It's Not That You Can't Walk in Dallas. It's That We Don't Think You Should.

Categories: Schutze

scouts.jpg
Wikipedia
Early Dallasites, prepared for a walk.

Former Dallas Observer journalist and current Dallas Morning News digitalist Robert Wilonsky was on Channel 5 just now talking about a new report ranking Dallas in the bottom five of 30 American metro areas for "walkability." The problem is that we still have a lot of people here who will think that's a good thing.

Not me. I have been for walkability ever since I figured out it didn't mean how long it takes to walk from one side of town to the other, which I don't want to do. I now know it means something else, although I'm still now sure we're all settled on what.

The report, called "Foot Traffic Ahead," by the George Washington University School of Business, kind of walks around a definition of walkability, telling sort of a story about it instead: "Walkable urban development," it says, "is characterized by much higher density and a mix of diverse real estate types, connected to surrounding areas via multiple transportation options, such as bus and rail, bike routes, and motor vehicles."

In other words, uh ... some kind of city? But what makes it a walkable city, in particular? The report clears its throat and tries again: "For those living or visiting a walkable urban place, everyday destinations, such as home, work, school, stores, and restaurants, are within walking distance."

Eh. I don't believe it. I had a conversation once with the Andres brothers, urban re-developers who planted the seeds for what is becoming one of the city's great walkable neighborhoods along Henderson Avenue between Ross and Central Expressway -- a strip of bars, restaurants and coffee shops backed up by deep blocks of mid to high-rent apartment buildings. I asked them about that "live/work neighborhood" concept where you can walk to your place of employment from your crib. They kind of shrugged and said, "Eh."

Their research, borne out by experience in the market, led them to believe that, in terms of walking, young people in particular don't care where they work. That they can do in the car on Monday when they're sober. What they really want is a live/drink neighborhood where they can hang out and cruise without getting a D.U.I., like they could on that summer semester in Spain. Now that's worth paying for.

Elliot Kaiser, also a former Dallas Observeronian and one of the brightest young persons I know, is back in town temporarily but for a while on family business, having left for now his adoptive and beloved new hometown of New Orleans. He told me the thing he misses most about the Big Easy is "being able to walk out my door in any direction and find something to do, including a 24-hour bar with good jazz."

Walkable, I think, means having something within walking distance that's fun to walk to. Not work! Play! What make a city walkable, I would think, is having some fun reason for walking around in it.

One of my first and most memorable impressions upon moving to Dallas 115 years ago involved jay-walking. A cop downtown in highly polished motorcycle boots up to his knees came running at me blowing on a whistle with his eyes bugged and his cheeks popped out like Dizzy Gillespie -- such a startling apparition that I was just about to applaud when I figured out he was mad at me. Very mad. He didn't have to ask if I was new in town. He asked if people back where I came from walked around in the street like they owned the place. Stumped at first, I thought about it and said yes. In Detroit the only way a jay-walker could attract the attention of the police would have been by dragging a dead person with him by one arm. The cop was truly angry, and I had the feeling I escaped a thrashing only by some unnamed and undeserved mercy.

The street, the public space back then, was a terrible and fragile place in Dallas, a zone of dangerous exposure where things could happen, a battleground kept under control only by the most ferocious exertions of cops in highly polished motorcycle boots constantly on the look-out for pedophiles, pedants, peddlers, pedalers and pedestrians - anyone who had not achieved sufficiently decent station in life to be able to afford an automobile.

Not all that much has changed in 115 years. An English colleague, also here at the Observer, amused us recently with anecdotes about his early foolhardy attempts to walk on the street in a part of North Dallas where walkers are more rarely sighted than coyotes. He quickly realized that those streets were not places where walking was merely awkward. They were places where walking was despised. We assured him his bones would bleach on the shoulder of the road out there before anyone bothered to scoop him up.

Wilonsky in his TV interview cites several good reasons why Dallas has always been so unwalkable -- sidewalks too narrow, things spread too far apart -- all valid, all part of the picture but all of them maybe more symptomatic than causal. I always think of one of Wilonsky's colleagues at his new place of employment, a columnist at the Morning News who once wrote that a major highway built on the banks of the Trinity River would be the perfect tribute to the river's natural beauty because people really only want to look at a river from a car anyway.

There it is -- the city's heart and soul. Is walking in the public space comfortable and fun, or is it terrible, frightening and the sort of thing one would do only if one were the sort of person who had failed to own a car? Once we figure all that out, the actual walking will take care of itself, one way or the other. Not before.



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25 comments
hwy77
hwy77

A "walkability" criterion isn't always a useful overlay on the historical development and current environment of every city, suburb, or town. Assessment and planning should consider more broadly the practical "accessibility" issues for all transportation modes, including walking. I always liked Steven Wright's observation; "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." 

parisrec
parisrec

The city's debt load is maxed out. Mr. Mayor, Park Dept., DMN editorial Board, and " Private Partners" :  Please stop " helping " us.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

I do enjoy the Henderson Avenue "walkable neighborhood"--kind of a sober person's Sixth Street, I guess--but I have to drive 120 miles from my truly "walkable neighborhood," where my rural neighbors walk nowhere, somewhere, or anywhere, breath clean air in so doing, and get to talk to their actual neighbors, to boot. Sorry, my richer, smarter city cousins, but I still can't figure out why you insist on pretending to be somewhere that you are not.

HeywoodUBuzzoff
HeywoodUBuzzoff

Schutze Bingo!  I have Detroit, DPD, former Observer reporter, poor ranking, and coyotes! 


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Apparently the New Cities Summit conference going on here in Dallas hasn't gotten the word.  Instead of the Fun Guys drawing up the walkable roadmap to a New American Century, we got these clowns brutalizing John Q with a Lexicon guaranteed to make us all run screaming from the room:

reimagining 

vibrancy

economic inequality, climate change, culture and mobility

Cities (must) connect with their residents and help them connect with each other (WTF?)

urban challenges

future of the entire planet

injustice 

bold civic pride

And speaking of Detroit, who knew you had a Marvel comic legend making a cameo at the "Summit"!

Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, said that in Detroit, where his foundation is based, the arts have “infused the city with vibrancy and street life.” In so doing, he said, the arts have shown that Detroit is a safe place to invest. - from the DMN today in "New Cities Summit speakers say an urban world demands livable cities"

This guy looked just like Adam West.

Rooster0620
Rooster0620

I'm guessing it never crossed the walk ability folks mind that it's 100+ degrees here 3 months out of the year?

Allow me to stay in my air-conditioned car...

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Dallas isn't a walkable East coast city, it's not a car-centric West coast city, so split the difference - make sure that folks don't have to drive more than 20 miles to walk.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Where I grew up:

1. No high-rise buildings.

2. Very few apartments.  Those that existed were merely large house-like buildings with 4-10 units.

3. Housing looked like suburbia, but with bitty business districts at intersecitons.

4. At most every intersection a tavern, a church, a small grocery store, and something else.


Very walkable, but looked NOTHING like the hipster SWPL wet dream of "walkability."

WaitWhat
WaitWhat

"What they really want is a live/drink neighborhood where they can hang out and cruise without getting a D.U.I., like they could on that summer semester in Spain. Now that's worth paying for."

Running the trains later could accomplish the same thing.  Plus, it also sounds kind of European (aka World Class?).

WaitWhat
WaitWhat

I know "walkability" is more complicated than just creating an environment where people want to walk, cause that's what the tunnels did, and that shit had to be stopped in the name of "walkability".

So I know the first step towards "walkability" is to erect barriers where people want to walk, if that helps.

newcolonist
newcolonist

To me walkable is when you can head out from your house in any given direction and have multiple possible destinations. If you can change course often and still get there, that's even more walkable. Add mental stimulation in the way of architecture, parks people and storefronts, even better. If you can get lost, that's where you want to be in terms of walkability. 



Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I take exception to the tone of this article,

I've seen people walk in Dallas.

From the valet stand to the door.

This happens everywhere from The Arts District to Northpark, even beyond the city limits to HP Village and Frisco.

How much walkability do you need for chrissakes?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Mad Hatters was always a seductive stumble too close.

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

Walking to the bar is the new American dream. I lived it for a couple of years when I rented next to Three Sheets. I don't remember too much of it.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

I'm with ya on the walking to the watering hole part. 


One thing lacking in the "walkable" parts of Dallas though is affordable housing.  And the parts of Dallas that are more affordable/cheap are often the very parts people don't particularly want to walk in more than necessary.


There was a ULI conference in Austin a few years back, bunch of nice white liberals with dreams of New Urbanism discussing walkability.  Someone asked who would want to walk around Rundberg and I-35 since the only people currently walking there when the sun goes down are hookers, dealers, and pimps (and those seeking their services).  Kind of killed the groupthink.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@PerryMoore  Some of us are just putting in our time and saving our nickels until we have enough to get your version of the American Dream.


Trust me, if I could pay off my student loans and keep my current salary while living in the Hill Country I would.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@HeywoodUBuzzoff Wait... I dozed off 1/2 way through the post.  So... DISD and race have nothing to do with walkability of neighborhoods.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@holmantx Isn't Detroit selling off it's art to pay it's debt down?


RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Rooster0620 Agree with burgerboy and Monstruss.  I've been in Dallas right about 10 years and had the same truck without AC for all of them.  Can't even put AC on that model.  This year I scooped up a used car....AC, but it doesn't work, and when it does, you get asphyxiated.  I just walk and take DART now.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@Rooster0620 As much as I love my car, and fuck all these "New Urbanists", I think we North Texans need to step outside the AC once in a while.  


Besides a few years where it's been brutally hot from May to October, it's really not that bad outside here!  Last two weeks of July, first two weeks of August, sure those suck any year.  But the rest of the season just isn't that bad if you get acclimated to it and find some shade.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@RTGolden1 @HeywoodUBuzzoff No, look at the model cities.  You get a limited amount of land which drives up the price of real estate which in turn causes developers to pack 'em in like sardines and "crowded" gets relabeled "urban density".  Then with the price of real estate so high the only people that can afford the walkable neighborhood are the white people that send their kids to private school.  Thus making DISD and race non factors.


In all honesty, I like the ideas of walkability and New Urbanism, but I have no desire to pay San Francisco, NY, or Paris prices for cost of living.

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