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.

How to do the State Fair of Texas

After many years of practice, I’ve figured out the State Fair. Consider this a resource to get the most pleasure out of this month long, yearly event. Further suggestions are welcome in the comments below!
1) Purchase season pass
2) BIKE to Fair Park. Exercise is important and parking sucks. Even DART is too much.
3) Eat 1 or 2, but no more than 3, fried things. One should be new and weird, and one should be a classic (Fletchers and fried pecan pie, obviously)
4) Get cheap and decent beer at the food court in the Tower Building only if you’re trying to impress friends because fried stuff and beer shouldn’t be mixed together often this far into your 30’s.
5) Must see butter sculpture. And the crafts are kinda cool anyways.
6) Leave immediately. Over 2 hours at the Fair makes you start to hate it. And you limit your spending.
7) Come back to see animals. And that big old pig! Fried pecan pie is nearby. Plan accordingly.
8) Come back to half off rides on Tuesday. It makes a huge difference.
9) Boycott Fair Day. Not only is the odor of children is terrible, but the history of that day incredibly offensive.
10) The car buildings are your friend. They have AC and lots of in-car seating.

11) The Fair ceases to exist on TX/OU day and becomes the ninth circle of hell. Even the fabled “empty lines during the game” is a fate not worth tempting.

12) Opening Day is surprisingly not busy. Watch the pomp and circumstance and get your annual fletchers corn dog in early.

Higher Standards Needed on Ross Ave

The redevelopment of Ross Avenue is an important opportunity for the City of Dallas. This corridor connects Downtown with East Dallas and features underdeveloped land ripe for new construction. Ross Avenue functions like Davis or Jefferson in North Oak Cliff where you have commercial buildings buffering residential neighborhoods from busy thoroughfares. Given the importance of this corridor, let’s take a look at developments on Ross to date.

What is crucial to me is the destination that is created by developments. How does the structure contribute to its environment? What is the interaction with the street? How do people access these places?  If walkability and engaging people on the street level are priorities, how well does the development accomplish these goals? This post will analyze how well Ross Avenue passes the eye ball test.

Long story short, it doesn’t. There is a wealth of development potential between the Arts District and Lowest Greenville, where old car dealerships and aging apartment complexes mingle among remnants of pre-WWII commercial buildings that all scream for renovation and revitalization. Unfortunately, the newest developments along Ross fail to create desirable destinations. Let’s take a quick tour:

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There is virtually no difference between the new construction on Ross Ave and the Public Storage building just down the street. This means that the contents of the apartments are as valuable as the junk in storage. What is the value of living in a physical manifestation of a financial formula?

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Here is the new strip mall with the parking prioritized to the front. If the goal is to create a vibrant, walkable environment in the core of Dallas, we have failed miserably. It seems like we only how to finance, regulate, and build suburban sprawl. We have an opportunity to recreate Jefferson and Zang, but we choose to replicate Coit and Arapaho.

We are hardest on the ones that we love the most, and frankly Ross Avenue isn’t living up to its full potential.

The rehabilitation project pictured below is the one new development on Ross that taps into this potential. The building dates back to 1945 and was recently sand blasted to reveal the original brick. Not only is this development functional, it is also beautiful to look at. It resembles buildings on Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum, the most up-and-coming, desirable places in the City of Dallas. Would it be possible to add apartments on top of these and replicate them up and down Ross?

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In my city, I want places made for people. Today, you can travel back and forth on Ross Avenue at any time of day and never see a human being on the street. While residential developments are necessary in the core of Dallas, density for the sake of density create dead places. We need higher standards and clearer priorities for development, after all, we are creating these places for our children and grandchildren. What kind of city are we leaving to them?

The White Privilege Reading List

I love White People, I really do! In fact, I married one…

A friend of mine in this whole urbanism thing encountered a stuck up lawyer who never budged from the opinion that he shouldn’t have to live next to poor people. I told my friend that he needed to #checkyourprivilege, but she didn’t know what I was talking about. I guess you can be white in Dallas in 2015 and still not know what White Privilege is. So, I’ve compiled some resources to help us all have a more sophisticated conversation about race and class.

History and contemporary analysis of race and class in the US (10 min video)

What is white privilege? (article)

Jane Elliot on Oprah defining and demonstrating institutional racism (video)

MTV’s documentary on white privilege (video)

Why white people feel oppressed (article)

White fragility (article)

The coming race war won’t be about race, it’ll be about class (article) 

How class/race segregation is about urban design (blog)

Interview with David Simon creator of “Show me a Hero” (video)

And of course, there’s always the Accommodation by Jim Schutze (online book)