Why Dallas Is No Longer 'The Butt of Everyone's F*cking Joke'
The other day I saw a poster on a friend’s Facebook that said “Welcome to Austin. Please don’t move here. I hear Dallas is great!” The accompanying description read: “My city is the butt of everyone’s f*cking joke.”
That sentiment really gets at the root of how people view Dallas. It’s not an Austin or Portland or Seattle. It doesn’t have that flavor and urban lifestyle where you can walk, bike, and ride public transportation easily, where there’s a diverse city life and robust population density. Interestingly, all three of the aforementioned cities lay claim to the “Keep [your city] Weird” slogan.
When it comes to urbanism, Dallas is suited for cars, not people. The formation of the Dallas Auto Club in 1904 led to the demise of the street car in 1956 and the rise of toll roads and major highways. Automotive transportation has driven our growth and promoted an urban sprawl lifestyle where proximity is measured in gallons of gasoline rather than strides in tennis shoes. It’s no wonder people leave Dallas and go to the “weird” cities. At least they did before.
I’m reminded of another friend’s Facebook status which read, “Want to be a part of something? Try going somewhere where you can create something, not just move to it. Be an agent for change; less a beneficiary of change.” He was talking about the people who’ve stayed in Dallas, and are creating the city we want here. There’s been a shift.
In 2010, Dallas based organization, Team Better Block, started doing pop-up streetscaping projects to demonstrate how to change the character of the street. Typically they’d plan a “Better Block” on a weekend, re-configure a street by putting up homemade planters, tables and chairs, and other placemaking elements to create a street where the pedestrians were the priority, they’d invite everyone out to enjoy it. This Do-It-Yourself type of urbanism caught the attention of city officials and started resonating with Dallas communities proving you don’t have to wait for a multi-million dollar project to change the infrastructure of the street. All you need is an idea and a permit.
In August of 2011, I moved back to Dallas, right as the DIY urbanism movement was taking shape here. I had just graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s in Urban Planning and started an internship at the City of Dallas, January 2012. I volunteered to work on a project called Living Plaza, initiated by Team Better Block and some folks at City Hall, to activate the dead City Hall plaza. Amanda Popken—now my nonprofit business partner—was one of the folks who I started collaborating with on programming of the plaza.