Cowtown vs. Corporate City? Weird Wins….

Matilda Streetcar in Dallas

A letter that appeared in the website NextCity recently touched on the topic of livability in Dallas and Fort Worth. It gave me some sense of amusement because, while feeding the rivalry and pitting one against the other, the real envy was revealed to be aimed at Austin, where weird is king.

Downtown Fort WorthThe unofficial city slogan “Keep Dallas Pretentious” can be seen on t-shirts in gift stores here. True to those words, the city likes to focus on grand projects. Among these is a collection of Art District buildings by star architects in an area otherwise pretty much void of urban street life. The article compares these “pretentious” projects to efforts in the Western neighbor, affectionately called a cow town by locals, to strengthen its downtown and improve parks and the riverfront.

In making this comparison, the author, Diana Lind, says that Fort Worth is focusing on projects for residents while Dallas builds them for tourists. While more tourists than residents may make the recently opened George W Bush library a destination, I am not sure the Dallas arts district benefits tourists more than residents. But both cities have relatively healthy arts scenes, hosting both museums and performing arts venues. In Dallas they are concentrated in the Arts District, which was built in an area connecting Downtown and Uptown. In Fort Worth, the museums are in the museum district, and the theaters are downtown.

Dallas Streetcar Lind also compares Downtown Dallas with Downtown Fort Worth, giving preference to Fort Worth. Downtown Dallas is bigger and has a high office vacancy rate, but it’s hardly a “ghost town” as the article claims. And just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken, I made a point of walking again around Downtown Fort Worth. While there’s a good deal of urban-sensitive development, let me say it’s not all there either.

Finally, Lind says that these resident-sensitive developments in Fort Worth, which laudably include a bike-sharing program and additional park development, allow it to compete with Austin and San Antonio to be the most liveable.

Yes, Dallas has its problems. Downtown could be busier, but street life is growing at a steady clip as more and more office buildings are converted into residential lofts. The sidewalks could be a lot wider all over the city (major problem Dallas!). Bike-sharing and other improvements could be made much more of a priority. It’s too corporate, and there’s a general lack of entrepreneurial and artistic energy—which also seems true of Fort Worth.

Austin WeirdBut Dallas has one major leg up—investment in public transit. New streetcar lines. New light-rail lines. The completion of the streetcar loop Downtown. Public transit benefits residents as much as tourists, and Fort Worth does not invest in it.

But the overarching conclusion I was left with is that neither city is as good as Austin. What does Austin have?

Well, weirdness (or at least what might be considered weird in Dallas or Fort Worth): walkable streets, local independent businesses, entrepreneurs, food that’s not from chain restaurants, music as well as energy, and—the most often mentioned—open-mindedness.

Neither the corporate city nor the cow town can effectively compete on these counts.

Text and photos by Eric Miller

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at ericmiller.me