A screening of the new film The Human Scale last night at Main Street Garden in Dallas brought out a hearty crowd. Patrick Kennedy of the North Texas Chapter of Congress for a New Urbanism posted that he expected 50, but 250 or so showed. “Then I worried people would leave but nobody budged,” Kennedy wrote. Of course that’s a fraction of the metro area population, yet it seems clear that a growing number of Dallasites want to have their city back.
Kennedy has been making waves over a suggestion that a downtown freeway should be removed. A new issue of D Magazine was nicely timed for the film screening, with the cover exclaiming that traffic planners should be ignored and the freeway should be removed. The land I-345 sits on could instead be used for another Uptown, a popular mixed-use area without the building setbacks common in nearly every other urban Texas development. (They don’t seem to be building anything like it in Houston).
One of the points the movie made was from a New York and the idea that the greening of Times Square was important because so many people came to the city, returning to Kansas City and Minneapolis (Minneapolis may have been a bad choice, as they have been at the forefront on lots of this stuff). So to do many Texans visit Dallas, and Uptown in particular. They too may return home with new ideas.
The fact that Times Square showed a pent-up demand for pedestrian spaces was shown locally with the opening of Klyde Warren Park, which was built over a downtown freeway. The place is so crowded on the weekends, I wonder how they can possibly keep the grass alive. That brings me to perhaps the most memorable point in The Human Scale. We know we will never build enough freeways to accommodate all the car traffic. More freeways just create more demand. That however works for pedestrians too- and I really hadn’t yet thought of it that way. The more pedestrian spaces we create, the more people will come to use them.
These are universal principals. Whether talking about highways or pedestrian amenities, they apply similarly everywhere. We have all heard “Dallas is not New York (or somewhere else),” -that won’t work here. Don’t buy it. It may be hot in the summer, but Minneapolis winters are worse than Dallas summers and they bike year-round. And most of the year here you can be outside somewhat comfortably.
The other part of the evening, which didn’t go so well, was the showing of a recently-uncovered reel of film from 1939 depicting Downtown Dallas with actual pedestrians. A frequent response went something like “Wow, it used to be like New York.” Yes! But it was still Dallas! Dallas is not New York, but it can be better at being Dallas.
There’s a lot to do, and yes, we should do this Texas-sized. Remove the freeway and build.