Uptown, East Dallas, development and density

One of our commenters asks a fair question: What’s wrong with doing Uptown-style development in East Dallas and Lakewood?

The answer is nothing, as long as the development is sensible, rational, and fits the scale of the neighborhood. And that’s where the discussion should begin.

Uptown is a densely developed, mostly commercial neighborhood with tall buildings lined up next to each other. Driving along McKinney isn’t that much different from driving along streets in other very urban cities. If memory serves, it’s probably similar to parts of lower Broadway in Manhattan and the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.

What do I mean by density? Consider that the Centrum, at Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs, is 19 stories and 450,000 square feet. Where is that going to fit comfortably in this part of town? Even something smaller, like the luxury lofts at 1999 McKinney, is still 10 stories and more than 150,000 square feet. By comparison, the proposed development at Gaston and Grand probably will be around 80,000 square feet (and the current retail layout has 60,000 square feet).

The other key difference is that we’re a neighborhood of single family homes, with very few apartments. An Uptown-style neighborhood is just the reverse. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but they aren’t compatible, and serious problems can result when you drop to drop the latter on the former. There are a couple of dozen houses on my block, served by a two-lane street. What if we redevelop my block and put up six-story apartments in the Uptown style? It would be a mess. One of the reasons West Village worked is that it added density to an already dense neighborhood.

Which is why we need sensible and rational development that fits the scale of the neighborhood. Yes, we want better retail and we want to be rid of businesses, like Far West, that don’t make sense. But plopping a bunch of 1999 McKinneys down around here doesn’t make sense either. We don’t have the infrastructure to support it.

This is where the discussion gets tricky, because the argument is almost always framed as being for or against development. The city wants to promote density any way possible, and throwing up as many buildings as possible is one way to do it. Plus, since the bureaucrats generally don’t live near the projects they’re reviewing, so they aren’t as interested as we are in being sensible and rational.

I have a hard time getting people to understand this, especially if they haven’t lived in the neighborhood as long as some of us. But most of the people downtown are not our friends, and they don’t care about us (and there is a 30-year track record of City Hall indifference that proves this). They care about raising the tax base, and anyone who opposes their view is anti-development.

We’re not anti-development. We’re anti-stupid development. If a developer showed up tomorrow, with a brilliant and progressive plan to turn the four corners of Mockingbird and Abrams into an urban showpiece, we’d hold a parade. But, sadly, that will never happen. Developers, and this is not a criticism but a fact of economics, take the path of least resistance. Doing Mockingbird and Abrams would be incredibly difficult, if only because each corner has a different owner. And the city, which should be facilitating this kind of development, wastes its time with convention center hotels.

That’s what we need to remember about Uptown-style development. We want the amenities without the aggravation. As long as a developer offers that, he or she shouldn’t have any trouble here.

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