When I was 15, I was considering a career in architecture. I wanted to design cities and homes. Frank Lloyd Wright was my first love, who with which I originally became interested in due to our shared last name (no relation). Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Jean Novel are some of the large building people I looked to, as well as the great builders of the beautiful Cathedrals and Castles of Europe. When I started looking into designing cities, partially inspired by the game Sim City, I fell in love with close-nit cities like Paris, Vancouver, San Francisco and New York. This journey started me on a journey which brought on a lot of dissatisfaction with my own hometown, Fort Worth, being a city in a large metroplex primarily connected by it’s always-under-construction highways, nearly useless train system at non-peak times, and large spaces waiting for a developer to turn it into a suburban designed space that relied on a automobile and ignored the human element, the whole reason for that space.
While the older parts of the central part of the city remained true to the grid-street like design of old American cities like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, at some point, perhaps due to the hilly surrounding land or the Trinity River which runs through the city, they began to abandon this more people friendly way of designing the fair city and move towards a design that promoted congestion, speeding, and automobile-only travel, and did what is called “decentralized the city.” (Basically means that the focus is no longer on the center part of the city, but on the highways and exits that take you away from it.)
As a person who struggles with a “never satisfied” attitude, I constantly look at my own city and want to boost those areas that are neglected and help revitalize the ones who can be brought back to some sort of former glory. I didn’t pursue work as a architect, nor do I work as a city planner or firm-aligned urban designer. And because of my feelings towards urban / people focused designed areas, I don’t find it strange how more relaxed people feel in areas that are just simply designed for people, never worrying about their mode of transportation or whether their child might be run over by falling into a over-capacity road with speeding cars. I’ve never been to New York or Paris, and like these cities, I just wish my city would focus on what really works and not how they can provide something that ultimately is used by people who travel a minimum of 10-15 miles to use in peak hours of the day.
On a drive back from New Mexico, my wife and I were talking about the various political opinions and alignments her extended family had, though we agreed on a lot, their complaints were typically of things that simply boiled down to greed. I could take some time and dig for some articles I’ve read, just in the past year, talking about mergers, buy-outs, sell-outs, various folks getting such-and-such amount of money from cities to do this or that, and when it came down to it something was built or rebuilt, but whether it worked to it’s full capacity and ability was a toss up. (Read: Victory Center / Plaza in Dallas.) Certainly, there are cities embracing these things. But it feels like the work it takes to produce things that focus’ on people is so difficult when you have focus on a bottom line, that it is easier to make your priority that final dollar amount and let the people lose.
In Dallas, we’re watching this battle become a struggle even greater than the one we have in Fort Worth. A few Dallas folks are attempting to bring down a 1.2 mile stretch of highway that runs through downtown, and per the folks campaigning for this, that highway is one of the reasons development was halted, or at the very least, significantly slowed, in downtown Dallas. Dallas’ downtown once was the center of commerce for North Texas. When you wanted to get the to the “big” city, it wasn’t Fort Worth you went to, it was Dallas. In America’s eyes, the major cities of Texas are Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. These days Fort Worth is starting to catch the rest of the country’s eye, partially from it’s own growth, but partially from Dallas’ decision to embrace the suburbanity mentality and send it’s core away from the center which has almost killed it’s own heart.
Check out Downtown Dallas in 1939, IN COLOR. Such a beautiful city!
As a Fort Worth citizen, embracing Amon Carter’s hatred of Dallas is a way of life. I embrace it in jest, but can be honest in saying that I would visit Dallas more often or even consider living there, if some of the many automobile and urban issues were resolved. Aside from the roads, highways, tollways, and even with the Dart train, (which is truly generalized in where it can go, and the speed in which it was built originally has lost momentum), plus the inability for the City Council to even understand why or why not it should be a law to wear a helmet, effectively blocking a Bike Sharing program (which Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston all have, to tremendous success), and telling it’s citizens that they care about a bike program by putting down bike lanes that are removed some months later, is just embarrassing. (By the way, they are voting on giving themselves a 15% pay raise…when they really haven’t done anything in the past several years!!)
My concern for my local cities boils down to the area I have grown up in and loved. Where were the generations before me, that stood up for these things? Where were the folks before me that said “this isn’t right.” They weren’t there. They embraced each change because it was new and they were told it was great. They were dooped.
I suppose it isn’t all bad. Somedays when I drive from Fort Worth to Dallas, I only sit in 30 minutes of traffic instead of 2 hours. Somedays when I ride my bike, and I can take a path in a bike lane that allows me to enjoy the scenery around me and enjoy the ride, rather than attempting to get off that street as soon as possible in order to ensure a safe arrival. Occasionally, I can drive to a place, park my car decently close to my initial location, walk to that location, then stroll to others in the area, all without having to move my car due to parking restrictions, arguments between corporations who own the area which block my ability to park in one place and go to multiple destinations, or worry that due to the area it would be difficult to walk 3 blocks. Sometimes, I can walk out of my own house and walk with my family to wherever I want, completely uninhibited, rather than having to drive or worry about gaps in pavement, having to walk on streets, or the areas in which I am walking.
But the majority of the time, these things don’t happen in my hometown. Or the towns near me. But maybe they can, maybe we can change things.