Tomorrow I join clients RobertsDay and some of their clients from Australia - developers and architects engaged in a tour that looks at great places in America. Today, I'm sitting in Dallas. And as I look first from my hotel room and then from street level, I have an eerie sense of living the book I've just been reading in preparation...Jeff Speck's (watch Speck on You Tube here) Walkable City: How downtown can save a city one step at a time.
Let me explain. Speck, a planner, essentially asserts this: that many of our cities have a big problem. A problem intensified by changing demographics which means, in part, that growing numbers of people (he's talking Americans but I think the statement holds true for some other nationalities too)) want to opt for more urban lifestyles. Their choices are cities with urban centres that really don't welcome them or...a small number of forward thinking cities designed to welcome them with open arms - all the things you want within easy reach - restaurants, parks, people, work, play.
No prizes for guessing who wins out here.The deceptively simple answer according to Speck, is that if we get walkability right, then so much of the rest will follow. In the next post I'm going ti give a quick rundown of what Speck call the 10 steps to walkability. But first, it's back to Dallas.
When my travel agent asked me where I wanted to stay in Dallas - where I'll be for only one night - I had no idea. 'Close to the airport,' he said? 'Or downtown?' The first sounds like being holed up in a stationery version of an aircraft cabin and the second sounds like I'll be able to walk out the front door, and get amongst it; see Dallasonians in all their glory.
OK, I DO know I'm in a car-centric city as I've been in nearby Arlington a few years before. BUT. Downtown is well, the city, right? Vibrant, full of life...
I can't show you the picture of this freeway-ringed downtown from my hotel room because it's too hard to see out. But you can probably just visualise that. When I got to street level here's what I saw...
At first glance it was a dead zone. And then I looked to the right - and saw a tram stop. Then to the left and another tram stop - with people at it. I walked towards it, thinking that this must lead to the 'downtown' - you know the bit with people, and cafes, and restaurants in it. Nope, it just runs out.
BUT. Alongside me is a building with advertising for a downtown residential tower. Across the street, another tower with a really decent looking coffee shop in it that I can't seem to get to. And further back up the street, a banner for a new tram stop at what's billed as a downtown residential area.
Maybe some steps are being taken in Dallas to bring the people back to the centre. But as I look at the tram stops, and the apartment towers and the trees, and what I think are over-wide tram stop sidewalks - I couldn't help but think of Speck's comment about how much we like 'outdoor rooms' vs wide open spaces - I'm pretty sure, it's going to take a lot more than that to be successful.
Next up: the 10 steps to walkability and more musings on Walkable City.