Don't Zone Me In

Increased control over planning could change the shape of Dallas.

The words “urban planning” aren’t heard very often in Dallas. They sound like a concept wafting down from the West Coast, someplace hippie and uptight. We subway-phobic Dallasites are used to getting into our cars to drive 15 miles to dinner and another 10 to a movie.

Maybe we just no longer notice what a pain that is?

Dallas leaders have suddenly caught on to the fact that perhaps a hodgepodge of businesses dotting the landscape at random isn’t such a good idea. If development continues to go unregulated, with increased population growth suburban sprawl will only get worse in the coming years.

The city has even gone so far as to import a planner from the ultra-cool city of Vancouver, and other prominent figures in the field, to speak last week in a day-long seminar put on by City Manager Mary Suhm. The topic: How to urbanize Dallas with "walkable neighborhoods." 

In their meeting, they attempted to turn council members on to the idea. The solution most proposed was "form-based zoning," which encourages developers to purchase large tracts of land on which to develop dense urban areas near transit stations and along the Trinity River.

It’s kind of like college vs. the real world. In college, parties just sort of happen. As adults, parties come with the cumbersome trappings of invitations and phone calls, dates, times and places to meet up.

In districts with the proposed zoning ordinances, Dallas-ites can live and have fun in the same vicinity: they spend an evening wandering around, stumble upon a new coffee shop, see a movie, find a nice place to sit and talk, have a beer, run into friends, and walk home in a single night.

In addition to being more environmentally friendly, they are just more fun and encourage that spontaneous community-like atmosphere of other vibrant world-class cities.

While similar thinking is shaping downtown right now – West Village and Mockingbird Station are always packed – the apex of what was to be hip urban design gone Dallas, Victory Park, is heading faster and faster toward unequivocal failure.

It’s a gamble, yes. But, as opposed to convention hotels, new urbanism has actually been proving a successful direction for many years in other cities.

Mayor Tom Leppert, a former CEO of a construction company, is fully behind the plan so long as it doesn’t interfere with pre-existing neighborhoods.

The proposed zoning changes go up for vote sometime in February, and, as long as nobody mentions the word "subway," they just might pass.

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