was posited a good question, which I had thought about in more rough, abstract terms, but hadn't formalized and polished an answer.  The question was, "we're already talking about uptown prices being very high.  If you improve land values in the area, isn't that more of the same problem?  Is housing less affordable?"

It's a good question.  Increased housing costs could drive more of the middle class flight to DeSoto or Frisco.  But I don't believe that will be the case.

First, what we're trying to do is get downtown and Deep Ellum to a place that IS market-oriented.  Right now it isn't.  Land costs exceed what rents can substantiate and thus we must subsidize.  We believe it is better to rise the tide of demand so the costs of land and development in downtown make sense for investors and can lessen the necessity of the public sector.  Cities would never have been built if they weren't profitable.  We need them to be profitable again.  We also believe it's in the city's best interest to focus a lesser overall cost on fixing an infrastructure for density and the pent-up demand for walkable urbanism rather than subsidizing every building to $50 mill a pop.

However, the more appropriate answer to the specific question is that DFW is part of one economy.  The physical form is the embodiment of the local economy in action.  That's also why our housing market is measured by metro.  We are essentially one housing market (or maybe two overlapping ones - with many sub-markets).  But the key factor is that housing is pegged to income.  Sure, price to income ratios fluctuate with bubbles and bursts, but over time it always tracks back to income.  People only buy or rent what they can afford (some more, some less).  There is only so much money in the system for housing.

So, if you're increasing value somewhere, you're not necessary changing the overall affordability.  You're just bumping lesser quality, less-in-demand neighborhood types down the pecking order as you begin diversifying the supply available of housing types and neighborhoods, appealing to a larger market.  And hopefully, someday, maybe...bringing that tax base to Dallas, the stable middle class families back to Dallas, and maybe even improving the school district by doing so.