Re-imagining and Transforming Dallas

This post is part of our Re-imagining Cities discussion series, following the third edition of the NewCities Summit in Dallas in June 2014.

A discussion of Dallas’ evolution over the last 50 years often begins by addressing how the city has overcome big setbacks, from the most famous one – the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy, which took place in Dallas – to the economic devastation wrought by the savings and loan, oil and gas market, and other recessionary crises of the late 1980s. The moderator of this Dallas-focused panel, Rena Pederson, focused mainly on the post-Kennedy period. She offered several case studies outlining its first stabs at a major urban re-imagination that would include a futuristic City Hall, a modern library, and a new international airport straddling Dallas and its urban neighbor to the West, Fort Worth.

In addition, Dallas sowed the earliest seeds of what would become a dazzling downtown arts district – anchored by a glittering performing arts center. That, along with badly needed housing, and developing the chronically underutilized Trinity River as a civic asset, were all signs of the desire to see Dallas redefined and transformed.

Pederson outlined the number of civic dreams that Dallas has realized over the last several decades. They include the opening of the spectacular Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a green-space park spanning the freeway, and a law school in downtown Dallas. Panelists also talked about how thousands of new residents are migrating back to Dallas’ revitalized downtown and central business district, while new corporations such as Toyota, Raytheon, Amazon and Google are making Dallas their regional home. Showing a true admiration for Dallas’ can-do spirit, Brent Brown reminded the audience how Dallas re-directed the winding Trinity River in order to make room for its urban revitalization. “This just shows that in Dallas, when an idea comes forward and we believe it, this is what we do.”

 What we’ve seen is when the public sector is squeezed, then the private sector picks up the slack – Veletta Forsythe Lill

Between Veletta Forsythe Lill and Ramon Miguez, the audience learned how Dallas boasts many examples of successful collaboration between the private and public sectors. “What we’ve seen is when the public sector is squeezed, then the private sector picks up the slack,” said Lill. She also emphasized the importance of investing in culture and believing in the role that the arts and entertainment have in making a city thrive. “When it comes to the arts, Dallas now owns more art buildings that any other American city. The key to strategic economic development…[is to] support art as a lifestyle.”

Dallas is still recovering from suburbia, a suburbia that disconnected people – Michael Tregoning

For Michael Tregoning, as Dallas looks to lure more and more of its citizens back downtown, it must wean away those same new city dwellers from their reliance on the car. “Dallas is still recovering from suburbia, a suburbia that disconnected people.” Another sign of Dallas’ improved urban health is its stunning reduction in crime over the last decade – according to a very proud chief of police, Dave Brown, a third-generation Dallasite. “My goal is to make Dallas into an extremely safe – and in that way, very reassuringly dull – city,” said Brown. “And the only way to reduce crime to that ‘safe, dull’ level is by engaging with all the city’s citizens – knowing how hard it is to gain the public’s trust and confidence, and how easy it is to lose.”

Dallas: A Case Study in Re-imagination and Transformation – Rena Pederson (moderator), Brent Brown, Dave Brown, Veletta Forsythe Lill, Ramon Miguez, 
Michael Tregoning – © NewCities/Rex C Curry

Speakers

Brent Brown, Director, bcWORKSHOP – @bcWORKSHOP
Dave Brown, Chief of Police, City of Dallas – @DPDChief
Veletta Forsythe Lill, Former City Council Member, City of Dallas
Ramon Miguez, Vice President, HDR and Former Assistant City Manager, City of Dallas
Michael Tregoning, President, Headington Companies

Moderator: Rena Pederson, Award-winning Journalist and Faculty Member, Southern Methodist University – @PedersonR1