Posted: June 12th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Architecture, Dallas, Texas, Urban Development, Urbanism and Planning | 1 Comment »
Last January I was a member of a student team at the University of Maryland that entered the Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition. Interdisciplinary teams of students were given two weeks to create a master land use plan and proposed ten-block development for a neighborhood just south of downtown Dallas, known as Cedars.
This year 96 teams from 34 universities entered the competition. Our team selected the number 1856, the year of the founding of the University of Maryland. The team was composed of Dorien Couch (real estate), myself (planning), Nandor Mitrocsak (architecture), Eric Raasch (real estate), and Elizabeth Vetne (architecture). Our entry, mounted on seven 11 by 17 sheets, looked like this:
We also had to work up a full financial proforma on the project to prove it was financially viable:
Although developed at the turn of the century as a residential neighborhood, today very few people call Cedars home. The neighborhood is home to an eclectic combination of light industrial uses, a community college, a few residences, a city park, and even a honky-tonk. I had the opportunity to drive through the neighborhood during a subsequent trip to Dallas, and here’s a few views of what it looks like.
We conducted research into demographics, infrastructure, and the natural context of the site. In these diagrams, the entire site is designated in lime green. Downtown is just to the north of the site, and contains many high rise office buildings and new housing. (See this Google Map for more context.)
Although separated from downtown Dallas by a sunken freeway known as “the canyon,” the site has excellent access to downtown, features a station on the city’s rapidly expanding light rail system, and features a unique eclectic character. Calling our plan Transistasis (the property of a system to reform its functions to maintain a meaningful existence), we organized our proposal around the themes of reconnecting, rethinking, and renewing the neighborhood. We proposed extending the M-Line historic streetcar from the city’s main arts district north of downtown (where the art museum and symphony are located), and develop Cedars into an alternative arts district as a counterpoint to this formal arts activity. We allowed artist studios by-right, and allowed a density bonus for the creation of new arts venues along Lamar Street. Instead of adopting an unrealistic decking plan, we focused on creating an activity spine extending from city hall into the Cedars neighborhood, and along Lamar Street from the convention center into the neighborhood. Our development, outlined in purple on this map, proposed mixed-use urban development near the DART station.
Our plan proposed three major anchors for the neighborhood. We proposed creating a new amphitheater in the Old City Park, providing a venue featuring a dramatic Dallas skyline. The visitors will spill out onto Cedars streets, investigating artist studios and galleries, and passing through our development on Belleview street on the way to the light rail station and parking. The second anchor, a magnet arts middle school, would be just a short ride from the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, now under construction in the arts district north of downtown. The third anchor, a restaurant and craft brewpub would serve as a hub of activity at the Cedars DART Station. The Belleview Redevelopment plan also includes a new supermarket, housing, and retail space.
Although we were not a finalist, the judge’s comments we received back were generally favorable. The finalists’ plans, and the plan created by the competition winner, a University of Pennsylvania team, are available on the competition website.
Nonetheless, we are proud of our plan. In the course of our research, we found that the tree for which the neighborhood is named, the Eastern Red Cedar, is known as a pioneer species often found on damaged land. Early in Cedars’ history it was home to pioneering forms of urban life — Belleview Place, Dallas’ first apartment building, was constructed in 1890 at the corner of Sullivan and Browder streets. Redevelopment of the neighborhood (whether according to our plan or another) could return the pioneering Red Cedar and pioneering new forms of sustainable living to Cedar’s streets, a good thing for the city of Dallas.
> ULI Hines Urban Design Competition
> Dallas Morning News: “Dallas’ Cedars area is focus of urban renewal contest for students,” “Cedars – Buzzing with Activity“
Posted: March 23rd, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Dallas, Light Rail, Texas, Transportation | 1 Comment »
Before very recently, I knew very little about Dallas, Texas.
That changed for two reasons. First, it’s the location of the site used for this year’s Urban Land Institute Hines Student Urban Design Competition. I was a member of a team at the University of Maryland that submitted an entry, creating a land use and development plan for a long-neglected district near downtown. Regrettably we did not win, but it was great fun and involved a crash course in Dallas architecture, planning, and history. Second, I was invited to my friend Eric’s wedding, which is to be held next weekend in Dallas, his fiancé’s home town. The trip will provide the opportunity to visit downtown, and if time allows perhaps even the project site.
One of the surprising findings from my ULI research was the city’s extensive light rail system. My previous post on Light Rail in unlikely cities neglected to mention Dallas. After a transportation planning process in the 1990s, Dallas Area Rapid Transit began building a light rail system. The first portion opened in 1996, and today the system carries an average of 63,400 passengers daily over 45 miles of tracks seen in the system map to the right.
However, planned extensions in various stages of planning and construction will over double the size of the system, bringing the total to over 91 miles. (As a point of comparison the D.C. Metro is 106.3 miles) Here’s what the system will look like when planned work is complete.
The full plan officials are working from has even identified additional corridors for transit.
What is the larger economic and social context of this development? A 2004 study by the Dallas Morning News described Dallas at the “tipping point,” identifying underperforming schools, a weak tax base, low quality of life, and a slow economy in the center city. What’s missing from the detailed report is how little the spatial forces are explicitly recognized in the report. Sprawl is made possible by transportation infrastructure and land use policies, and any comprehensive solution must come from these sectors. The symptoms of sprawl are clearly described in a 2005 “update” to the original report:
Unchallenged, the report said, the city will continue on a downward spiral.
It works like this: High crime and cratering schools send droves of middle-class families into communities like Frisco, Rowlett and Garland. Eventually, businesses follow. Dallas sales and property taxes plummet, reducing funds the city needs to fight crime and fix its schools.
Evidence of the outward migration can be seen on a drive north, 25 miles out of the city, through a sea of tri-level trophy homes in communities with double-digit growth.
The light rail transportation infrastructure being developed is necessary but not sufficient to counter these problems — also necessary is the political will to coordinate land use policies, control fringe development, and tackle stubborn problems like crime and education. The agency’s aggressive pursuit of transit oriented developments (a building is already under construction adjacent the future light rail station in the photo at the top) is a positive sign, but with only 63,400 riders a day the system has a long way to go.
Posted: August 30th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: ePlanning, Mueller, Technology, Texas, Urban Development | 4 Comments »
As you read this, heavy construction crews are hard at work grading roads, laying infrastructure, and preparing to build homes and offices in Austin, Texas’s newest neighborhood.
Located on the former site of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (which closed in 1999), the 711 acre Mueller redevelopment project will be larger in size than either downtown Austin, or the University of Texas campus. (A comparison is to the right) When the project is complete the neighborhood will house 10,000 residents, 10,000 jobs, over 1,000 units of affordable housing. The site will contain a town center, grocery store, school, parks, the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, and the Austin Studios filmmaking complex. The company developing the site, Catellus Development Group, announced the first group of home owners this summer.
The neighborhood’s design follows New Urbanist principles, although I was not able to find illustrations of the specific buildings planned and an early shopping center has been criticized for being a conventional strip mall. This site plan provides the general outline of the project:
I’ve written previously about how in communities across the country, a “complex civic infrastructure of local blogs, email lists, and discussion forums has formed.” Mueller may be one of the first projects where this citizen-generated infrastructure emerges before even the first house is occupied.
Although the neighborhood’s design has been the subject of exhaustive citizen planning over at least a ten year period, longtime Austin resident Prentiss Riddle thought the neighborhood needed a participatory community website to complement the formal, corporate site set up by Catellus. With a background including a 13-year stint as Rice University’s webmaster and degrees in computer science and information architecture, Riddle is no stranger to online systems. After months of tinkering, the website he calls “Mueller Fever” is online with forums, interactive maps, and an automated news aggregating section.
I corresponded with Prentiss recently about both the project and the website.
ROB GOODSPEED: Was this project started for your masters program, or is it a personal project? How many people are helping or have expressed interest?
PRENTISS RIDDLE: It’s a personal project that I’ve been thinking about for some time and which I managed to turn into a series of class projects for my masters program.
In a Tom Sawyer move, I persuaded two classmate in the spring to join me in a more theoretical group project for which we wrote a paper and built a clickable prototype that didn’t have any real user content behind it. One of my teammates, Kijana Knight, also did an ethnographic study of potential Mueller homebuyers to find out about their information needs.
For another class I wrote some more short papers on Mueller-related topics. The most interesting of those was the design of an idea I’ve called “mVite”: a viral marketing scheme for attracting small businesses to locate at Mueller, in which Mueller residents and neighbors would compete to get their favorite local shops, services and restaurants onto a “top ten” scoreboard by the number of invitations received. I haven’t implemented it, in part because I haven’t thought of a good way to send the invitations to the businesses without their being
perceived as spam. The paper is online here.
Then as the final project for my degree I implemented several of the ideas from my papers into what I hope is a production-quality system (or will be once I get some performance issues solved).
Throughout the process I talked to friends who were interested in Mueller and everyone expressed frustration at the lack of information about the development and encouragement at the idea of a website to address that lack. The name “Mueller Fever” was an inside joke about the land rush when the lottery for initial homebuyers was announced; I don’t know how apt it will seem once people are actually living there.
RG: How did you get interested in the Mueller project? Are you going to move there? Do you know other people planning to move?
PR: I’ve been in Austin off and on for over 25 years and remember when the idea of moving the airport and reusing the land first began to circulate. At that time Mueller was largely perceived as a noise issue for the surrounding neighborhoods; its potential economic and quality-of-life value to the city became central only as Austin’s boom in the 90′s drove up congestion and housing costs.
I was excited from the beginning with the vision of a new walkable, affordable and environmentally sustainable neighborhood in central Austin. I’d love to live in the Mueller that we were promised for all those years. Unfortunately, there’s a lot about Mueller as it’s actually being built which is troubling, including HOA rules modeled on those of suburban gated communities, commercial development which doesn’t differ much from the usual
strip malls, and the neglect of the project by our transit authority. (Some observers have referred to Mueller as “transit-oriented development without transit.”) But by far the biggest issue is cost: except for the units designated as “affordable,” houses at Mueller are way out of reach for most of the people I know who were most passionate about the vision in the first place.
That said, I do have friends who have bought at Mueller and are waiting for their house to be built, and there are a lot of use who remain hopeful that future phases will come a little closer to fulfilling the promise.
RG: In 5 years, what do you hope Mueller will look like? What about Mueller Fever?
PR: I hope it looks like a real neighborhood and not like a housing development. I hope that the forces of conformity are vanquished and the famous “Keep Austin Weird” aesthetic is allowed to flourish. In local terms, that means I hope it is more like South Austin or Hyde Park and less like Circle C or Round Rock. I hope that somebody paints polka dots on their house.
I hope that people are actually walking to shop and work. I hope that the new urbanist idea of a greater emphasis on shared public space really does result in more social interaction among neighbors. I hope that the live/work and shop houses are a hit and influence Vertical Mixed Use construction all over the city. And I hope that Mueller is seen as a model which can be copied out on the still-sprawling edges of Austin.
As for Mueller Fever, I hope that it’s a place to find a lost dog or a pick-up softball game as well as to have a voice in neighborhood or city politics. I do believe that online and face-to-face communities rooted in a place can strengthen one another; I hope people use it to make connections that would have eluded them otherwise.
> Mueller Fever [Prentiss Riddle site]
> Mueller, Austin Redevelopment [Catellus Company Website]
> City of Austin Mueller Master Development Agreement and Design Guidelines