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Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Impressions of Dallas

I recently made my first trip ever to Dallas that did not involve transiting in DFW. I was in town for a convention at the Dallas Convention Center. Given that I knew nothing about the city, this was a great opportunity to look at it purely through the lens of the casual visitor. Cities spend lots of dough to lure conventioneers to town, so it is always nice to know what they might see.

What I’m saying is not intended to be reflective of Dallas as a whole. I hear it has very nice neighborhoods, upscale shopping, excellent restaurants, etc. But based on my convention experience, Dallas is possibly the single most disappointing city I’ve ever visited.

It starts with a long, dreary, and very expensive cab ride from the airport to downtown Dallas. As if your wallet doesn’t take enough of a beating, you drive past miles and miles of sprawl hell, auto dealers, strip centers, distribution centers, fast food restaurants, etc. lining both sides of the road into town. It seems like traditional urbanity drops off very rapidly outside of downtown Dallas, only a mere mile or two from the core, replaced by older sprawl. I expect this in smaller Midwestern burgs, but not in a metro area of almost 6 million. On the plus side, this drive takes you past Texas Stadium (unimpressive unless you are a Cowboys fan) and the new American Airlines basketball arena. I thought the arena was extremely nice and the highlight of the trip. It had a retro-20’s look that was reminiscent of an old London train shed done up in red brick – and I mean that as a compliment.

Downtown is full of drab, generic skyscrapers, many lit up with neon. The hotels I saw were likewise very generic. The Convention Center itself was not easily walkable from hotels, and so it took shuttles to get there. The building is a typical hulking concrete structure. Although near the similarly uninspiring Dallas city hall, the area around it appeared to be an urban wasteland. I’ve never seen such a desolate and deserted area in such a high profile downtown area before. What’s more, it was a 4-5 block walk from there to the core of downtown.

I actually made that walk, and once you get into the center of downtown proper, there is good density, pedestrians – albeit still a shockingly small number, and even a few older buildings, though I didn’t see any truly spectacular structures. A light rail line, called DART, runs through downtown, but the station I saw was deserted, as was the train that I saw stop there. I did see a few restaurants and a Starbucks, but nothing that looked like a major entertainment district. Admittedly, I did not have a guidebook, and I didn’t have time to walk up and down every block searching for interesting things – especially not over a mile from the convention center.

Given the size and affluence of the metro area, and the good things I know from talking to others that it has, I was very surprised to see the poor face it presents to people attending conventions there. This is the only time many people will ever see the city. It’s the first and last impression many folks will ever have of Dallas.

On the plus side, the road geek in me loves the freeways in Texas. They’ve got very wide highways and impressive interchanges. As I flew under a four level stack heading back to the airport, it really drove home to me how unambitious the plans of INDOT and other midwestern transportation agencies are. They’d be well served to hire some people from Texas who have actual experience in big city road building to design and run their major urban projects.

3 Comments
Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Dallas

3 Responses to “Impressions of Dallas”

  1. CorrND says:

    My wife’s family lives in the “vast suburban wasteland” between Dallas and Fort Worth and your Dallas experience sounds very similar to mine. I’ve only been to downtown Dallas a handful of times, and it always seems unusually dead.

    It sounds silly, but part of the problem may be that the temperatures get so high that a pedestrian-friendly urban environment wouldn’t even be used. The handful of times I’ve been to Dallas in the summer, we go from A/C house to A/C car to A/C shops, etc. As best you can, you NEVER leave the A/C!

    Even more than in Indy, downtown Dallas is choked off from everything around it by their HUGE expressways. The one exception is to the N/NW where 366 dips underground and several city streets in a row pass over it. AA Center is roughly in this area. The last time I was at AA Center, there were a lot of condo buildings going up around there. This area may be the future of downtown Dallas.

  2. Anonymous says:

    DT Dallas is rather drab based on what I have read but the area immediately to the north around AA Arena is becoming the new residential/entertainment area o the city. DART certainly is a step in the right direction towards achieving a more pedestrian friendly DT.

    Dallas has taken the spoke and wheel model of highway planning to an extreme. They have three beltways in the metro Dallas area- SR 12, I-635/I-20, and the George Bush Turnpike.

    As a road geek I like all of the freeways in Dallas, but as an urbanophile these highways have just made it possible for even greater sprawl and autocentric development.

    Even Dallas’ sports teams are moving away from the city. Only the Mavs and Stars play in Dallas.

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments and it is good to know that I’m not the only one who got this impression. I did note a few condo towers under development in the general direction of the arena, but did not have time to explore that area.

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