Entertainment Districts and Dallas’ Restaurant Bubble

The Dallas Observer’s article on the Dallas Restaurant Bubble is a fascinating view of local food culture from chefs and restauranteurs, and what I want to do is portray the same issue from an urban planning and development point of view. I’ve been harping on and on about entertainment districts for years now, but I haven’t tied my opinions directly to our restaurant scene.

In the context of suburban sprawled city planning, entertainment districts were necessary release valves for people who chose to live far from the city center. Places like Deep Ellum and the West End became adult playgrounds where there were no consequences for locals because practically no one lived there. By the turn of the century, both places lost popularity and nightlife moved to other areas.

Contemporary developers have responded to “Live. Work. Play.” marketing and are providing plenty of that product in Dallas that somehow misses the mark in creating authentic places. Constructing huge products (200+ units) that allow people to Live. Work. Play. relies on putting luxury apartments (at $2+/sqft) on top of entertainment districts. These new bars and restaurants are expected to bring in people from all over the city in order for them to hit their revenue numbers so that the property owners can pay off their investors.

Because of financing criteria for huge projects, the system in place mitigates risk by limiting creativity but relying very heavily on marketing. Notice the nationwide trend of renaming revitalized neighborhoods: PoCo, LoBlo, ButHol. Since the internet and big box stores are killing the retail market, restaurants and the chefs that drive them are a crucial piece to keeping the wheel turning, which means that they inflate the value of a fancy restaurant, and we get our bubble.

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As an urban planning consultant, I hope that developers see that creating better places help to preserve the value of their product. After all, stable neighborhoods can create stable environments for restauranteurs to thrive. But since the entertainment district inevitably collapses, it’s extremely difficult to have stability when all the marketing in the world can’t save an undesirable place.

The game is currently rigged to supply the 200+ unit product, and to build smaller development and spreading the wealth would require major changes in policy and financing. In other words we have to get creative in a system that hates change and risk.

Netflix and the First-Generation American

Netflix has been really on point with their First-Generation American programming. As the son of immigrants, it’s really an amazing feeling to see and enjoy entertainment that accurately, hilariously, and emotionally taps into my experience as an American. This must be what white people feel all the time!

Episode 2 of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” is the best representation of the complicated relationship between the American child and the immigrant parent.

As soon as I saw it, I invited my mom over to watch the episode. Invited is the significant word here because immigrant parents just don’t understa…actually just watch the damn episode.

Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra” stand-up performance hits on everything a mid-30s Asian-American living in a major urban area is concerned with.

While I’m not South Asian, “Meet the Patels” illustrates the parental and familial pressure to keep up the cultural status quo and the yearning to live the normal American life of your peers. Arranged marriages don’t carry the same weight in Filipino families, but your parents’ expectations of you press upon first-gens an obligation that hurts your heart to outright reject.

This is a topic I wrote about many years ago in the Philippines issue of Frank 151. My dad raises chickens for cockfighting, which is a peculiar aspect of my family and heritage that’s difficult to reconcile with my American upbringing. Feel free to read about it below:

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All this is to say that the first-generation experience is as complex and entertaining as any other material being produced ready for consumption. But most importantly, what a comfort to know that we are not alone!
Now if only there were a way to show the Asian male hooking up with the White female that doesn’t just occur during a zombie apocalypse
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A Higher Standard for Ross Avenue

I just got back from New York City where I completed a pilgrimage to Hell’s Kitchen. The wife and I have been enjoying Daredevil on Netflix, whose antagonist is a real estate developer using crime to finance various “revitalization projects” throughout the neighborhood. So we wanted to see what the actual Hell’s Kitchen looks like and how real life has inspired Daredevil.

Like so many other cities, including Dallas, we found old buildings destroyed in favor of larger, high-end construction in Hell’s Kitchen. Unlike many other cities, however, I actually like the way that these buildings look.
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On the ground floor, these buildings make sense at the human scale. But in order to satisfy the checklist for multi-million dollar financing, this building accommodates the hundreds of units needed above eye-level. Most importantly for current zoning and financing requirements, the building also features multilevel parking.

Further down the 10th Avenue from this development, we found the Hell’s Kitchen Park that was perfect in size with a splash pad that many people were enjoying.
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Not all buildings have to be beautiful, but this one is practical and functional. It even has underground parking!
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I couldn’t help but that 10th Avenue could serve as a model for development on Ross Avenue. Like 10th Ave, Ross Ave is a very important thoroughfare that many people use for many different purposes. Unlike 10th Ave, however, new development on Ross caters to people passing through the neighborhood.

I know that development is going to happen, and I personally don’t have the means or energy to stop change from happening. On the other hand, I hope that people do want well designed places and that this helps to contribute to that conversation.

If development is going to happen, why not make sure it looks better? If the financing is out there and the money needs to be used, why not make development attractive?

Writing about land use

It’s an objective of mine to get people to think more comprehensively about cities, but it’s really hard to make people eat their vegetables when they’re so used to a fast food diet, know what I’m spraying?

Here’s my first post with Candy’s Dirt that’s a Strong Towns analysis of residential properties. The latest one came out today about the property tax performance of commercial properties.

Let me know what you think!

“Revenge of the Nerds” and what could have been

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One section that stood out to me in Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation is his explanation of how it was never an option for middle class whites to politically team up with middle class blacks. It’s a shame that middle class whites teamed up with elite whites when it’s not necessarily in middle class whites’ best interest.

Last weekend, I persuaded the wife to watch Revenge of the Nerds with me. We watch Star Wars and read Harry Potter, so I wanted to give her a different perspective of geekiness. While Revenge of the Nerds does have its flaws, it’s still a funny movie. There are plenty of examples of mysogyny and chauvinism in Hollywood film, but this blogger will suspend feminism in order to examine another aspect of the movie.

Regardless, Revenge of the Nerds is one of the few examples we Americans have of downtrodden, neglected, and bullied version of white people teaming up with black people. Alas, proof that there is room in American society for normal white people and black people to share ideas, resources, and man power at the expense of the elite, white ruling class. Huzzah!

We’re getting better at public spaces!

Of the many things that Facebook now provides us, I’ve been appreciative of the “On This Day” feature that reminds us of our memories. On this day, 4 years ago, I posted a blog about our experiences running the Pegasus Plaza Market in Downtown Dallas.

It being the first of its kind in Downtown, I was quite frustrated that people chose to keep to the sidewalks despite our efforts to close Akard and placing vendors on the street.

In fact, I had deliberately placed obstacles on the sidewalk to obstruct typical walkways. In the end, they failed to disrupt peoples’ lunchtime habits of walking on the sidewalk and ignoring the street. Feel free to read the blog and understand how we addressed these problems.

At the time, I concluded that:

In order for the vendors to make sales, the customers need a comfortable and inviting marketplace to come to.  Long story short, people need enjoyable public spaces to contribute to local economy.

People in Dallas need re-education in the use of public space.  Public places should be designed for human leisure, like eating, relaxing, and other distractions.  A real city provides leisurely amenities for its people in order to benefit their well being and their economy.

Four years later, I believe that Dallasites are better at enjoying leisure time in public spaces. Klyde Warren has helped, and there’s a spirit of civic-mindedness that compels us to enjoy certain pockets of our city. Now that we have more practice spending time in urban parks, we now need more of them.