Where Dallas’ Real Estate Projects Got It Right And Where They Failed Miserably


State Thomas, Uptown Dallas

Two decades after its founding, the first planned new urbanism area in Dallas proves the concept. Robert Shaw’s Columbus Realty took its master plan directly from the Jane Jacobs handbook. With the help of a newly formed tax increment financing district, Columbus buried utilities, planted trees, repaved streets, and considered how pedestrians would interact with every aspect of the residential neighborhood just east of McKinney Avenue. The small area sparked the thousand bars, restaurants, nail salons, clothing stores, apartment buildings, condos, and office high-rises that became Uptown. In State Thomas itself, the small, predictable street grid interacts with historic homes and a dense mix of small-scale apartment buildings, condos, and townhomes, with most doors opening directly onto the street. Pubs and restaurants dot Allen Street, the neighborhood’s spine, bringing conviviality and people-watching out onto the pavement. All that activity has made Uptown the prime real estate location in the region and added $5.5 billion in value to the city.

Deep Ellum, Dallas

Before its most recent resurgence, Deep Ellum was a painfully cyclical market. Enter 42 Real Estate, headed by Scott Rohrman. After he bought up properties, eventually becoming one of four major landlords in the neighborhood (along with Asana Partners, Westdale, and Madison Partners), he applied the principles of new urbanist legends like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl to enhance an already walkable district. He whittled down his mission to five specific goals: increase safety, improve lighting, solve parking issues, get rid of slumlords, and thereby achieve a critical mass of people. Not every outcome has been a slam-dunk; the neighborhood still lacks the density of residents that characterizes State Thomas. But thanks to Westdale and StreetLights Residential, more apartments are on the way. To preserve the cultural vibe that makes Deep Ellum popular, the idea is to ring the historic area instead of intruding into it. How the Epic, a multistory, mixed-use project designed by Perkins+Will, interacts with the street will start to tell the tale.

Sundance Square, Fort Worth

While the Bass brothers were busy buying up land to create downtown Fort Worth in the ’80s, Dallas was busy extending the Dallas North Tollway so its citizens could move farther away. Granted, few cities have fairy godfathers like Ed, Sid, Robert, and Lee, who systematically enhanced a city from the inside out on their own dime. Several initiatives Ed and his brothers implemented—namely, subsidizing parking and providing their own security force—keep the district appealing to corporations, tourists, and residents. The result, which has proved its value over and over again in the last four decades, is a 35-block walkable neighborhood that’s activated from sunup to well past sundown. And it’s going to stay that way. In 2001, the city of Fort Worth created a Downtown Design Review Board, which, like the name suggests, holds proposed developments to a high standard of enhancing the neighborhood from a human scale.

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