When I was in college in the late 1980s, a fun weekend consisted of going to the West End in Dallas. Back then Dallas was a big city with a sleepy central business district, no clusters of urban housing to speak of, and just one real urban entertainment district.
West End seemed to be a utopia for urban fun – it had the Marketplace, a mall that had art galleries, restaurants, a game room and theaters, it had an outdoor concert stage, clubs and bars.
It was cool, and it was difficult to see how it could ever fade away. But as we all know, West End is just a shadow of its former self. Downtown Dallas, meanwhile, has exploded into an aspiring world class city with multiple districts and thousands of apartments and condomiminiums. Retail and restaurants can be found everywhere, and lightrail and streetcars link it all together.
But even with an Aquarium, ample shops and stores, even a grocery and a CVS, downtown Dallas is missing something.
None of it really links together. The streets aren’t walkable. Downtown Dallas has a lot of “districts,” but not one of them, not even West Village, is enough to rise up and say “this is Dallas!”
I brought up some of these issues in my column Tuesday. One supporter of Core to Shore contacted me and argued that Core to Shore is necessary if downtown Oklahoma City is to lure in national developers. This individual, a developer himself, added that inflated land prices and splintered ownership of undeveloped downtown properties require creation of an area more friendly to national developers.
What I didn’t hear in all this is how such an area – Core to Shore – will make it any easier to develop these pockets that prevent downtown from becoming one compact community that attracts a critical mass of residents, retailers and office workers. If anything, this argument seems to support Jeff Speck’s warnings that Core to Shore could seriously slow or stop efforts to develop these empty pockets.
After talking to various folks in Dallas, a concensus emerges: Victory Park is the shining symbol of what’s gone wrong in Dallas. Powerful voices, backed with ample funding, dictated the future development of downtown Dallas. But while these individuals (most notably the Perot family) had money and power, they didn’t know much about urban development. The assumption that “all growth is good” is proven wrong by the rows of empty storefronts at the street level of Victory’s stunning new towers.
Score one for Jane Jacobs against the Perots.
The question then is can Oklahoma City learn from Dallas? And can we learn from our own past? As I’ve delved into these issues, I keep hearing that we can’t stop our momentum, that Core to Shore is critical to moving forward. Oklahoma City is moving toward a future that is based on assumptions that may or may not have been fully throught out to begin with. Are we following the same logic promoting Core to Shore that Dallas did with Victory? Sure, the mayor and others say Core to Shore is an inevitability. Likewise, our grandparents heard that destruction of Main Street to make way for a Galleria mall was an inevitability. We also hear that placement of a new convention center south of Ford Center, detached from Bricktown and existing hotels, is an inevitability. But is it?
Over the past couple of days I’ve been amazed to learn that such questions have been bouncing around behind closed doors for quite some time – but nobody has wanted to be the one to take a chance and be the first to challenge the mayor, challenge the chamber, challenge the planners.
I’m not so shy. More to come. Up next: What about the Santa Fe Depot? How can it help solidify Bricktown as “a place” worthy of Jane Jacob’s seal of approval. And if a convention center is needed, is south of Ford Center really the best site?