Dallas growing up

The Dallas Morning News is running an ongoing series called “Uptown Aspirations,” on the sudden emergence of a high-style mixed-use quarter — “emphasizing streets, blocks and squares”:http://www.guidelive.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-victory_0625gl.State.Bulldog.2125c9.html — adjacent to its 9-to-5 downtown of gaudy PoMo contraptions. Some articles are appropriately critical of developers’ hesitant first steps to learn an urban language; others fawningly gush over the arrivistes (particularly “the W hotel”:http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/pt/slideshows/2006/06/whotel_2006) with the boosterism you’d expect from Big D. Still, Victory Park’s concept of a $4 billion new luxury neighborhood (with a plan by Elkus/Manfredi of point towers atop streetwall blocks) that “embraces density, clustering buildings together that relate to each other and to their surroundings… where individual buildings talk to one another in a shared language instead of shouting at the top of their lungs” sounds like a big step forward for one of America’s paragons of sprawl. As David Dillon, the architecture critic writes, “It’s basic stuff, yet so rare in Dallas that it seems exotic.”

The package is a rare comprehensive review of a case study of how urbanism has a way of showing up even where it’s least expected — namely, in sprawling, polycentric Sunbelt cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and L.A., who supposedly owe their appeal to their rejection of traditional urbanism — and thus, why we need New Urbanism more than ever. Showy modernism has not worked for Dallas, riddled with freeways and one-off look-at-me architectural statements; indeed, only a wealthy impresario can afford to take a financial risk on something as basic as building a public square. (In contrast, the developer of a nearby shopping center claims that his lenders required parking in front, an urban mistake that will be with the area for decades to come.) The spontaneous flowering of urbanism in the Sprawl Belt shows why the attitude of some anti-New Urbanists (“why do we need new urbanism? doesn’t the old urbanism suffice?”) smacks so much of élitist Eastern Establishment provincialism: most Americans live in an environment where there is NO urbanism, where old urbanism simply does not exist; 75% of America was built within the past fifty years. The alternative to New Urbanism isn’t old urbanism, it’s sprawl.

Three side notes:
1. Ross Perot, Jr. is the developer; EDS, the company founded by his father, developed Legacy Town Center north of Dallas. Now, which former presidential candidate has done more for NU: Gore or Perot?

2. The earlier plan described by Dillon’s article (low-rise, brick, still around an arena) somewhat reminds me of the Arena District in Columbus: essentially two stadia, an office campus, an entertainment complex, and many apartments/condos, but wrapped up in brick and placed on nicely sized blocks adjacent to downtown. That project’s patron is Nationwide Insurance, wanting to build an urban neighborhood to retain its own workforce. Like Victory, it’s pretty relentlessly upscale and sanitized.

3. Victory was running ads for condos in Dwell magazine a few months ago.