Friday, February 28, 2014

Presentation by Cartoonist (and Traffic Engineer) Ian Lockwood

As a bit of background, I was a little college intern a dozen years ago at a company called Glatting Jackson in Orlando, FL (I like warm weather. Can you tell?).  This was a great experience for a designer and urban planner like myself because at Glatting was a group of traffic engineers that really understood the bigger picture.  That traffic (and its infrastructure) should be subservient to city (and all of its functions) rather than the city subservient to ephemeral traffic issues.

Traffic, behavior, and land use all adapt to the bones its given.  You have to understand cities as living systems in order to best design and shape them towards doing what they do best, which is improving quality of life by facilitating fast, efficient social and economic exchange.  The traffic engineers at Glatting understood this bigger picture and design infrastructure networks so that cities function better.

I consider Ian to be the best traffic engineer in the country.  Don't take my word for it.  Take the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Loeb Fellowship, which made Ian the only traffic engineer to ever receive fellowship.  There, he studied highway tear-outs and is one of the foremost experts on design traffic networks with the intended goal of optimizing cities as social, economic, and environmentally sustainable places.

If you missed the presentation last night, we'll be posting the youtube over the weekend or early next week (provided the siren's song of nice weather doesn't intervene).  Here is the link to the slideshow, but it's really his words and experiences shaping more safer, more walkable, and more economically vibrant places (which are all interconnected) that tie it together.  So be on the look-out for that youtube.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Trendlines, To Infinity and Beyond

I don't know if I've posted this before.  I don't care.  I love it too much.  Rare has a single graph charted so perfectly how traffic projections, that then outline how much construction is "needed," never fails to take the steepest rate of acceleration in Vehicle Miles Traveled, and despite all evidence to the contrary, uses that trend line to project construction on into the event horizon.

This has nothing to do with gas prices.  And in all likelihood it never will.  It has everything to do with demographics and the design of our cities to meet the needs of the people within the means of the people.  The race to "mobility" has stultified, calcified and incapacitated our cities and made all of us far less mobile, stuck in the choke points in the funnel.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Better Carpenter Plaza

You want Carpenter Plaza.  Me too.  Who doesn't like parks, right?  The problem becomes when you only build parks without context.  A clumsy Keynesian effort in 'hopes' that it just might leverage development, usually not thinking about where the park is in relation to the broader movement network.  A park is only ever as good as its surroundings, and its surrounding developments are generated by the economic value created by the interconnectivity of the road network.

The past and current green space plans for downtown Dallas aren't thinking comprehensively about how development nor economics of urban spaces work.  They're band-aids to cover up mistakes rather than generate real value.

The original downtown park plan:

That's irrational and too much green space for a city already over-burdened with park spaces it struggles to maintain.  Again, more tax base is required, but an edge condition like this wouldn't generate any new value.  Nor would it be used heavily enough to garner much social or environmental benefit.

So, the plans have been revised:

Again, this generates no new value.  Nor does it address the surrounding network problems.  Again, it's an edge condition.  A border vacuum in Jane Jacobs' parlance, where life doesn't exist.  Great urban public spaces have centrality, in that all of the surrounding roads lead to them as they act as centerpieces for the surrounding neighborhoods.

This is exactly what we aimed to address with the 345 tear-out plan.

We have a plaza in the exact spot where Carpenter would occupy (roughly), however we do several things:

1) we provide centrality, by creating the plaza where an improved Swiss Avenue can meet an improved Leonard.  Both roads deserve it.  Don't know Leonard?  It's the connection from the Pearl DART station to the Arts District.  The Winspear terminates its vista.  Today it's defined by parking.  Swiss Avenue in this area is non-existent or surrounded by low intensity warehouses.

2) leveraging the right-of-way into development addresses the upside down nature of the economics that make development near impossible without significant public subsidy.  We simply can't afford to subsidize every single building new building.  Doing so also doesn't guarantee success.  It's merely supply.  Filling a bucket, when we need to light a fire under the market that can spread throughout the area.

3) replace the existing east downtown bus transfer center.  It's too land consumptive and not quality green space either.  It can be designed in a way that is far less intrusive on the land and surroundings and is closer to the DART train station(s) (if D2 ever gets off the ground again).

Instead, we should think about Carpenter as a chance to be the centerpiece of the highway tear-out, on the scale of great urban spaces throughout the world:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Disconnection? No, Reconnection.

A new elaboration of the common question "where does the traffic go?" has been bubbling up in the form of, "how does South Dallas get to their jobs in North Dallas?

When I hear these questions I always think to myself, "how does anybody get across Manhattan without Robert Moses's two proposed crosstown expressways," defeated by popular mandate?  Had Moses been successful at defeating Jane Jacobs, it would've undermined the value of opportunity and local economies in the area.  Some of the most loved neighborhoods in Manhattan would've been eradicated and the effects would've rippled throughout Manhattan as more room would be made for cars and parking, less for people, homes, and businesses.  All of which would now be in various locations around Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island.

The jobs wouldn't be nearby as economies and communities disperse into unsustainable fragments.
Now, for the moment, let's try to forget the underlying point that we think it's somehow OK that residents of South Dallas have to 1) own a car, and 2) must spend two hours in a car every day just to participate in the local economy.  Just give a read to Happy City for what effect this has on personal health, stress, families, and community.

It's no wonder why South Dallas has been hemorrhaging people in a place made so disconnected that it no longer has the advantage of proximity and urbanity.  Those with means to do so have already left.  With infrastructure that makes the entire region equally and very poorly connected only by automobile, why stay?

The infrastructure we design and build shapes the real estate market, the origins and the destinations.  They are ever-changing and adapting.  And right now, that infrastructure and its inherent inertia favor continued bleeding northward spillage.  That's why Dallas continues to lose jobs northward.

Or, as Chad Houser once told me, one of his kids in the Cafe Momentum organization spends 4 hours a day on various buses and transfers.  It is inhumane and it undermines opportunity to climb the socio-economic ladder.

We have to stop this inertia and entropy at its source and reorganize our city and our communities around more walkable infrastructure and more re-localized economies.  Only then can we empower all of our citizens.

Above is the planned 1967 highway map of Dallas.  Unfortunately for us, they've been far too successful at implementing all of this.  And now, TxDOT (and the Texas taxpayers) are on the hook for $35 billion in debt.  Who is to stop the bleeding?

Pay special attention in the map above to the dashed in proposed crosstown expressway.  Yeah, they were big in the 60's.  Freeway revolts around the country were successful in stopping many of these.  One in particular was stopped here in our fair city that would've been built through the Oak Lawn and southern edge of the Park Cities.  Imagine what would've become to those areas which were 1) the stability of these neighborhoods provided the dam that prevented a full 'Detroit-ing' of Dallas, and 2) became the starting point for the repopulation and re-urbanization of Dallas that we now call Uptown.  None of that would've happened and I wouldn't be typing this from my office in State-Thomas.

One of the latest TxDOT talking points I've heard is that 75 will become the busiest road in the country (as if this wasn't a distortion/dysfunction of their own creation).  Potentially busier than the 405 in LA, the current reigning champ of terrible decision-making, barely edging out Justin Bieber.

This soundbite sounds nice when trying to build bigger roads, but is ignorant of the only proven way to reduce congestion and increase opportunity.  By shortening trips we reduce the demand load throughout the road network and we get people out of cars.

I'm also hearing that the plan for 75 North of Dallas is for 27 lanes.  27!  Besides the absurdity of it on face, I'll give you a better reason why this is impossible, and we have to change course of policy and direction.  Widening to 27 lanes means acquiring all the properties on both sides, a billion $ investment alone, just to shutter and displace businesses.  If the point of transportation is to facilitate efficient social and economic exchange, what are we really doing here?

We have to stem the tide of inertia at its source, reversing the outward entropy decimating the city, and reorganize around more walkable, more sustainable, more empowering, and inclusive infrastructure networks for all.

Despite the growth in the sub-market of uptown, Dallas county is still hemorrhaging jobs and people outward.  primarily, northward into more sprawl.

Like the complexity of cities, there are no simple answers (besides continuing this destructive March of Folly).  Instead, there are many answers that in concert, solve an awful lot of problems, particularly, car dependence and job spillage out of the urban core.  The place that SHOULD be the most interconnected, the most walkable, the most empowering, and the most valuable.  Instead, we have half-filled high-rise office space in downtown getting 80% of market rate for rents.

First, by removing 345 as phase 1, then beginning to look at what to do with I-30, we're bringing jobs and investment back to downtown, re-centering the real estate center of gravity, and thus opportunity back to South Dallas.

Also, in the short-term, rather than continuing to funnel all cars into one constricted highway corridor (which, by the way doesn't move at rush hour anyway), we can improve several N-S connectors as high quality, multi-modal urban boulevards like Cesar Chavez, Good Latimer, Pearl, and the Peak/Haskell couplet.

Wouldn't it better honor Cesar Chavez if it was a safe, vibrant, highly desirable urban boulevard with a proliferation of small, local businesses lining the sidewalks than the horrific mess it is today?

Now, the third leg in the stool.  Below is the current DART rail map.  The green line from South Dallas runs in a roughly linear manner SE to NW.  To get to said jobs up 75, one would have to take the green line into downtown, change trains at the Pearl/Arts District station, and catch an orange or red train.  Depending upon exact origin and destination, you're still looking at 3 hour round trip minimums.

Under 345 there is this rail trivium, the third of which linking the red line to the green line is rarely used.

Why not utilize this and create a new line, if only during peak hours that directly link the green line up the parallel 75 corridor?

Highways can be stopped.  A better city can be built.  We just have to organize our collective will and abilities to do so.  Avoiding the problem isn't problem-solving.  It's not even acknowledging that there IS a problem.  And thus, South Dallas flounders.  I'm sorry, but I'm trying to do something about that.  Otherwise, maintaining and actively participating in the inertia undermines opportunity to the southern sector.

Creative Financing: Two Potential Ways of Demolishing a Highway and Building a City

Yes, 'creative financing' can have a bad connotation, particularly after the housing bubble.  But after said bubble has burst, it's also necessary for creative ways to rebuild.  Ideally, more constructively towards lifting all boats rather than carving a bigger piece of the pie for one particular industry.  Call it, creative capitalism in the truest sense of the term 'create' rather than extractive capitalism.

Along those lines, I've been thinking for some time exactly how the financial possibilities and necessary mechanisms at work that can finance the 345 tear-out and rebuild.  The question was posed specifically yesterday:  TxDOT doesn't have two nickels to rub together.  How can we build anything without Putin dropping $50 billion for a poorly conceived and horrifically corrupt design?  I'm not certain we would put up with that kind of grift and graft.  We already have, in reality, and we can afford it no longer.

Well, the first point is that we've overbuilt a certain type of infrastructure.  As infrastructure throughout time is wont to do (see: railroads, streetcars, airports, and highways).  And as we've seen, the value of any new already overshot form of infrastructure, approaches zero Return on Investment.  Therefore, all new infrastructure has to be value-added.  And I hate that term because like virtually any buzzword in the city building world it has lost meaning. Too many people using it in too many and usually inaccurate contexts.  But, when it's true it actually has meaning.

I'll get to ways we can finance a tear-out and rebuild later, but first we have to understand the dire straights we're in.  Money was for nothing.

Overshoot typically comes about via some combination of irrational exuberance turned into bureaucratic inertia.  Repeating the same (and increasingly antiquated) solution or idea over and over too long.  A fractal gone haywire and the self-organized system devolves into entropy and chaos.  We have over-built over-scaled roads, highways, and a systemically 'dumb' hierarchical road network that has spread out, divided, and disconnected us through over-repetition of tired, old, and flawed formulas.  Thus, forcing us into cars.

More cost on the user, more cost on the public sector via this over-built infrastructure, which in turn, means more cost back on the user, the taxpayer.  Repeating the same solution, more capacity in a corridor actually means less functional capacity in the network, is the definition of insanity.

By way of heavily leveraged new construction and deferred maintenance due to the increasing proportion of the budget that goes to debt service, TxDOT is now $35 billion in debt.  Hearing that number blew me away.  I thought $18B was high.  $35 billion is more than $1100 per Texan.  And that number is growing.

We can raise revenue via a variety of taxes and user fees, but does more revenue into a broken system fix anything in a time of decreasing more necessary basic services on the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs for a just, fair, functional society?

Or, we can be creative.

One of the many basic impulses of the highway tear-out is to rectify these disorders and imbalances.  We can reduce our public agencies' long-term cost and maintenance burden by reducing the amount of state and federal level roads (what we've over-built) and reducing the demand load on our roads (what we've induced via the inefficient structure of our cities as operating systems).

Luckily for us, we can kill two birds with one stone if you replace the funnel (the dendritic road network) with targeted, new filters (a highly interconnected, robust, fully integrated, multi-modal grid network).

Furthermore, since TxDOT debt is taxpayer debt belonging ultimately to the state of Texas, we can shift infrastructure from state and federal levels (which disperses tax base away sociofugally) to local hands via land use intensification.  The increased density and urbanity has 1) tax base to afford the infrastructure because 2) the quality of said streets is necessary for the very demand instilling that new density, thus 3) there is an upward pressure towards maintenance, upkeep, and uplift of the quality and safety of the new gridded city street network.

After a recent presentation, somebody asked completely seriously, "could we use eminent domain and condemn" a structure that is antiquated, kills ours cities, and our citizens?  It's a thought that has occurred to me.  It may not be possible to condemn UP the jurisdictional flagpole, but it would be a fun symbolic statement.

These land sales can off-set some of that debt.  New revenue without new taxes!  Huzzah!
So exactly how would those land transfers work?  This is where we have to be both logical and creative, using the two sides of our collective brains.

Like any investment, the long-term return finances the initial down payment.  In this case, the return is so high the down payment is essentially the full cost of tear-down, grid rebuild, and open space creation as centerpieces for the new neighborhoods.  Ideally, those returns should come as close to the source as possible, from who is actually reaping the gains.

The state of Texas's cut is coming by way of the land sales, which might put a bit of a dent in the deep hole dug by overshoot.  So, we don't want to cut into that considering lowering that debt burden helps all the taxpayers.

The other two options are either from the private sector to finance it entirely or the city via the increased tax base.  Perhaps even a new TIF dedicated strictly to the area.  I'm not sure that is ideal, because the long-term property tax returns are so great that we would want to spread that benefit beyond just the boundaries of the study area.  In essence, the TIF is the entire city so who needs a more targeted TIF?

Option 1 would mean the investors and developers who are getting high quality, valuable land, ripe for high-intensity, high margin development handle the bill entirely.  However, there would still need to be a public agency involved to ensure the best possible development and infrastructure for the city as a whole.

The profit margins for the investors and developers would come primarily down to what price they can get the land for and that comes down to said city redevelopment agency's negotiation with the state.  For the private market to cover the costs, they need the land price to not be market (see: if via auction or RFP -- we'll get to that in option 2), but deflated.  In San Francisco's highway tear-outs, CalTrans quit-claimed the right-of-way to the state, which then deeded it over to the city for $1.  I don't think Texas will do that.  The needs are too great and the empty pockets too hungry.

To cover costs, investor margins would have to increase by another 5%.  Specific numbers don't really matter at this point, but the results of quick calculations tell me the land price would have to be free or at least, virtually free.  It works to some extent, because everybody involved is getting something out of the deal.  State and TxDOT gets reduced maintenance/cost burden, city tax base, and investors get 'free' land in exchange for upfront capital for the tear-down.

On the other hand, land sales alone could cover the full cost of the tear-down once we reach 40-50 dollars/foot, which could easily be a bargain for said ripe, downtown adjacent land.  Remember, downtown and Deep Ellum land use intensification ISN'T happening because land costs are already too high.
That's one option.  Personally, I like the idea of an auction or RFP process, which would allow some oversight into phasing, capability of delivering on promises, and quality control.

Restrictions could be set such as no investor can get more than a set amount of acres to empower the many hands pulling in the same direction.  The overall plan would also include phasing with variable time limits for delivery.  For example, see CityPlace for smart phasing in terms of delivering increasing quality that builds upon each individual success into an eventual whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Those that go after the later phased land for an early and consistent price with the rest of the properties can make a killing if they can cover their basis for the 10-15 years while early phases are delivered, increasing value throughout.  They take on a bit more risk, but in all likelihood a greater margin of returns, at the additional cost of having to sit on the land until the phasing clock starts ticking on that property (or the redevelopment agency can hold the land and sell at higher price -- in my mind, it's all about whatever direction leads to the best and most predictable implementation).  Taxes can be deferred on the land during this waiting period.

The nice thing about this option is that the land price would find its equilibrium or true value and the savviest investors and developers will get the highest returns.  It's how we 'right the ship' of downtown real estate.

This option puts the onus for financing the initial highway demolition and grid reconstruction on the city and its hypothetical redevelopment agency (and whatever grants, see: TIGER) that can be won.  We have calculated various scenarios showing between $4 and $5.5Billion in potential investment as well as $110 million per year in new property tax revenue to the city of Dallas (at year 0+15 and 95% build-out).  The city can easily borrow all they need to get this going with those kinds of returns (for the city, its citizens, and investors).  When you get urbanism right, you get the economics right.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cost of Congestion vs Cost of Car Dependence

Below are two slides I put together last week.  I've had the foundation of them in the various presentations I've been giving, but they were still missing something.  They show the various transportation costs we incur per capita, simply to get around.

The above slide is exactly how it was and has been since I first included it.  The graph comes from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute.  He's showing that per capita, congestion doesn't really cost all that much.  Meanwhile, I wanted to address the boogieman various BUILD MORE HIGHWAY NOW neanderthals with hammers wield, stating Texas Transportation Institute's number that congestion costs the U.S. $120 billion a year in undue delays and what not.

Sounds costly...except that's cheap.  And we can do very little about it.  Particularly, thru more highway capacity.

So what I did was stack all of the various externalized costs related to car dependence such as personal injury, ownership/operation/maintenance of cars, subsidized free parking, etc etc.  I left the cost of building and maintaining roads as its own cost because we still need infrastructure.  Instead, the future of designing cities is about optimizing our infrastructure and our cities to function as efficient platforms of social and economic exchange.

However, that wasn't enough to show that car dependence costs the US 17x that of congestion.  The more important issue is to address what to do about it.  The answer is in the detail that very little can be done about the costs of congestion.  Whether a walkable, transit-friendly city or a car dependent city, these costs are remarkably flat.  And even if they're not, is there that much we can do about it?

Is it really worth the Federal Highway Administration spending $81 billion a year, just to notch the $120 billion in cost down fractionally?

The answer is no.  There is far more private savings to be gained from public dollar by reducing car dependence.

An example.  Houston is a lot like Dallas.  In Houston, 95% of trips are by car.  In Dallas, 96% of trips are by car.  In Houston, 14% of local GDP is spent on transportation.  Simply, getting around and participating in the economy.  In Copenhagen, which has been systematically and incrementally reducing the role and necessity of private automobile cost and usage since the 1960's, only spends 4% of GDP on transportation.

That is 10% of GDP that Houston (and presumably DFW) wastes simply in having an inefficient machine for social and economic exchange.  A poorly designed city.

Is Copenhagen's economy less active?  No.  Are people not moving around?  No.  There is still plenty of humm and whirr of a vibrant place.  However, they got people out of cars which were congesting, polluting, and ruining their beloved city.  There are now many more trips.  They're just smaller, shorter, and not in cars as much.  As Ian Lockwood told me over the phone last week, "if you can cut the average trip length in half, you cut the transportation load of the entire system in half."

Did they get people fully out of cars?  No.  56% of trips are still by car.  What they did was successfully design and adapt their transportation infrastructure over time, so that the real estate market favored good city building.

Did they force people out of cars?  No.  Quite the opposite actually.  They provided the freedom of choice.

  • Of multiple route choice so that you can adapt your trip to daily circumstances.  
  • Of mode, you can choose the optimal and most convenient mode of transport for your mood and needs.  Bikes, foot, transit, bus, or car.  All are convenient and accessible.
  • And of what to do with your dollars.  Instead of spending 20-30% of your after tax income on transportation, calculated in 2013 to be $9,000 per year per car on average across the country, you can now do anything else you like with that money while still having maximum mobility.  You can save it, invest it, pay for improved housing, start a business, etc.  

We just need to incrementally shift.  Starting with IH345.  We simply can't afford to wait around until 2040 because we were afraid to act.

Monday, February 10, 2014

An Interview w/ Traffic Engineer Ian Lockwood

Extinguish those torches.  He's one of the good ones.  In fact, I interned at the company Ian has worked at for a long time working for him on a few projects a decade ago.  Coming from a design background, it was a great experience working with and learning from traffic engineers who were way ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the role of transportation has upon land use and street/network design as a subset to a larger whole, which is community and city building.

I called him up last week to discuss highway tear-outs, which has become one of his specialties, having spent a year as a prestigious Loeb Fellow at the Harvard School of Design.  Here's an interview with him discussing highways, cities, and the McGrath Highway in the Boston area:

Traffic Engineering, & Highway Removal- Ian Lockwood from Mark Chase on Vimeo.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Is This Your DOT?

Cross-posting from the Professional Urbanists listserv.  What follows is a critique of a state DOT commissioned by the very same state.  The actual state has been left anonymous, because it really could be just about any.  Such is the calcification within entrenchment.

 (The state DOT):
1. significantly out of step with best practice in the transportation field
2.       has not come to grips with the reality of induced traffic and the relationship between transportation and land use
3.       use of automotive LOS... has been a barrier to compact development sought by state policy and may have induced the opposite -- low density, high travel exurban development
4.       design guides are too inflexible... do not do enough to mainstream facilities for non-single-occupancy vehicle travel into project development
5.       rigidity of guidance gives rise to requests for design exceptions, which all stakeholders characterized as a painful and time-consuming process
1.       System preservation should be a primary message
2.       DOT ... should strengthen its planning unit
3.       ... should update the design and traffic control device manuals
4.       ... should relinquish oversight of bike facilities on locally owned streets
5.       … give designers option of using NACTO urban design standards in metro areas
6.       ... rethink approach to facilities in metro areas and town centers
7.       ... build more flexibility into its processes
8.       ... assert leadership in area of sustainable transportation in relations with regional partners
9.       ... find ways to transfer local-serving roads to local government
10.   ... ensure communications with local stakeholders are genuine and two-way
11.   ... improve staff training and workforce development

Splitting Hairs; Re-Exploring a Henry George Style LVT

A quick plug before I get into the post.  Last night I saw Chuck Marohn speak at the Garland Theater in downtown Garland (the trains had no problem with the weather).  He runs the Strong Towns organization and is good at pointing out the deficiencies and disinvestment built-in to how we finance infrastructure.  Tonight, he'll be at Jefferson Tower in Oak Cliff from 6-8.  Go see him.  He's worth your time.


You would have to be a looooong time reader of this blog to remember the last time I harped on land value taxes.  I'm talking 2009-10, when this blog was younger and more active.  In sum, an LVT is a pigovian tax that taxes unimproved land within a city boundaries.  On one hand, it punishes land owners for under-utilization, speculation, and rent seeking.  On the other, it creates an incentive to do something with that land that is contributive to the necessary multiplier effect of agglomeration economies, cities without gaps in the fabric.

One of the reasons I was writing about it back then was in reaction to the downtown 360 plan.  This was around the same time we began hatching this plan you may have heard about.  Brandon and I discussed that the downtown plan was adding all cost, but doing little to drive demand high enough to the point where investment wouldn't require significant subsidy or the kind of charity that builds nearly half million dollar hotel rooms.  There is only one person that can and will do that.  To bring downtown back, we need hundreds if not thousands of investors and that only happens if the climate is favorable and market-oriented.

What we got was essentially, 1) do some streetscaping, 2) build some parks, 3) create some catalyst projects (which require public participation, subsidy).  If you catch it, all of those things require upfront public contribution.  They're all cost with little proven return, or a sub-linear ROI in that the return, while still above zero is less than one.  You can build parks all day long, but if you're not changing the real estate dynamics that don't favor investment in the area, what are we really doing?  That's why downtown is on course to be little more than parks and parking.  It's masterplanning that worked pre-2008.  But it's antiquated now.

We need super-linear ROI, which means changing the rules of the game.  It means taking out a highway, re-tooling the tax code to incentive improvement, and FOR GOD'S SAKE ELIMINATING PARKING MINIMUMS.   To me, that's real masterplanning.  Healing the market.


I bring it up again because economics writers have begun bringing it up, again.  Most recently by Ed Glaeser here and a few weeks back by Matt Yglesias who wrote that it works best in a place like Houston that we could call under-developed rather than say, San Francisco or DC -- which gets to the point of his book that zoning and height restrictions drive up rents in those places.  He's absolutely right in making the distinction.

I've been trying to figure out for years whether such a thing is kosher within the Texas state constitution.  Some states specifically forbid it.  About 5-6 years ago, I had the mayor of a West Texas town very interested in exploring the idea, even if it could just be some sort of overlay just in the downtown.  Unfortunately, a personal scandal shortly after derailed what could've been the first step into the world of LVT's in Texas.  Except it wouldn't have been an LVT.

One potential loophole isn't a pure LVT, but rather a Split Tax.  This is what we were discussing and what was done in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA.  Harrisburg is a tiny city in terms of land area (and population), punished by high tax rates to compensate for the large amount of tax exempt properties/jobs in the city as the state seat.  It pushes residents and businesses outside of the small core city into the suburbs and left the downtown all but dead (except for all of those state workers).  They instilled a split tax and vacancies dropped from 4000 to 400.

In Texas, we already assess land and improvement separately.  Then we lump them together and tax the two at the same rate.  A Split Tax would set a separate rate for that land assessment and another rate for the improvement assessment.  Typically, that means lowering the improvement tax rate and increasing the land tax rate.  In Harrisburg, the land tax was 6x that of the improvement tax.  I prefer the split tax, because land use improvements still require infrastructure so you can't let them off the hook entirely, but it encourages more land use for less infrastructure.  Efficient tax base to infrastructure balance.  Much like a 14" pipe doesn't cost much more than a 12" pipe but it holds significantly more.  Think about land development that way.

If you have an improved piece of property, it lowers your taxes.  That's why it works politically.  It also creates an incentive towards highest and best use.  It doesn't lower revenue from property taxes if you tweak it right.  Eventually, it encourages more investment and property tax revenue goes even higher due to the increased investment and improvements.

What does our current tax code incentivize?  Like any market, ROI.  However, in this case that means getting the absolute most revenue but while having the absolute minimum level of improvement.  What does that look like in the real world?  A parking lot.  

Our conception of "highest and best use" is tall buildings.  However, under the current paradigm, highest and best use for the property owner is actually a parking lot.  It's just not preferred highest and best use for everyone else, the public sector, the neighbors, the taxpayers at large, and people who just want a better downtown to be proud of.

For downtown to come back, we need everybody pulling in the same direction.  Right now, the rules of the game have us pulling in opposite directions.

Now, a not so hypothetical hypothetical.

Let's say there is a property in downtown that is about 2.5 acres.  You can fit 300 surface parking spots on that piece of property, which you can probably build for $150,000.  According to the way this parking lot is assessed, there is no improvement value.  Land is assessed at $50/foot.  Your land value is about $5.5 million.  Your improved value is 0.  So you're total assessment is $5.5 million.

Despite not having "an improvement," you still have enough of an improvement to generate revenue.  You have paving...which you charge $5 per day for those 300 parking spaces.  You're generating $300,000 a year in revenue.  Taxes take half of that.  Operations costs aren't terribly high for a parking lot, so you're still making profit.  Not a lot, but enough to sit on the land until the fairy princess sprinkles magical pixy dust of reckless investment, subsidy, or charity on your head.  So, you wait.  And development doesn't happen.

Instead of that 2.7% tax rate for city, county, schools, and hospital, we drop improvement taxes to 1.5% and raise land taxes to 12%.  In that instance, the parking lot owner is now taxed $600,000 on the land alone.  They're losing more than 2x revenue every year with O&M costs added in.  There is no improvement to be taxed, but also no improvement to generate more revenue and offset the higher taxes.

Now, for an improved property like the 5 story arts district lofts, their tax burden is $840k/yr.  Their property is worth $27M and land $3.5M.  In such a split tax, their taxes would drop 11,000.  Not much, but that shows us the base line.  What's the minimum amount of development appropriate for downtown land?  4-5 stories.  The new tax code creates an incentive to development that as a minimum.  Anything more is gravy.

Let's look at a tower.  If the improvement is $150M and the land is worth $6M, a tower's tax burden is currently about $4.3.  Under a split tax, their tax burden would be cut to $3M/year.

You want development?  You want to get rid of the blighted eye sores of vacant land and parking lots?  Re-write the rules of the game.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Never Side With a Crack-Smoking Mayor

The Gardiner Expressway is a dilapidated elevated freeway through the heart of downtown Toronto.  Does that sound familiar?  There has long been calls to do something with it, but never serious plans.  Well, the city of Toronto has just completed an environmental assessment of it and the recommendation is strongly on the side of a tear-down.

You can find a powerpoint summary of the EA findings here.

Besides learning that their crack smoking clown of a mayor, is against it (citing 'traffic'), the most interesting part of the study to me is the number used in their traffic model for how much traffic will get pushed over to transit (15%).

If a similar percentage of traffic was pushed from 345 to DART that's increased ridership of 25-30,000 new riders per day.  DART's ridership is in the vicinity of 200-250,000 per day (100k or so on rail, 135k on bus).  That is a hefty and needed bump in DART's numbers.

We lament why it DART ridership isn't higher, yet we do little to actually make DART more convenient than driving (despite driving's significantly higher costs).  We let the convenience of the singular driver extinguish the convenience of all in a more adaptable, resilient, and empowering city laden with choice in transportation mode, route, housing, and neighborhood.  By making DART more convenient than driving, the real estate market will begin adapting much more quickly to DART routes.

In sum, you never want to be on the same side as a crack smoking mayor.

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.

Of Cost, Market Realities, and Ideas (besides THAT one. Yeah THAT one too)

I was at the Come Together forum last night in City Performance Hall (and I'll write more about it if I get the chance) which included a panel including Mayor Mike Rawlings, Bishop TD Jakes, Michael Sorrell - the president of Paul Quinn College, and Liz Cedillo-Pereira discussing, in very general terms, economic development of South Dallas.

I enjoyed Bishop Jakes' input but even moreso Michael Sorrell, who refused to ignore the realities facing South Dallas as these kinds of panels tend to as they devolve into mindless "we're number 1 everything is grand" cheerleading.  Mostly when it's an all North Dallas panel.  "Walkability, what do we need that for I have my limo driver."

Now, the mayor mentioned a few things worth repeating here within the context of the highway tear-out plan.  One, "we're in too many silos." Meaning, various organizations don't communicate.  This is true and especially true within City Hall where an assistant city manager (with a background in civil engineering) mentions 1) the most lay of questions, "what happens to the traffic?" and 2) it costs too much.  It only costs too much if 1) you can only comprehend a tunnel, and 2) You're not communicating with economic development.

Expensive is relative.  Expensive is only relevant within the context of investment and return, return on investment.  Particularly, if the returns are significantly over costs (like factors of 10+ fold -- keep in mind we're proud of Klyde Warren Park's 2x ROI), the concerns over upfront expense begin to diminish.

Let's talk about what is truly expensive.  $100 million to maintain a shade structure for another 20 years is expensive.  There is no return on that investment besides catastrophe prevention through structural maintenance.  Expensive is not capitalizing on the underperforming real estate property within and along the right-of-way that is valued on a per land area basis lower than most sprawl, precisely because of the highway deflating value.  However, the market prices that land far more than it is actually worth...which is why nothing happens on it.

By maintaining the highway, we're not leveraging the $4-5 billion in private investment that would occur (our latest numbers show $5.5 billion and $120 million per year in property tax revenue to the city).  $120 million over 20 years is $2.4 billion in revenue the city is foregoing.  What exactly is expensive?  Building the second downtown DART line is expensive.  And it can be built (or at least borrowed against) the new property tax revenue.

Our latest numbers show the tear-down (read: NOT A BURIAL - The underserving grid has more capacity available than the highway ever could.  Haven't I demonstrated enough that Dallas has way too much highway capacity, to a destructive level, than it needs?) would cost about $80-85M, the new streets and four new parks another $35-40, for a total of about $120 million.  Again, that seems like a lot of money.  Until you factor the potential land auction/sale.

Let's say TxDOT quit claims the ROW, deeding the land over to the state.  If the state transfers the land to a dedicated redevelopment authority under the city's auspices for a $1 like California did in San Fran and the redevelopment authority can get $40/foot for land (not unreasonable at all for downtown adjacency) on the developable blocks of formerly public ROW, they're recapturing $111.5 million just in the land sale.

The mayor added, cost isn't the issue. "We're a rich city"(despite the growing concerns about poverty).  "If you bring us market-based solutions, we'll listen and if we like them, we'll get it done."

Now let's think about market-based solutions for a moment.  One of the primary drivers of this development plan was what I call an "upside-down development market" in downtown.  It isn't market-based because demand is too low and costs are too high.  Every new building requires heavy levels of charity (see: The Arts District) or subsidy (see every building proposal in downtown asking for $50 million) to cover that upside down gap.  Fifty here, fifty there.  Even then, it does very little for the demand side of the equation.  Thus we get either empty buildings or buildings not able to get the rents projected in the pro forma, and thus buildings have gone through bankruptcy.

We wanted to avoid this endless 'coming to the trough,' by driving up the levels of demand so that downtown investment was market-based and we can get out of the subsidy (and begging for more parking) business.

When I've been on panels dealing with South Dallas or having discussions with people on the ground trying to make a difference, the grand generalities about entrepreneurship and local problem solving go out the window when they can get loans to start businesses, simply because of their area.  In a way, it's passive-aggressive redlining, but you can understand both sides.

I don't like it, but the reality is in modern banking everything is driven by data and semi-arbitrary formula.  Sorry, not enough households and not the right incomes in the area to support your business.  There is no empowered localized decision-making that could identify that there is real need there.  Computer can't see need, can't help people deliver supply.

Here's an idea.

1) Of course, we begin seriously addressing the downtown highway system that bifurcate North and South, East and West as a way of nudging investment, jobs, and capital further south.  Risk averse capital doesn't play hopskotch around the city.  It oozes block to block.  What's happened in uptown and happening down Henderson, can happen closer to downtown, bridging the yawning gap of pavement, parking, and tumbleweeds between East Dallas and downtown.  From there it can then be nudged into South Dallas.

Last night's discussion began wandering ominously into the language of smokestack chasing, which rarely pays off for a city.  Companies are looking for high quality, walkable urban areas.  Because their employees are looking for that.  New entrepreneurs and startups are looking for that.  And keep in mind, uptown isn't even all that walkable.  Just in small pockets here and there.  We can do better.

2) Since we have money in the North (that seems to like both charity and lending) why don't we create a KIVA style local hybridized charitable lending system.  A local not-all-that-micro-financing system where North Dallas money can pool capital that goes towards South Dallas small business start-ups, which like KIVA, the loan repayments can be withdrawn, or recirculated back into an ever growing pool of capital and then re-lent back to South Dallas.  That's an idea so good even the grifter class would be excited.

That way, we can build more authentically, organically, and market-oriented rather than begging, borrowing, or stealing to get some name brand corporation to drop one plant in the middle of south Dallas for a few years until they get a better offer.  Because Mockingbird Station isn't coming to South Dallas.  Nor should we want it to.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Overshoot and the Selective Pruning

There are three points I wish to bring up in this post. All of which I've mentioned before, often independently, but they've been refreshed in my memory and clarified by a new favorite daily read, The Transportationist, owned by an engineering professor in Minnesota named David Levinson.  I'm drawn to it, naturally, because of his emphasis of a holistic approach to transportation as a subset to a larger service of urban systems, economics, and networks.  All three of those words are basically the same thing.

The first point is a way of understanding and prioritizing transportation issues utilizing the project management triangle.  This is sometimes called the iron triangle consisting of equal segments: time, cost, and quality.

The first time I ever heard of such a simplification was when renovating a storefront in a mixed-use building, previously only used for old pool equipment storage, into a new office space.  We tore out all of the walls to make an open concept, gutted it back to the studs, rearranged the kitchen, added a bathroom.  When starting the project our general contractor (GC) said, "time, quality, and get to pick two of the three and we'll deliver it for you."  We went with quality and cost.  Even though we were already on the lease, we were able to get cheap enough rent that working out of coffee shops and homes was ok for another month or two.


The difference between project management and transportation is that from the user perspective with transportation you don't necessarily have to sacrifice any of the three legs of the stool.  In any form of transportation (not necessarily the construction process, but rather the service provided to the end user, the citizenry), you still want to achieve all three.  Where land costs plummet, such as in the rural countryside -turned sprawl, it doesn't make sense to gold plate that road, hence, TxDOT is recognizing the error and planning to revert rural farm-to-market type roads back to gravel.

An example of an Italian Passeggiata.  Which is a quasi-official pedestrian route through the center of any Italian city that is also understood to mean the evening stroll many people take after dinner.

As a user however, you still want all three.  You want most trips to be fast (not necessarily in terms of velocity but time), cheap (you don't want to expend a lot of energy and cost per trip), and ideally, you would like a high quality experience (it should be safe, pleasant, and scenic).

I ask, what achieves all three legs better than a nice walk?  Whether in a countryside hamlet, a suburban neighborhood, or center city, all deserve to be as walkable as possible, because that achieves all three better than any other form of travel for the user.  And then there are all the spin-off benefits such as personal health, increased tax base/density to infrastructure ratio, less physical wear and tear on the infrastructure, environmental benefits, increased commercial business, etc.

All of these can and should be walkable.  There is simply more value and less cost to designing for more efficient movement, higher quality experience and increased safety of movement.  To provide walkability (and the efficiency, convenience, pleasure, and safety therein), suggests a need for an increased subsidiarity, or hierarchy of jurisdiction where the lowest possible governing body dictates infrastructure design and priority via public process.

Movement in cities is good.  It's a sign of an economy in action, vibrating within the tension that Charles Montgomery points out in his book Happy City that we're constantly vacillating between.  We want to be near stuff.  We want to be away from stuff.  Often the same things in the same day.  You want to be near points of economic exchange, markets or your job, a part of the hustle and bustle.  Then you want to be away from it for a while.  Prospect and refuge in action.

I think this is why I've always been drawn to time lapse video of cities in motion such as seen in the opening credits of Sherlock:

However, when you think of movement you're also thinking of energy expended.  Certain types of movement require more energy (gasoline), embedded energy (pavement), increased pollution (belch), and congestion:

You'll never stop movement.  Nor should we.  Again, movement is the sign of a vibrant economy.  When it stops, you have a problem.  So you want that movement, especially where the movement and activity turns into the hyperactivity known as the socio-economic reactor we call cities, to be as time and energy efficient while being as elegant and safe as possible.  High speed vehicular movement disrupts this vibrancy and density of activity that turns into something greater than the sum of parts, economic growth and improved quality of life.  A bigger pie and a rising tide lifting all boats.

Highways are necessary.  You heard me.  But like Eisenhower knew (despite thinking of them primarily from a military/defense standpoint) and most cities around the world realized, they ought not throw the baby out with the bath water by running highways into the center of cities, severing highly complex and intricate socio-economic bonds.

That's why we must understand that there are two types of highways:  Inter-city and Intra-city.  Inter-city highways are those necessary for linking regional economies, such as Houston to DFW.  They are necessary, provided they're also competing with overlapping regional linkages by air and rail.  Intra-city highways are inner-city highways.  These disrupt and disconnect more than they actually connect.

You can't have a conversation about improved and optimized cities and public infrastructure without understanding the two types of highways and which is appropriate and beneficial.

The reason is the point of any highway is free flow.  Anything that interrupts free flow thereby diminishes the efficacy of the infrastructure.  The closer you get to an urban core, the more friction there will be due to the more interchanges, exits, intersections, and crosswalks (as these frictional elements decrease in scale closer to the core).

Free flow and friction cannot coexist.  They are antagonists. Thus in Lewis Mumford's terms, they are anti-city and city.  Therefore, bodies politic must prioritize, which is more important:  free flow or the friction of economic vibrancy.  Otherwise, free flow will erode the friction until there is none.  We must also remember what that free flow is in service towards, economic activity.  If it is killing economic activity that it is supposed to be supporting, we have indeed entered a cancerous stage of infrastructure and in turn city building.  Once you do that there is little value in the land except for drive-to theme park type uses, often requiring incredible levels of subsidy and/or charity.

This is becoming increasingly understood that the value of highway construction is becoming increasingly diminished.  Perhaps to the point where it is destructive and adds negative value.  One study suggests that the Return on Investment of new highway construction is approaching zero.  That is we get 0 benefit from every dollar spent.  And in transportation dollars, highways mean lots of dollars.  For the value to get that low, we must question why we are doing it?  Furthermore, in all likelihood, it is evidence of overshoot.  We have built too many and too big of freeways at the expense of our socio-economic reactor, the city.  And therefore, the right thing to do is to begin thinking about selective pruning in order to optimize connectivity for the sake of cities to continue to function efficiently.  Lest that star might fade away.

Highway lane miles per capita within core city.  No world class city is car-dependent.

However, for downtowns to maintain value they must remain connected to the global economy.  So the infrastructure of global movement must be mitigated.  Trains became subways and highways were aligned with floodplains, such as in Denver.  The cost benefit analysis didn't pencil.  Land and the economic activity on the land through urban cores was too value to displace, the costs were too high for the infrastructure, and the social costs of severing socio-economic bonds of community are immeasurable but still there nonetheless.

It's not about building infrastructure for infrastructure's sake. It's about optimizing cities to function better, as highly efficient and pleasurable engines for improved quality of life, opportunity, and advancement.
Some cities understood this.  Some are still learning it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Hammer and The Sickle

(posted from the ipad...forgive formatting errors)

We are not naive nor stupid.

If we were, we wouldn't have the large and growing support of neighborhoods, stakeholders, investors, business owners, and city leaders, that at the very least, support fully exploring the future of 345 with equal weight given to priorities other than maintaining the failing structural integrity and traffic flow.  These include but are not limited to:  economic development (maintaining creates none), lifetime costs (maintaining 345 for as long as it stands is long-term cost burden that continues to displace tax base outside of the city), environmental concerns (pollution due to car dependence, concentrated near downtown -- places where we want people), traffic under reduced capacity (nobody in Texas has the skills to objectively analyze this - meanwhile - it only serves to induce further demand), and safety (the IH-345 lies in the 2nd deadliest US Congressional district in the entire country in terms of traffic fatalities).

They support our efforts, either publicly or quietly, because they care about what's best for the city and its future.  They're apart of it and will continue to be.

We were not surprised by the news.  We've been expecting it.  We were only surprised by its timing.  At the very least, we expected the completion of the feasibility study.  Formerly due last July, then due this coming July.  It is disconcerting that such short-sightedness as Carpenter Plaza can accelerate decision making to the point of ending the necessary public process and feasibility study. 

This should raise concerns about our priorities as a city and a state.  Concerns we meant to raise by starting this admittedly ambitious effort.  We know every card in TxDOT's hand and they've continued to play them as expected.  They've pushed their chips in and putting their foot down.  However, we're doubling down.

The suddenness of this news shows no real public input nor creative thinking was ever going to be a part of this process (nor any others).  You might get to decide how many texas stars go on a column, if you're lucky.  Get out that lipstick get to decorating that pig.

Our goal was to expose the misplaced autonomy given over to TxDOT and transportation agencies in general, by a lack of true vision and leadership, as well as expose the need for such vision and leadership.

TxDOT is a caveman with a hammer.  They have one tool and one skill for any and every task.  In response, Texas cities are as car dependent as any in the country.   Dallas is THE most car-dependent in the country.  When using only one tool, the outcome is only one choice for citizens wishing to participate in the local economy.  You must own a car.  Since you must own a car, you might as well not live in Dallas.  And thus we've experienced population flight of the middle class in both directions.  Car dependence is coerced.  We need choice.

Instead, we increase our infrastructural cost burden at the same time we're displacing tax base, advantaging people to search affordable housing but high transportation costs and plenty of time in the car.  This is a system built to fail in a time of demographic urgency back towards cities.  Dallas is in danger of losing its momentum, and the future, to borrow an expression

Cities are entirely too complex (and important engines of the economy), requiring far more intricacy than a caveman can handle with just his hammering.  Asking them, nay turning over autonomy to them, is letting them dabble in brain surgery.  Complex neural network/intricate social and economic networks, meet hammer.

Absent true leadership and vision, bureaucratic inertia has filled the void under the guise of objective expertise provided by standards and traffic formulas inherited from the 20th century.  A sign of bureaucratic dysfunction is when debt to income ratios exceed 3:1.  TxDOT currently has an $18 billion debt.  They want to increase their budget two-fold from $2billion to 4billion a year simply to maintain what they've overbuilt.

The oldest trick in the book is to point to hypothetical future growth.  "Well, we have to burden current tax base for infrastructure for future generations."  That might be fine planning and foresight if it wasn't more of the same.  If we're going to double in population, imagine the congestion then.  The policies will be the same.  The 21st century needs 21st century thinking.

The only answer is to begin building an infrastructure of urbanism and interconnectivity, that advantages more efficient, short-trip travel, by bike, foot, and transit.  The people making the decisions have shown to have zero understanding of the issues of today nor the future.  

We've driven off the cliff. No amount of wing flapping will save us.  Instead, we must organize and let our voices be heard.

Without said leadership and vision, an enlightened popular uprising is a necessary countervailing force.  Do we teach the old dogs new tricks?  Do we get new dogs?  These are the questions we need to be asking.  Our quality of life and the wealth of our citizens, cities, state, and nation are too vital, and in danger.

The Absence of Vision & Leadership is the Playground of Clown-chitecture

I was asked for a react quote to the connected city competition a few months back.  My quote was edited down substantially for space or tone, but I thought it was particularly relevant given this week's news about 345.  In the absence of true leadership and vision for a better city, the void is filled by bureaucratic middlemen.  In this case it's the caveman hammering away with the rock for every task, disconnecting and destroying urban economies, which along with design, must operate on the fringes (of reality and physically):
I suppose it was the very nature of the particular competition or competitions in general these days that allows me to lump the "professional track" submissions together.  Each illustrated a photoshopped 'Dubaian' density that is as fantastical as it is outlandish [as the original]; predicated upon a demand theoretically and impossibly driven by a gold-plated "Green" infrastructure to physically contort the hypothetical cityscape around gold-plated gray infrastructure (meaning all of the inner-city highways because even if you manage to ford one, there are still several barriers between downtown and the Trinity).  This is an infrastructure which, incidentally, we can no longer afford and is itself sociofugal, meaning as a purveyor of high speed automotive traffic, it drives demand and thus density away as fast as it whisks cars through the city.  Therefore the endeavor itself is oxymoronic.  If we're really trying to THINK BIG! and envision what Dallas or any Sun Belt city might look like in several generations, perhaps we should start by erasing the mistakes rather than applying papier-mache over them.